Friday, August 3, 2012

Do the Daf!

(Cross-posted to my parshablog.)

People worldwide have finished one complete seder of Daf Yomi, and in about seven years have thus completed the entirety of Shas Bavli. I didn't, though. It would have been a really great achievement. Maybe this time around, though.

I am pleased to announce the inauguration of three Daf Yomi oriented blogs.

1. The first, Daf Yummy, is so called because the url for Daf Yomi on blogspot was already taken by a cyber-squatter. I hope to provide there some topical posts on gemaras from Daf Yomi. Parshablog has a somewhat unique voice, / approach I think, and the same will hopefully apply to that blog.

2. The second, Rif Yomi, will provide the Rif on the daf. Learning the Rif can be a useful supplement to the Daf, or even an alternative to the Daf. In the Rambam's beis midrash, their primary learning was the Rif, rather than the Talmud (or the Mishneh Torah). Only if the students needed to delve into the intricacies of the sugya did they, on occasion, turn to the Daf.

The Rif is less complicated that the Daf, since much of the give and take of the gemara is stripped out. Only what is necessary to support the halachic conclusion is left in. Besides being less complication, it is also shorter. (Much aggadeta also does not appear.)

At the same time, one gets to see the halachic ramifications of various sugyot. How do we get from what it says in the sugya to how we actually practice? What are the klalei horaah, rules of psak? If Rav Huna and Rav Chisda argue in some gemara, how do we decide how to act? Thus, the Rif is a great supplement or alternative to learning the Daf.

3. The third, Rosh Yomi, provides the Rosh on the Daf. Again, this is a great supplement or alternative to Daf Yomi. The Rosh is the father of the Tur. He builds himself greatly on the text of the Rif, but also brings in various sources such as Rashi and Tosafot and thus often paskens differently. Rav Yosef Karo often paskens based on the majority rule between Rambam, Rif, and Rosh. Thus, based on what Rav Yosef Karo wrote in his introduction to Bet Yosef:
Hence Karo adopted the Halakhot of Rabbi Isaac Alfasi(the Rif), Maimonides, and Asher ben Jehiel (the Rosh) as his standards, accepting as authoritative the opinion of two of the three, except in cases where most of the ancient authorities were against them or in cases where there was already an accepted custom contrary to his ruling.
It is therefore quite useful to learn through the Rosh, to get a more halachically-oriented view of the Daf, bringing the gemara down to what is actual practice.

How am I personally going to try to go through the Daf? I am using a few tools. First, you will notice a bunch of RSS feeds for Daf Yomi shiurim on the Daf Yummy blog. These are generated from searches I ran on the YUTorah website. I've been trying out some of them, and the one I am using for now is the Daf Yomi shiur by Rabbi Chaim Eisenstein (pictured to the right). It is an hour shiur, with the first 40 as a review of the Daf read inside and remaining 20 minutes as an in-depth discussion of halachic topics which arise from the Daf. This is a nice, relatively fast pace.

I've been downloading these shiurim by following the links. Then, I just purchased an MP3 player. This one, more or less (see advertisement). And I load it up with these shiurim and listen to them on the train.:

Artscroll is also useful, especially if I want to just quickly run through the daf. Just scanning through the Hebrew / Aramaic with nikkud on the translation side, and only glancing at the English when stuck, I can get through a daf in about 7 minutes.

I also decided to purchase the new Koren Talmud. They have two versions, as I saw in my local seforim store. The larger one was about $39.95, and the smaller one was about $34.95. Then I saw that the larger one was available on Amazon for a special price of $29.54.

New Category (4)

So I bought it. And it came with a mail-in rebate for an additional $10 off. It is interesting, and worth checking out, in my opinion. Follow this link and choose look inside. They have the full tzuras hadaf in the back, with nikkud for the gemara and Rashi. Within the main body of text, they have the vocalized Hebrew / Aramaic in the typical Koren font, as full paragraphs. And the English translation in full paragraphs to the side. And English commentaries of all sorts wrapped around. Here is a sample page, though fuzzier than the actual daf:

Rather nice, over-all. There are also cues throughout as to what specific daf you are on.

I see that others have been impacted by the ending of one Daf Yomi cycle and the beginning of another. Thus, Yaak of Yeranen Yaakov has stopped blogging, or at least not nearly as frequently. He writes:
I have come to a point in my life where I need to refocus my priorities on other matters. One of those other matters, among other things, is BL"N starting, with Hashem's help, a daf yomi regimen with the new cycle of daf yomi, something that I have never done before. Unfortunately, this will mean that I need to stop frequently updating this blog.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Eliyahu Fink started a new sub-blog, here, where he is posting videos (each about 25 minutes-30 minutes) and podcasts of him delivering a Daf Yomi shiur. Here is an example of the first one:



A few words on the value of the Daf. While there is value in learning through gemara be-iyun, in depth, even many talmidei chachamim don't end up with the breadth of knowledge attained by learning through Shas. Rav Hershel Schachter once noted in shiur (IIRC) that English majors in college read through all of Shakespeare, and an entire corpus of English literature. There is no reason that someone nowadays should not read through all of Shas at least once. The idea would be that this is on a surface level.

There is a gemara, I don't recall where unfortunately (somewhere in Horayos, Eruvin, Avodah Zarah, Makkos, or Brachos, since that is what I've been learning recently), where they state that even if one does not understand what one is saying, there is value to simply saying words of gemara.

I recall a mashal that I heard once in a shiur (again, IIRC by Rav Schachter, in Young Israel of KGH many years ago). A king comes to town and places a giant barrel in the center of town and distributes buckets to the townspeople. He instructs the townspeople that there reward will be very great indeed, and they are to take the buckets to the nearby river, fill the buckets with water, carry the buckets back to the center of town and thus fill up the barrel.  He will be back the next day. The king leaves and the townspeople set to work. They soon realize that the giant barrel is not filling up, because there is a hole in their buckets, and the water is spilling out as they walk from the riverbank to the center of town! Most of the townsfolk give up then and there. The king surely made a mistake; they will explain it to him tomorrow and he will give them better buckets. But one stubborn fellow, Ploni, persists, and says that the king surely knew what he was doing. Ploni will do his part, even though the barrel in the center of town hardly gets filled.

The next day comes, and the king arrives. He inspects the barrel and sees that it is mostly empty. He asks what happened, and the people explain the king's mistake to him. He asks them about the small amount of water at the bottom, and they explain the foolish actions of the stubborn Ploni.

The king then says to them: Do you think I am in need of water? The purpose of this task was to clean out the buckets! And he gave Ploni his great reward.

The nimshal is that if someone learns, and his mind does not retain what he learns, he might say that this is because Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave him a faulty bucket! However, the purpose of learning might be not to retain the knowledge, but rather to clean out the bucket. And the Torah learnt surely has a lasting impact on a person.

Even if some may say that many -- perhaps most -- are not retaining what they have learnt in a Daf Yomi shiur, they still have accomplished something, and that something is indeed great.

On the other hand -- we are soon going to encounter this gemara in Daf Yomi Brachos, on daf 8a:
R. Huna b. Judah in the name of R. Menahem in the name of R. Ammi said: What is the meaning of the verse: And they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed?31  This refers to people who leave the Scroll of the Law [while it is being read from] and go out [from the Synagogue]. R. Abbahu used to go out between one reader and the next.32  R. Papa raised the question: What of going out between verse and verse? It remains unanswered. — R. Shesheth used to turn his face to another side and study. He said: We [are busy] with ours, and they [are busy] with theirs.33
Rav Sheshet's statement is most correctly read, IMHO, as an elitist statement. The common folk are engaged in their public regular study, of the Torah portion of the week, and we, who can learn Torah on a higher level, should be engaged in study at our own level, of gemara. I don't believe that this was restricted to someone whose Torah was his profession, as Rif reads it. Rather, I think it refers to anyone who can engage in this Torah study on a higher level.

Still, is it indeed more profitable for most people to study gemara? Is gemara the beginning and end of all Torah knowledge. Here on parshablog, I hope I have shown that studying shnayim mikra -- an earlier focus of study by klal Yisrael and a weekly obligation -- can be done on a rather high level, and there is surely value in this.

And for some people, they might get much more out of a Chumash shiur, or Nach shiur, than a daf Yomi shiur. We don't need to fit every person into the same square peg.

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