The Letter to My Congregation on Jan 3, 2021
Roughly a year ago (January 5, 2020) Eva and I began a 7.5 year project of reading the entire Talmud. This undertaking is part of a synchronized worldwide study called “Daf Yomi,” in which we read one folio (2 sides of a page) a day. Now in its 14th cycle, it has become much more widespread due to the Internet as well as increasingly accessible translations.
When I began this project, I could not have imagined what the first year would bring. Reading the first Tractate, Brachot, I studied it in Hawaii, on airplanes, on a train to NYC, while eating lunch at Titus Mountain and Whiteface. I studied it on the Ferry to Vermont and in my office at the Temple. Brachot has 64 pages, and given the variety of places and circumstances in which I studied, I could only imagine what the other tractates of the year would bring.
We began to study the second Tractate, Shabbat, on March 8th. The world changed roughly a week later. Through Shabbat, Eiruvin, and now Pesachim, I have studied all of them while sitting on my couch (with the exception of the week I was on retreat).
Plans changed. I was preparing to lead a Daf Yomi session on Shabbat 11 (the 10th page of Shabbat–page 1 is the title page in each volume) at my rabbinical convention in Puerto Rico. With less than a week to go, the convention was canceled. Similarly, all travel plans since then have canceled as well, as we try to restrict risk to the truly essential.
In those first few months of 2020, studying Talmud was showing me how rich, varied and busy my life was as I carved out time each day to study. While life is still busy, and at times rich, it has come to represent a way of marking the sameness of time. We finished Shabbat in August–still at home. We finished Eiruvin in November, still at home. We will finish Pesachim in March, and we will still be at home. Hopefully sometime next fall, maybe when we get to Yoma, things will be back something closer to normal.
In this first year of reading Talmud day by day, I have not only marked time. I have also learned about how Talmud works at a deeper level than I did in my many Talmud classes in rabbinical school. There is something to be said for quantity of study over quality. I have incorporated stories and teachings into sermons and services. It has become a part of my daily routine.
And at the same time, I am looking forward to a time when I go back to noting all the interesting places I’m studying Talmud.