More than two thousand mostly Orthodox Jews from the Chicago area Wednesday night will mark the end of an intensive study of the Jewish Talmud, a huge achievement for those who began the program seven-and-a-half years ago.
The tradition is called Daf Yomi, which is Hebrew for “page of the day.” It started nearly 90 years ago, and since then the number of Jews who have opted to do it has skyrocketed as new translations of the text and learning technologies have evolved.
The cycle involves reading one folio (or two-sided page) of the Talmud each day, until all 2,711 pages of the text are finished. “Because there is a regular institutionalized cycle, the members of the Jewish community who commit themselves to the daily study are literally on the same page all over the world,“ said Rabbi Elisha Prero, who heads the congregation Young Israel of West Rogers Park.
The Talmud is a record of rabbinical discussions about Jewish law and traditions. “It’s a free-flow form of discussion which focuses on nuances, big-picture, little-picture issues of the law, of tradition, of lore, of lessons, of ethics, of legalities,” explained Prero. It was once only passed down through oral tradition. But even after it came to be recorded on paper, complete study of the Talmud long remained an achievement attained only by the most learned of Jewish scholars.
Today, things have changed. One can purchase hats online that say “Do the Daf,” and Prero said the number of study classes in the Chicago area has mushroomed in the last twenty years. Part of that is because the text has been translated from its original Aramaic into English, but it’s also because the Internet has made it more possible for students to take classes remotely.
“You no longer need to be learned to learn,” said Prero. “You just have to be literate and fairly intelligent to be able to follow the flow of the argument.” At Wednesday’s celebration at the Rosemont Theatre, participants will complete reading the final folio, and then they will turn back to the first page to begin the cycle again.