Talmud Study Vs Daf Yomi

Joe emails: To me, daf yomi is a necessary semi-good, semi-evil. There is this belief that knowledge of the entire Talmud is part of being a torah jew. I would begrudgingly concede that it is a neat thing to have read the 2500 or so folios of the Talmud, but it is something like reading ally 2700 pages on obamacare, it may just be time better spent.

Talmud has become increasingly a study of topics not entirely applicable to modern life. I do not say “irrelevant”, the Talmud and its commentary is most relevant to developing a mind and spirit that a jew needs. However, the disputes in the Talmud that related to very much he said/he said are becoming antiquated in the face of modern technology. Take the very first case in Bava Metzia in which two claimants claim they both purchased the same item, but the seller does not know who was the purchaser that the seller sold to.

Today, this argument would be resolved in almost every case by reference to a credit card receipt, email, fax, phone call, recording, or other outside nonbiased confirmation of the parties’ claims. That is not to say that understanding the Talmud’s discussion of this point is irrelevant, no, the first page of Bava Metzia would likely take days (and this is short shrift) of analysis to comprehend. But to just learn that the claim is resolved by splitting the item is no analysis at all, it is almost child’s play it is that simple. But it is only that simple as a finished product, it is the harmonization of several different disputes that is the key to delivering a simple solution that is still applicable in a case where there is no evidence to support either purchaser’s claim.

Talmud is like chess in this regard. Speed or blitz chess is fun and very popular among young players. They like racing through positions, effecting tactics, and finishing the thing off. Daf yomi is like that, it is a fascinating and quick trip through the Talmud with and end in sight of a remarkable accomplishment.

But Daf yomi does not make you a better student of the blueprint, just as someone who is superb at blitz chess is usually not a master at classical chess.

In my view, the hour daily spent learning daf yomi would be better spent learning the Talmud in depth. However, that is probably not possible. The study of Talmud in depth is enervating and cannot be accomplished in one hour blocks. To prepare for a one hour in depth Talmud lesson probably requires at least two hours (more like three) of preparation. No one has that kind of time anymore, so we are left with Daf Yomi.

It is a worthwhile task, but maybe when one has time on the weekend to devote 3-4 hours, he should take on a tractate and devote a 3 years span to it (150 weeks should be enough to cover 60-75 pages). Maybe Daf yomi is just for the weekdays, but should not supplant and replace in depth Talmud study.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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