Anglos ready to celebrate ending 7 yrs Talmud study

Tens of thousands of people in Israel, abroad, who have devotedly pored over complex tracts of rabbinic debate with study partners.

World of Talmud 370 (photo credit: Dirshu)
World of Talmud 370
(photo credit: Dirshu)
With the seven-and-a-half year cycle of the daily Talmud study program known as Daf Yomi about to finish next week, preparations by those who have taken on the challenge and won are swinging into high gear for the climactic party celebrated upon completion of this ancient tome of Jewish law.
Tens of thousands of people in Israel and abroad, who have devotedly pored over the complex tracts of rabbinic debate with study partners, in groups, in special lessons and by themselves will finish the entire Babylonian Talmud on Monday.
And the Anglo community in Israel is no exception, with several thousand expatriates from the UK, US, Canada, Australia and South Africa all getting ready for the big celebration.
One of the biggest organized frameworks teaching Daf Yomi to the Anglo community in Israel is the Daf Yomi Advancement Forum (DAF) of the Kollel Iyun Hadaf. Founded in 1996 by Rabbi Mordecai Kornfeld, the institute is now teaching its second Daf Yomi cycle. One of the central teaching tools of the program is the comprehensive material available online, including background materials in English and Hebrew for every page, review questions and answers, audio lectures and in-depth analyses.
According to Kornfeld, the DAF has about 20,000 readers and subscribers to its daily Talmudic teaching materials, 15 percent of whom are in Israel.
The Daf Yomi cycle officially finishes on July 30, although the Kollel Iyun Hadaf will stage its big bash on August 5, with approximately 5,000 people expected to attend.
“The siyum [completion of any unit of Torah study] is a very important concept, because if a person appreciates and celebrates what he’s done and achieved, then it acts a spur to advance further and to improve on what he has already accomplished,” said Kornfeld.
Several leading rabbinical figures will be speaking at the event, including dean of the renowned Mir Yeshiva Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, dean of the Ohr Samayach Yeshiva Rabbi Mendel Weinbach and several hassidic rebbes.
Kornfeld said that approximately 90-95% of those learning Daf Yomi with DAF are not in full-time Torah study.
“The Daf Yomi framework is an excellent framework for anyone who is working fulltime but who also wants to establish an anchor for Torah study in their lives.
“Many Anglos who come to live in Israel from around the English-speaking world have exactly that desire, because they come from a different culture where they work and support their families, but their learning is very important to them as well,” he explained.
Kornfeld added that there are also several study groups in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Rehovot and other locales, comprised of Anglo retirees who may have put off serious Torah study during their working lives, but are now committed to learning the Talmud on a daily basis.
Some within the world of Torah study have been inclined to look somewhat askance at the Daf Yomi program because of the necessity to spend only a brief amount of time on any one page, but this notion is something that Kornfeld dismissed, arguing that the daily Talmud study regimen provides other benefits and introduces a person to every facet of Torah study.
“If you walk through a perfume store then you’ll come out smelling of perfume,” he said. “The Daf Yomi course changes a person’s ability to interact with Torah so that it’s not a stranger anymore to him, so that whenever you come to learn any other aspect of Torah, your Talmud studies will jog your memory and make it more understandable as a complete idea.”
Kenny Lerner, a retiree originally from New York, immigrated to Israel with his wife 16 years ago, and has been studying Daf Yomi since the beginning of the current cycle in 2005.
“It’s an excellent framework for anyone who wants to advance his Torah knowledge,” Lerner said. “Not everyone has the opportunity to study when they’re working, and when you’re looking back at your life, and questioning if you could have imbued it with more meaning, with more Jewish values, then it’s good that this kind of opportunity is available.”
There are many Talmud learning tools available for English-speakers that are extremely helpful, and so even if someone has not studied much in the past he should not feel discouraged, Lerner said, adding that he had very little Talmud study under his belt before he started the Daf Yomi program.
He noted that one of the prerequisites for successfully undertaking the grueling seven-year study course is a patient wife, as well as an enthusiastic, encouraging teacher that one can relate to – all of which he said he had.
And how will he fill the void the daily classes leave when the last page is learned? He will start again, of course.