Thursday, October 09, 2014

Daf Yomi interim reflections

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Study of Law as a Spiritual Act: Finding Truth and Meaning in the Talmud. Two years and 100 columns in to the Daf Yomi cycle, our critic pauses to reflect on its intellectual challenges and delights.
This week, punctuated for all Jews by Yom Kippur, also marks a particular transition for Daf Yomi readers. After two years, we have finally come to the end of Seder Moed, the division of the Talmud that deals with Jewish holidays. In that time, we have read hundreds of pages on the laws of Shabbat, in Tractates Shabbat and Eruvin, and learned the laws of most of the other major Jewish holidays—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Pesach and Sukkot and Purim. We’ve learned about laws that apply to all festivals, in Tractate Beitzah, and those that apply only to the intermediate days of festivals, in Tractate Moed Katan. And we’ve read about rituals from Temple times that have not been practiced for almost 2,000 years—such as the collection of tithes, in Tractate Shekalim, and pilgrimages to Jerusalem, in Tractate Chagigah—but have remained a subject of study for all that time.

As it happens, this week also marks the 100th installment of my Daf Yomi column. These two milestones have led me to step back from the daily routine and reflect on what I have learned over the past two years of exploring the Talmud. I’ve been further prompted in this direction by reading a new book, The Talmud: A Biography, by Harry Freedman, which offers a brief history of the Talmud and the role it has played in Jewish thought and practice. So important is that role, so ubiquitous is the Talmud in Jewish culture, that the later parts of Freedman’s book tend to blur into a history of Judaism in general, taking in everything from Spinoza’s secularism to the miracle-working of the Baal Shem Tov.

Insofar as I know about the subject (and it is by no means my specialty), this column seems to be a nice brief summary of the current state of Talmudic studies. Freedman's book has also been mentioned here.

I don't have the time to participate in Daf Yomi, but I have learned a lot just from reading Mr. Kirsch's columns. I look forward to five more year of them.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.