By now your social media feed (not to mention your news feed) should be filled with the phenomenal Siyum HaShas, the monumental gathering of Jews in celebration of the global study of the Babylonian Talmud. I was privileged to be among nearly 100,000 Jews gathered in Met Life stadium yesterday, along with tens of thousands of Talmud enthusiasts the world over, marking seven and a half years of dedicated study. Would you like to be with us in 2027 when we celebrate, G-d willing in Jersualem? Here’s three basic skills to help you get there.
Skill One: Start.
The Siyum this year gave us a little bonus in terms of the secular calendar. It was barely 40 degrees at MetLife, but using the secular calendar date of January 1 gave us the advantage of delaying the actual communal beginning of the new cycle to Sunday, January 5! As per the tradition, as soon as we finished the final page of Talmud, we immediately began the study of the first page, but that was largely ceremonial: the global calendar actually concludes on Shabbat, and begins on Sunday, perfect for the beloved procrastinators among us.
To start alone is to succeed. The only trick is, you have to start several times (2,711 times, to be precise). But this cycle you have a few days to prepare yourself.
Skill Two: Join a Learning Community.
The Talmud teaches that Torah may not be acquired except in a community (Berakhot 53b). You can’t do this alone. Ideally, this should be a live gathering of real people, but we are living in a technological moment that makes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press look like the difference between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5s. There are three zillion online communities to meet the needs of two zillion Talmud students! (This is important because, as the joke goes, every Jew has to have two synagogues: one to pray in and another synagogue never to be caught dead in).
I’m tempted to list a whole pile of learning communities, but I will restrict myself to only two with which I am personally connected, one live and one virtual. If you are in the Five Towns (a section along the iron river of the Long Island Railroad that is a modern recreation of the Mesopotamian Talmudic communities of Babylonia), join us on Sunday at 9:00 am at Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst for a formal, communal beginning with breakfast (the Internet hasn’t quite figured out how to serve free food).
Online, I’m super excited about All Daf, certainly the most advanced online app and website to serve Daf Yomi students. Check it out at www.alldaf.org.
Skill Three: don’t just learn talmud, learn _about_ talmud too.
Look, I study stuff for a living. I’m a Professor and a Dean at Touro College. The hardest part of Daf Yomi is not getting out of bed on cold winter mornings to make a shiur, it’s not scheduling your day to squeeze in time to listen to a class online. Those things are tough but entirely manageable. What’s the hardest part? Without question, it’s the dark-night-of-the-soul question that comes up when the material gets difficult: why, exactly, am I doing this?
In my experience, this thought comes up whenever I lose focus on the subject at hand. It may be an arcane question in Jewish law that is entirely theoretical, or the reconstruction of a specific debate on tiny incidental features, or the dissection of a given verse, letter by letter, vowel by vowel. You’ve got to be a Gemara superhero to get yourself through some of those sections.
Prepare yourself for the inevitable by getting a hold of some incidental materials to pull yourself through the difficult sections. For me, it’s Jewish history (obviously) but there are some really amazing biographies, literary studies, artistic representations and even novels. I suggest you poke around to find things that appeal to you personally, but I’ve published some elsewhere.
Let’s begin together on Sunday!