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Reading the Law

As a new school year begins I would like to wish everyone a happy belated Siyum HaShas, a very important, if obscure, law related holiday. What is this holiday you may ask? It is the celebration of the end of the seven year cycle of the Daf Yomi which occurred on August 1, 2012. Still not ringing a bell? This is the celebration to mark the end of the cycle of studying one page of Talmud* every day for seven years. That is 2,711 pages of Babylonian Talmud. That’s a lot of law!

The Talmud is the so called “oral law” (as opposed to the written law, i.e. the first five books of the Hebrew Bible). The Talmud covers everyday subjects as well as ethics, philosophy, customs, and history. The text itself is written as discussions and arguments amongst a variety of learned rabbis who sometimes arrive at a solution, and sometimes do not. One page of Talmud is called a “daf”, but a page of Talmud is more than just rabbinical arguments. Each page also contains multiple commentaries (or glosses) on the main text, the most famous of these was written by the rabbi known as “Rashi” (like Brazilian soccer players, great rabbis only need one name).  The main text and the commentaries are read each day until all 2,711 pages are completed. 

The seven year cycle began in 1923 as a way of unifying the Jewish people. It must have worked because one celebration of the completion of the cycle took place at a packed house at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (capacity: 100,000. It was a sell-out).  With the coming of the internet participation is very easy, assuming you want to read a page of Talmud every day for seven years. There are a variety of English Talmud translations available online. TheDaf Yomi Advancement Forum has the pages and a variety of study aids in English which makes it like Examples and Explanations: Talmud. provides downloadable daily pages in a variety of formats. 

If reading a legal code every day for seven years sounds like a great idea perhaps we can start a movement to read all 13,458 pages of the tax code At one page a day it would only take around 36 years. Who is with me on this?

*This refers only to the Babylonian Talmud, not the Jerusalem Talmud.


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