Daf Yomi: Exploring Methods

No promise of daily posts. I hope, however, to at least occasionally follow up on the idea, learned through Svara, that the Talmud offers us tools and methodology for re-making Judaism in our age. As a start, I am focusing on trying to record — and maybe begin to understand — different ways the sages went about their decision-making.

I had not considered Daf Yomi study until very recently, and I had not planned to post about the studies at all. Writing is how I think, though, and I read somewhere that it’s better to put Daf Yomi notes into an e-searchable format than in one or more paper notebooks which may or may not be handy at any given time. So, I’m posting some thoughts as I go along. Page updated to streamline, 1/10/20.

All All posts in “Daf Yomi” category

Here, to start, is a raw posting of some sources for decision-making I found in the early days of this study. Not sure how best to keep track of what is becoming a very large document.

Decision-Making Sources

Sources for decision-making found in 2a-b:

  • Natural: ‘evening’ is sometime between the sun’s setting and the appearance of stars;
  • Practical: ‘evening’ is the end of the work day, or the chance to rest;
  • Torah: ‘evening’ is as mentioned in instructions around the priesthood;
  • Historical: ‘evening’ is when the priests actually used to immerse and then eat;
  • Linguistic: perhaps ‘evening’ is when ritual impurity “clears” with the end of the day, or maybe how the day itself “clears”;
  • Reasoning: ‘evening’ is defined in a logical compromise encompassing several avenues of thought and tradition
  • People say: ‘evening’ is as popular understanding has it, when the “day is past” or “cleared away.” — all 2a-b

Folklore and personal experiences of teachers seen to inform decision-making discussion (3a-b):

  • there is no Talmudic objection to Rabbi Yosei changing his own practice based on his encounter with Elijah;
  • there is no Talmudic suggestion that any one else take another teacher’s private experience as proof, on its own, for new practice; and
  • the Talmud includes many forms of thinking and expression as part of its methodology.

From 4a-b:

  • the value of “yafeh decision-making” above partying and pomp
  • asking a counselor for help,
  • deep investigation,
  • seeking rulings that support health and relationships
  • some kind of balance between decisiveness and doubt.
  • Making a “fence” around a decision
  • Choosing to study topics where one’s behavior — and, by extension, one’s community or wider world — fell short seems important. Maybe making that choice is another kind of “fence”?

For the list of sources considered in decision-making (5a-b):

  • “um, excuse me? you haven’t a clue!” from someone who has been through an experience being discussed;
  • differing impact of a label or decision based on regional exigencies and actual differences in experience

Prooftext (6a-b) — see Laynie Solomon’s MJL post

Wordplay (7a-b)

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Daf Yomi, page/day through the Babylonian Talmud, spanning 7.5 years, has been around since early in the 20th Century. Here’s some basic information from My Jewish Learning and resources for more on-line learning. The new cycle began on Jan 5, 2020. My Jewish Learning is offering daily emails (sign up via the link above) but has only committed to doing so for the first tractate, Berakhot. There are many other resources for following Daf Yomi, but not too many that are meant for non-Orthodox, diverse audiences.

For many cycles, most, if not all, participants were orthodox men. Access to resources (based on my own experience and anecdotes, not serious research**) was difficult for women and resources designed for women were quite rare until the last 15 years, increasing with each cycle. This year (2020) is the first time that I’ve seen welcome to queer Jews and less traditional students — although I still hear many non-orthodox Jews complaining that trying to follow most discussions on the “daf” makes them feel excluded.

Here’s a piece discussing some other reasons NOT to take up Daf Yomi. There are many other, less extreme, ways to stick a toe into the sea of Talmud.

**Footnote added 1/8/2020 — Here’s Elli Fischer at Lehrhaus describing 30 years of experiences in Daf Yomi and its expansion beyond Yiddish-speaking men from one strand of Judaism. Another Lehrhaus view (added 1/13)”Imagining Ourselves into the Beit Midrash,” by Sara Tillinger Wokenfeld.