Is One-page-a-day Daf Yomi Talmud Study Good for the Jews?
In our family we always decided on our ritual practices based on the guidance of the Rav. We inevitably asked -- WWRD? What would the Rav Do? -- and acted accordingly. With regard to Daf Yomi today, we have to ask and hazard an answer as to what the Rav would do.
We are sure that he would never oppose the idea of a page of Talmud study each day. So that possibility is off the table. If the question is framed, Should one study Talmud Daf Yomi or not at all? -- the answer would be resounding, yes to Daf Yomi.
But that oversimplifies the question.
Learning Talmud is the epitome of studying Torah. In turn that is the apex of all the commandments. However it is not like the other commandments. Real learning leads to cognition, to knowledge and to expertise. The highest goal of Talmud study is to become a lamdan--a learned master of the Talmud.
With that in mind we ask the following questions.
Can anyone become a lamdan through Daf Yomi study alone? All, yes all, Talmudists, Gedolim, and Lamdanim will have to admit that this is not possible. It often takes weeks of intensive study to get through the study of the Tosafot, Rishonim and Achronim (i.e., the major commentaries) on a single side of a page of the Talmud.
What is the retention rate of the average Daf Yomi students? If they do not become lamdanim what do they get out of the daily study? Well we really have no measure. The 21,000 people in the Continental Arena did not take any exams or demonstrate any expertise. We can be sure that some of them after seven and a half years absorbed a great deal while others retained little and remain ignorant of the bulk of the contents of the Talmud.
Did everyone who accomplished the goal feel good about themselves? Hard to generalize, but we would guess they did. Even those that do not run the whole race feel a sense of accomplishment just by participating in a marathon.
This time allotted to Talmud study is quite a hefty way for a person to say to oneself and one's family and community: These are my values and I will invest my time and energy in them.
So of course Daf Yomi is good for the Jews. But because it is not "real" learning, and it does not produce "true" lamdanim, let's not give ourselves such a big pat on the collective back.
The Rav would say that there is a whole lot more to do to make contemporary Orthodox Jews into authentic Talmidei Chachamim -- scholars of the Torah.
Tzvee is a musmach of the Rav with whom he learned for four years from 1969-1973. We originally blogged this entry on 3/3/2005.