Beginning in December 1996, a small group of members of Congregation Agudath Sholom, (CAS) in Stamford, Connecticut, embarked on a seven and a half year schedule to learn all 2,711 pages of the Talmud at the rate of one page per day. A former member named David Cohen organized and inaugurated Stamford’s first formal Daf Yomi program at CAS. In over two decades, this group has nearly completed its third rotation of the Daf Yomi cycle. However, since its inception, this worldwide learning program is actually in its 12th cycle, with its next siyum to be held in 2020.
“Regularly scheduled Torah learning is an emphasis in Jewish life. The great sage, Shamai, advocated for everyone to regularly schedule Torah learning,” explained Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Cahn, a local dentist, who has been with the group since its inception. “In Stamford, at Congregation Agudath Sholom, a group of congregants do just that, on a daily basis, by participating in the Daf Yomi program.”
Daf Yomi literally means a page of the day. Tracing its origin to the First International Congress of the Agudath Israel World Movement, held in Vienna, Austria in 1923, this enormous project was put forth by Rabbi Meir Shapiro. Rabbi Schapiro headed the Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin in Poland. While his yeshiva was destroyed during the Holocaust and he died childless, his contribution to daily religious studies is one of the most enduring educational legacies of the last century.
“Meeting every weekday after morning services, with coffee in hand, the learning begins and the group spends about an hour pouring over the Aramaic text that was compiled nearly 16 centuries ago,” said Cahn. “The Talmud comprises the basis for all Jewish civil and ritual law: the halacha. It also contains parables and various ethics lessons (agadah) and virtually all topics involved in daily life and science.”
There is no specific leader of this Fairfield County group. Rather, the group members rotate leading the daily lesson. One member per day is responsible for preparing the lesson well enough to teach the others. Cahn is the designated group leader every Tuesday morning, rain or shine.
“This is a wonderful way to delve into Jewish law. The subjects are varied and always challenging. And the camaraderie of my study partners add to the enjoyment of learning, as well. I can’t imagine starting the day without learning the daf,” described Cahn. Cahn has enjoyed learning daily and, in fact, he said, “My children bought me a cap and shirt embroidered with Do the Daf.”
Some estimate that the number of Jewish people around the world currently participating in learning Daf Yomi each day is in the hundreds of thousands. In the digital age, there are daily podcasts that help make this Talmud study accessible in any language with which one feels comfortable. “Artscroll Publications has produced an amazing translation of the entire Talmud into English, Hebrew and other languages. But the greatest thing about Daf Yomi is that it is literally universal; each day across the world the same page is being studied. Wherever one is, chances are that there will be a class in the daf,” stated Cahn.
On November 1, 2018, a contract was signed by rabbinic organizers to hold the 13th Siyum Hashas for Daf Yomi at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, on January 1, 2020. While the stadium can hold 82,500 for Jets and Giants football games, its capacity for the siyum will exceed 93,000 with additional seats covering the playing field. The event will be simulcast to over 100 venues in 80 countries.
With January 2020 fast approaching, hundreds of thousands of people who learn Daf Yomi look forward to a celebratory completion of the cycle and to mark their unified milestone in learning Torah.
By Judy Berger