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JewishJournal.com

August 8, 2012

Climbing mount Talmud

http://www.jewishjournal.com/cover_story/article/climbing_mount_talmud_20120808

Men dancing on the field during the Siyum at MetLife Stadium. Photo by Lionel Leventhal

Men dancing on the field during the Siyum at MetLife Stadium. Photo by Lionel Leventhal

It is a commitment like few others. Seven and a half years of daily study — every day, no time off, no vacations, no holiday breaks, in sickness and health, at home and while traveling. Started almost 80 years ago, by a rabbi named Meir Shapiro, the study of the Daf Yomi — literally, a page a day — this week ends its 12th cycle of learning and immediately begins its 13th. As I write this post I’m still undecided: Should I, can I, will I?

Some basic facts: The Babylonian Talmud is a compilation of rabbinical discussions, sayings, rulings and stories drawn together between the third and fifth centuries CE, and studied ever since. Except for the Bible, it is the most important Jewish book, and even more than the Bible, it is the book Jews relied on as they were developing their practices and customs over the last 1,500 years. It is not an easy read: 2,711 pages, many of them written in Aramaic, and challengingly encoded in ways that make it almost impossible for the untrained eye to understand. I’ve studied Talmud here and there, more intensively at a younger age, more sporadically in recent years. I can read it and understand what I’m reading, if I get help from the many available commentaries and guides.

If one takes it one page at a time, every day, for approximately seven and a half years, one is able to say: I’ve read it all, including those parts of the long 36 tractates that are rarely visited by students, some of them dealing with issues that can seem quite bizarre to the untrained reader.

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