Tuesday, June 25, 2019

If you had told me two years ago that I would learn a full tractate of the Talmud, I never would have believed you. And yet, I have done even more than that. I have learned two tractates. I have learned them by following Daf Hashavua—a learning program where a person studies one page of the Talmud per week. At present, I and the group I learn with at Congregation Shaare Tefillah in Teaneck are close to completing Taanit. Many others around the world are finishing at the same time.

Daf HaShavua is similar to Daf Yomi, but instead of studying a page a day, one learns a page a week. Daf Hashavua started in Passaic 13 years ago and has since spread to many other communities. The program started with Berachot in 2005 and is now finishing Taanit. The weekly format allows the student to spend more time on each page. A page a week also fits well into a busy schedule. I find that if I miss a day or two of studying I can still catch up.

In October 2016, Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz introduced Daf Hashavua to the Shaare Tefillah community. He explained that Daf Hashavua would soon be starting Tractate Beitzah and that it was a perfect time to begin learning. I was immediately interested—but also intimidated—by the prospect of learning Talmud for the first time in my life. I asked Rabbi Schiowitz if he thought it was appropriate for me to begin Daf Hashavua. He didn’t hesitate to answer yes. Around that time, several members of Shaare Tefillah expressed interest in forming a study group. Unplanned, I joined two friends one Shabbat afternoon and studied the first page of Beitzah with them. We met again the next week and our chance learning session soon became a weekly event. We grew to four regulars, meeting each week for stimulating discussion. Along with the four regulars, several people have joined us on occasion. Some other members of Shaare Tefillah also learned each week’s Daf on their own. We had a relaxed, friendly atmosphere where anyone was welcome and all questions were

Before we finished Tractate Beitzah, Rabbi Schiowitz asked if we would mark the occasion at shul on Shabbat morning. I had such a good experience learning Talmud that I wanted to share it with others. I asked the rabbi if I could give a five-minute speech about Daf HaShavua. The day of the siyum arrived. We had planned to have lunch together and make a siyum later during seudah shlishit. I wrote a short speech for the occasion.

Funnily enough, because of a simple misunderstanding Erev Shabbat, I got the idea that my speech had been canceled. I was actually relieved that I wouldn’t have to get in front of a crowd the next morning. On Shabbat morning, I attended the early service as usual and went home. I was relaxing on my couch when my wife burst into the house, saying:

“Honey, get back to shul. The rabbi is looking for you!”

My heart started beating a mile a minute as I got ready and headed back to the synagogue. Rabbi Schiowitz explained to the congregation that a group from the shul was finishing a tractate of the Talmud, and then he introduced me to speak. I was nervous, but I got up and gave the speech I had prepared the day before.

Afterward, a lot of people congratulated me, giving me positive feedback and asking for more details. Several told me they were hopeful to learn with us. The next week we began Tractate Rosh Hashanah—and when we met for our weekly review I was shocked to see that we had 12 people! We now had a large, lively group with members of different ages, backgrounds and levels of education. Some of our members have moved out of town or made aliyah, a few new members have moved in, and as always we have had people join us for a day or two. Other people learn the weekly Daf on their own. When we finished Tractate Rosh Hashanah we celebrated with a catered Shabbat lunch, a sponsored seudah shlishit for the community and a siyum. Now we are on the cusp of finishing Tractate

Daf HaShavua begins Tractate Megillah on October 6. If you are interested in learning Talmud, a new tractate is a great time to start. Consider reading a little bit of the beginning on your own, or suggest starting a group to a few friends. Like me, you might find that your knowledge base and sense of accomplishment increases

By Michael Sorkin

Michael lives in Teaneck with his wife and son.