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History of the Daf

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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History of the Daf

In 1919, R’ Alexander Zusha Friedman[1] (1899-1943), created and served as editor for the first Agudas Yisrael publication titled “Digleinu” (our banner). The 1920, Av 5681, issue of Digleinu[2] contained a proposal by R’ Moshe Menachem Mendel Spivak[3] to organize a worldwide “Chevra Shas,” involving businessmen, laborers, and workers to study a Daf Gemara daily to finish[4] Shas.[5] So the idea of Jews in all parts of the world studying the same Daf each day, with the goal of completing Shas,[6] was proposed by R’ Spivak. When the idea didn’t take hold that R’ Spivak, then the rabbi of Krasnobrod near Lublin, felt it deserved, he approached R’ Meir Shapiro (1887-1933).[7] R’ Spivak’s idea was for R’ Shapiro to speak about the Daf Yomi plan[8] at the May, 1924, cornerstone-laying ceremony for the construction of the Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin building.[9] Feeling that this wasn’t the right forum to introduce the concept, R’ Shapiro, instead chose to speak about it at the first Knessia Gedola, held in Vienna in August 1923, which would be attended by the greatest rabbis of the generation.[10] According to reports, R’ Shapiro had second thoughts about introducing the concept as he was concerned that the idea was controversial. Before speaking, he approached the Chofetz Chaim about the idea who advised R’ Shapiro to come late to the stage. When he entered the Chofetz Chaim rose and greeted him and ushered him to the podium. This gave R’ Shapiro the support he needed.[11] The idea quickly took hold.

 

R’ Meir Shapiro introduced the idea of Daf Yomi[12] at the Knessia Gedola in 1923 at age 35, in front of many Gedolim who were much older than him, like this: The Gemara[13] relates that Rabban Gamliel said that he was once on a ship when the ship was sinking and he was pained by the thought of R’ Akiva who had been on that ship since he was now surely lost. When he came up to dry land, R’ Akiva came and deliberated before Rabban Gamliel in a matter of law. Rabban Gamliel asked him, “Who raised you out of the water.” The reply: I took hold of a דף, board from the ship and before every wave that came, I bowed my head and it passed over me. R’ Shapiro said there are so many waves—secularism, immorality, materialism…These need to be fought with a Daf of Gemara daily.

 

R’ Shapiro also viewed the program as a way to unify the Jewish people. As he explained to the Congress delegates: What a great thing! A Jew travels by boat and takes Gemara Brachos under his arm. He travels for 15 days from Eretz Yisrael to America, and each day he learns the Daf. When he arrives in America, he enters a Beis Midrash in New York and finds Jews learning the very same Daf that he studied on that day, and he gladly joins them. Another Jew leaves the States and travels to Brazil or Japan, and he first goes to the Beis Midrash, where he finds everyone learning the same Daf that he himself learned that day.[14] Could there be greater unity of hearts than this?[15]

 

R’ Shmuel Wosner[16] (1913-2015) was asked how R’ Meir Shapiro merited the unparalleled public learning of Daf Yomi? He said that R’ Meir Shapiro had an aspiration to exalt Torah and the Jews. He was a leader, great in Torah and Yirah and loved Jews. This was surely his purpose.



[1] He was born in Sochatchov, Poland. His father, R’ Aharon Yehoshua Friedman, was a poor shamash (shul caretaker). His mother supplemented the family income by selling wares in various fairs and markets. R’ Alexander Zusha, their only son, proved himself to be an Illui, exceptional student at a very young age. When he was 3, he knew the entire Sefer Breishis by heart. When he was 9, his teacher informed his father that he had nothing left to teach him. In 1919 he founded and edited Digleinu (Our Banner). He visited Palestine in 1934. His sister, who had married R’ Avraham Mokatowski, known by his pen name, Eliyahu Kitov, immigrated to Palestine before World War II, as did his parents, but he opted to remain in Poland because of his communal responsibilities. He was one of the Torah leaders in the Warsaw Ghetto. He organized an underground network of religious schools, including a Yesodei HaTorah school for boys, a Beis Yaakov school for girls, a school for elementary Jewish instruction, and three institutions for advanced Jewish studies. On July 22nd, 1942 the Germans began mass deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps. Among those deported were his wife and 13-year-old daughter, their only child, that had been born to them after 11 years of marriage, who were taken to Treblinka. He alerted world Jewry to the start of deportations in a coded message. His telegram read: “Mr. Amos kept his promise from the fifth-third.” He was referring to the Sefer Amos 5:3, which reads: העיר היצאת אלף תשאיר מאה והיוצאת מאה תשאיר עשרה לבית ישראל, the city from which a thousand people go forth will be left with a hundred, and one from which a hundred people go forth will be left with ten to the House of Israel. Among his many works, is Der Torah Kval (1937), translated into Hebrew as Maayanah shel Torah and into English as Wellsprings of Torah, which combines insights from classic and Chassidish Torah commentators with his own chiddushim on the weekly Parsha and Haftorah. He wrote this work in Yiddish rather than Hebrew, and in a lighter, easy-to-understand style of short teachings, to appeal to the many Jews who were no longer versed in the difficult language and concepts of Hebrew Sefarim. He also published several textbooks for religious schools, including a Yiddish primer. He was incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto, deported to the Trawinki concentration camp and murdered.

[2] Volume I, Number 7.

[3] R’ Spivak was born in 1880 to a family of Kotzker and Gerrer Chassidim. He obtained Semicha from the Aruch Hashulchan, the Dayanim of Warsaw and other luminaries. In 1935 he published his work, the Mateh Moshe, containing Halachic novalle on Torah and Responsa, which has haskamos from the Ohr Someach, Aruch Hashulchan, R’ Meir Arik and others. The Ohr Someach and Aruch Hashulchan state that his Chiddushei Torah should be widely disseminated because even Gedolai Yisrael can learn and derive great pleasure from his Bekius and Charifus, encyclopedic knowledge and brilliant insights. His life came to an end when he was murdered in Auschwitz.

[4] He stated that in his opinionמהנכון שניסד חברה שס כללית וכל חברינושיהיה יקבעו זמן בין תפלת מנחה למעריב ללמוד בחבורה דף גמרא תמידין כסדרן, a Chevras Shas should be established in which all the participants would be charedi traders, workers, craftsmen or day laborers. They would fix a time daily between Mincha and Maariv to study a Daf of Gemara in the order that the Dapim appear in the Shas; it goes without saying, that every member was to be obligated to take upon himself to learn every day at the same time.

[5] About ten years before R’ Spivak made his proposal to study Daf Yomi, such a proposal was published by R’ Yechezkel Fraser. R’ Fraser was born in 1829 in the Mariampol district of Lithuania and later moved to New York. His proposal appeared in his sefer “Porachas Hagefen– Yom Yisrael” and was written in Yiddish. He suggested that all Shas groups should unite to be one company, and that each group should teach the same Daf in the same masechta at the same time in its own Shul. There are also (at least) four sources reporting Daf Yomi suggestions at earlier dates. They are: the Gerrer Rebbe, R’ Yaakov Lorbeerbaum of Lissa, R’ Akiva Eiger and the Jewish Community in Moravia (Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons).

[6] For the first cycle, there were only 2,702 pages of Talmud on the schedule; later leading Rabbis increased it to 2,711, changing the edition used for Mesachta Shekalim, taken from Talmud Yerushalmi, to one with more pages.

[7] R’ Shapiro, also known as the Lubliner Rav, was a descendant of R’ Pinchas Koritzer, a student of the Baal Shem Tov. After cheder, he studied with his grandfather, the Baal Minchas Shai, R’ Shmuel Yitzchak Schor. Another of his early teachers was the Shotzer Rebbe, R’ Shulem Moshkovitz. From an early age, he was known as an outstanding leader and gifted speaker. He was soon ordained by many great scholars, including the Maharsham. His grandfather introduced him to the Chortkover Rebbe, and thus began his passion for Chassidus, and the beginning of his relationship with the Chortkover Rebbe. His first rabbinical posting came in 1911 when he was appointed Rav of Galina, spending ten years in the city, during which time he established a Yeshiva called Bnei Torah. During the years 1922 to 1927, R’ Shapiro became the first Orthodox Jew to become a member in the Sejm (Parliament) of the Second Polish Republic representing the Jewish minority of the country. He established the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva in 1930. Over one hundred thousand Jews took part in the celebration of its opening. The students in the Yeshiva were of the highest caliber, many of them were of genius quality and the Yeshiva produced many great leaders among the Jewish people until its tragic end in the Second World War. In 1931, he was appointed rabbi of Lublin in the old shul of the Maharshal. R’ Shapiro died without children. His death was mourned in both Jewish and non-Jewish Poland. Countless newspapers across the entire political spectrum, from Orthodox to Yiddishist to socialist, featured front-page biographies of R’ Shapiro.

[8] In those years, only some Gemaras of Shas were being learned regularly, such as Brachos, Shabbos, and Eruvin, which deal with practical laws, while others were hardly studied.

[9] The Gemara (Baba Basra 21a) says remember that man—R’ Yehoshua Ben Gamla—in a favorable way. If not for him, the Torah would have been forgotten…This was because R’ Yehoshua Ben Gamla established a school system for Jewish children to be educated. R’ Yehoshua Boymel, a student of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin (He was born in 1913. After Chachmei Lublin, he succeeded his father as rabbi of Kroscienku-Szczawnica Nizna and then of Opoczno. He authored a Yiddish-language biography of R’ Meir Shapiro that survived the war and came into the hands of his brother R’ Yosef in Brooklyn, who published it. He also helped found the Organization of Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva Graduates (Igud Chanichei Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin) to restore the Yeshiva after R’ Meir Shapiro’s death in October 1933. Most of his writings were destroyed in the Holocaust, but some of his studies in Halacha and Aggadah were published in “Hatalmid Hagadol: Sefer Zikaron L’Harav Hagaon R’ Yehoshua Boymel.” He was killed at the age of 29 with his wife, two children, and mother in Treblinka.), wrote the following in his memoir: R’ Meir Shapiro traveled to America to raise money for Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin but was unsuccessful in raising funds (When R’ Meir Shapiro was in Montreal, the Gabai asked if he was a Levi to see if he can give him the second Aliya, which is Levi. R’ Meir Shapiro said I’m not a Levi, I’m a Loveh, borrower, as he was in so much debt.). In his time there he gave 242 Drashos. The Gemara we mentioned introduces the narrative with the word ברם, indeed. This has a Gematria of 242. R’ Meir Shapiro who gave of himself and gave 242 Drashos, remember him for good (like R’ Yehoshua Ben Gamla) because he tried to build a place of Torah. If not for him the Torah would have been forgotten.

[10] The Knessia Gedola lasted for 10 days. The Knessia introduced two programs that would forever change education in the Jewish world. Formal schooling for girls under Sarah Schenirer’s Beis Yaakov and the Daf Yomi.

[11] In his excitement forgot, R’ Shapiro to credit R’ Spivak with the idea. R’ Shapiro later wrote R’ Spivak a letter apologizing for the oversight. R’ Spivak always resisted the wishes of his household and his relatives who wanted to publicize that it was his idea because he felt that it would result in damaging the name of R’ Shapiro or of Agudas Yisrael.

[12] On Friday, December 13, 2013, the tenth of Teves, an extremely unusual occurrence continued to take place in Eretz Yisrael, as the tremendous snowstorm continued to hit Yerushalayim. The Daf Yomi of that day was Yoma 35 where it relates that one time Hillel didn’t find the means to earn money and the guard of the Beis Midrash didn’t let him enter. So he climbed up to the roof, suspended himself and sat at the edge of the skylight to hear words of Torah from Shemaya and Avtalyon. That day was Erev Shabbos, in the Teves season (תקופת טבת) and snow descended…Similarly, in 2013, on Erev Shabbos in Teves, an enormous amount of snow fell.

[13] Yevamos 121a.

[14] Among the expected places a Daf shiur takes place in, such as Shuls and Yeshivos, it also takes place in some unusual places. These include in the United States Senate, Wall Street board rooms, and on the Long Island Rail Road, in the last car of two commuter trains departing Far Rockaway at 7:51 am and 8:15 am, respectively, for Manhattan. Daf Yomi shiurim are also piped into the in-flight sound system of all El-Al flights.

[15] Soon after its introduction, Daf Yomi inspired the founding of other Yomi (Daily) study programs for key texts of Judaism. These include Mishna Yomis, the daily study of Mishna; Nach Yomi, the daily study of Neviim and Kesuvim; and Mussar Yomi, the daily study of Mussar. In 1980, the Gerrer Rebbe introduced Yerushalmi Yomi, a daily schedule for completing Talmud Yerushalmi. In 1984, the Lubavitcher Rebbe introduced Mishna Torah Yomi, a daily study schedule to finish the Rambam’s Mishna Torah in a year. Dirshu has introduced Mishna Brura Yomi, a daily learning plan which finishes the Mishna Brura in seven years.

[16] Shevet Halevi, 10:13. R’ Wosner studied in the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva. He married and immigrated to Palestine before the Holocaust, settling in Yerushalayim where he studied at the Dushinsky Yeshiva. It was in that time that, despite his young age, he became a member of the Eidah HaChareidis. He served as an illustrious posek for seven decades. At the behest of the Chazon Ish, he was appointed as Rav of Zichron Meir in Bnei Brak in addition to his position as Rosh Yeshiva of the newly re-established Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. His sons include R’ Chaim Wosner, formerly Dayan of London’s Satmar community, who moved to Bnei Brak to assist his father in the management of the Yeshiva. R’ Ben Tzion Wosner of Monsey, New York is the Av Beis Din of the Shevet Halevi Beis Din. Another son, R’ Yosef Wosner, is a businessman in Brooklyn, New York.

 

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