J. J. Goldberg has a column up on the Forward (Taking Ownership of Our Talmud) discussing the Daf Yomi Talmud program. It's rife with errors. To begin with he says, "...strangely, the commandment to study Torah appears nowhere in the Torah." Huh? He cites the first part of a verse in the Shema and discusses it.
It actually originates in the Talmud. The sages inferred it from the biblical commandment to “teach it (the Torah) diligently to thy children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). They figured you can’t teach it if you haven’t learned it yourself.He somehow manages to skip over the second clear and distinct part which states the value of Torah study in unequivocal terms. "Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." We who pray daily say this twice a day with great and serious intention and concentration.
There are numerous other small and large errors in the piece, E. g., twice he speaks about starting study on page one of a tractate. One of the best known idiosyncrasies of the standard published Talmuds is that they start a tractate on page 2.
Poor editing at the Forward detracts from the column. Too bad, because Goldberg tries to raise some substantive points about the value of Daf Yomi. He laments that the Daf Yomi celebrations did not contain much information about the contents of the Talmud. True enough. But as he argues that it should have and could have he says things that are wrong at the core, that show that he is a major am-haaretz (ignoramous) when it comes to competence in Talmud knowledge.
He says, "But why not be creative? The Talmud is essentially a collection of lecture notes, grouped in rough categories. You could start almost anywhere." We've never read a wronger and more misleading negative characterization of the Talmud.
So, yes, Goldberg is an am-haaretz. Now we hasten to add, when you label someone an am-haaretz, that is not name-calling. That is the equivalent of a professor giving a failing grade to a student. It is an evaluative and substantive conclusion about the expertise of a person in a subject matter.
To be fair, Goldberg nowhere claims to be a Talmid Chacham - an expert in Talmud. So we are quite sure that he will take no umbrage that we pass on to our readers our evaluation of his competence in the field.
And of course, Daf Yomi does not purport to create competence in Talmud knowledge. It creates the illusion of competence since its participants turn the pages and never have to be tested on their cognition.
Daf Yomi is in many cases an extension of daily davening, i.e. the rapid recitation of daily prayers, with the expectation of reflection, appreciation and understanding secondary to the reading of the words.
Finally, reading the right words at the right time in the right order is indeed a valid religious ritual, one that rabbinic Jews practice diligently.