Siyum Hashas - I'm Getting Aggitated
Although I had misgivings
about our younger son's school attending the siyum, and although I agree that there are obvious shortcomings to the whole concept of Daf Yomi, I have nothing but great respect and admiration for those who had the dedication, commitment and discipline to complete the 7 1/2-year cycle of learning.
And, the more I think about it, the more aggravated I get when I think about the column
that Dov Bear
and others brought to my attention yesterday.
I think Rabbi Rothstein misunderstands the Daf Yomi phenomenon, and, perhaps because he himself is perched in the "Ivory Tower" of the chinuch world, lacks an appreciation for the goals and aspirations of the Daf Yomi hamon am
that exists in what we call "the real world".
The upcoming celebration of the completion of another cycle of Daf haYomi presents the paradox of a practice with great staying power despite the rigor of its demands and the minimal results it produces. Coming to grips with the Daf Yomi phenomenon leads us to realize that how we react to the Siyum haShas will reflect on our own dedication to furthering the stated goals of Judaism
.As we will see, Rabbi Rothstein's understanding of what Daf Yomi produces is very narrow and does not take into account other, less tangible results.
He continues by comparing Daf Yomi to running a marathon which, in his words, "requires little skill, just the willingness to show up with discipline and consistency". Again, comparing Daf Yomi to the marathon, he grudingly acknowledges that it takes a great deal of effort and deserves our admiration.
Having run two marathons myself, I know that there are two ways to train for a marathon. One can simply put in the miles, running 12 or 14 minute miles with the goal of simply finishing the race in 5 or 6 hours. Or, one can train very hard, running 7 or 8 minutes miles with a goal of breaking some pre-determined time, like, for example, 3 or 4 hours. Both methods are admirable; perhaps the second way is more admirable.
In my experience with those who have learned Daf Yomi, I have seen the same thing. While many people are satisfied with the 6-hour version, the two people from my shul who have just completed the daf yomi cycle did the 3-4-hour version. Besides going to a daily shiur, they each spent an additional hour or more each day by themselves chazering
the gemorah and working through meforshim. I think this is the case with many more people than Rabbi Rothstein credits.
And here is where I really started to take issue with Rabbi Rothstein:
The problem begins to become clear when we consider the religious yield of the practice, because there is so little of it. In an hour a day, the vast majority of those who attend such shiurim can do no more than watch the text whiz by, gleaning occasional nuggets of information that strike them as particularly interesting. Perhaps some small percentage of attendees can catch the text meaningfully at that speed on the first time around, and some even smaller percentage make the time to review what they have learned, but that is not the Daf Yomi experience in general.
What, exactly, does Rabbi Rothstein mean that there is so little religious yield? His definition of religious yield is obviously very narrow. He seems to be suggesting that there is little religious yield unless one understands the gemorah on the deepest level. I think this is surprising misunderstanding of what the term religious yield means.
Is there no religious yield for simply being koveiah itim
for Torah every single day without exception for 7 1/2 years? Is there no religious yield when your children see you get up at 5 a.m. each weekday and leave an hour before shul starts on Shabbos in order to get to Daf Yomi? Is there no religious yield when your wife happily agrees to hold down the fort when you need to go to a 9 p.m. shiur?
He goes on:
My own experience has been that serious talmidei hakhamim do not study Daf Yomi, begging off with the excuse that they cannot see themselves keeping up that pace.
Who said Daf Yomi is designed for talmidei Chachamim?
Daf Yomi instead appeals, with notable but few exceptions, to those who get so caught up in the romance of completing a great task in bite-sized pieces that they do not notice that the bites are too large for them to digest, who do not figure out that they end up with the appurtenances of accomplishment without the actuality.
Again, I think Rabbi Rothstein completely misunderstands the people who do Daf Yomi. They do, indeed notice that they are not "digesting the bites". I have yet to meet a single person who thinks his Daf Yomi learning is anything other than touching the surface of the gemarah. Indeed, that is the goal
of most of the people that I have spoken to; to merely touch the surface.
No harm, no foul, I hear readers thinking. Why pick on people who are devoting such time and effort to studying Torah? Isn’t there someplace else to point one’s ire? Granted that these people might achieve more by choosing something else to learn - Rashi on that week’s parsha, for example, which is an actual codified fulfillment of a separate specific Rabbinic obligation. Why complain when they feel good about spending time in the study of Torah?.
It is certainly about more than just feeling good about spending time in the study of Torah.
It is precisely those people whose energies we might succeed at channeling more positively. You can’t coach height in basketball, and it is notoriously difficult to coach a willingness to work as hard and consistently at study of Torah as do these Jews. Convincing them to take up other books would benefit them, but also would benefit the rest of Jewish society, which often looks to them as the gold standard of dedication to Torah study.
I believe that many of the Jews who complete the Daf Yomi cycle do go on to other things. I believe we will increasingly see this phenomenon over the next cycle of Daf Yomi. I believe that Daf Yomi often acts as the catalyst for just what rabbi Rothstein is seeking.
Exchanging Daf Yomi for some more manageable task (a chapter of Nakh a day completes that corpus in two years, five daily mishnayot finishes Shas in five years, a chapter of Rambam a day completes the entire Mishneh Torah in three years, for example) can produce the same consistency, the same sense of accomplishment, but with a deeper clarity, a better understanding of what they are studying.
I don't think anyone disagrees that learning more b'iyun is the ideal.
He then suggests that Daf Yomi leaves no impression on its students and turns Torah learning into but another form of davening. He laments that Torah study becomes a rote observance devoid of all internal impact. I simply don't agree that learning Daf Yomi leaves no impression on the student and is devoid of all internal impact. That's not what I've observed. And, even if one were to concede that Daf Yomi has turned Torah learning into davening, is that so bad if it leads to deveikus to Hashem?
Shifting the energies of current Daf Yomi Jews would also change the tenor of our community as a whole. A Jew today who becomes serious about including regular Torah study in his life will, I suspect, choose to join a Daf. If he (or she) keeps up with the group, his praiseworthy instincts will have been largely wasted, as we discussed above; if he finds the pace too much for him, he’ll probably give up on regular study altogether. The more we insist that Daf Yomi is for the rare few, the more likely that Jew will find other options, ones more appropriate to his current state of preparation.
I have already expressed my disagreement with Rabbi Rothstein that the efforts spent on Daf Yomi are wasted. And, contrary to what Rabbi Rothstein writes, I think Daf Yomi is indeed for the masses, not the few. The masses who work full days, have very little time and energy left for learning, yet make the commitment to get whatever learning they can under their belts. And, as I expressed above, I am convinced that Daf Yomi will itself lead countless numbers of these Jews, after spending some time (even a full cycle) with Daf Yomi, to learn in exactly the manner Rabbi Rothstein recommends.
The rest of Rabbi Rothstein's article is a discussion of how best to communicate this opposition to Daf Yomi. Since I disagree with his opposition, there is no real point discussing at length his suggestion that we boycott the siyum. Suffice it to say that I believe it is misguided.
We have limited energy in this life, and the energy that goes into the Daf is too precious to be wasted. Let us begin to oppose the Daf not to create mahloket, God forbid, but to move ourselves in the direction of a proper hagdalat Torah ve-haadaratah.
With all due respect, the people who learn Daf Yomi are largely working people who have made an amazing commitment to be koveiah itim
for Torah. Whether they retain small amounts of Torah or nothing at all, their commitment and dedication is, itself, a kiddush Hashem. Their children and families and those around them will benefit in ways we cannot even contemplate. They inspire others to set aside time for learning.
Could they learn more b'iyun
? Certainly some could. But we have to be realistic. Daf Yomi is like Economics 101 (l'havdil). Most people with an hour a day to spend on learning aren't going to go straight into learning b'Iyun. On the other hand, I believe that a good percentage will use the Daf Yomi experience as a springboard to the next step.
Rather than boycott the Daf Yomi siyum, we should stand in admiration for those who have committed themselves to the daily grind for 7 1/2 years.