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History of the Daf

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 20/1/2020

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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, was proposed by R Spivak. When the idea didnt take hold that R Spivak, then the rabbi of Krasnobrod near Lublin, felt it deserved, he approached R Meir Shapiro (1887-1933).[6] R Spivaks idea was for R Shapiro to speak about the Daf Yomi plan[7] at the May, 1924, cornerstone-laying ceremony for the construction of the Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin building. Feeling that this wasnt 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.[8] 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.[9] The idea quickly took hold.


R Meir Shapiro introduced the idea of Daf Yomi[10] at the Knessia Gedola in 1923 at age 35, in front of many Gedolim who were much older than him, like this: The Gemara[11] 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 , 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 wavessecularism, 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.[12] Could there be greater unity of hearts than this?[13]


R Shmuel Wosner[14] (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.


Soon after the Siyum Hashas[15] at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, which took place on Wednesday, January 1, 2020, where over 90,000 Jews gathered,[16] a Jew that lived in Monsey was pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper although he was doing nothing wrong. The police officer asked the man if he had done the Daf yet. Startled, the man responded, Im starting the new cycle on Sunday. The man then asked, So, why did I get pulled over? The officer told him, I am Jewish and observe Shabbos and all that but I have no connection to Judaism. I am looking for a learning partner to do the Daf with every day. The officer pulled this Monsey Jew over because he was in search for someone to learn the Daf with! They then scheduled to begin the Daf together for that Sunday and to continue it for the 7 year cycle. What happened now that the officer decided to learn the Daf? The officer told the man, I wasnt patrolling at MetLife Stadium but I heard from my friends how beautiful it was. I want to be a part of it.


Now let us mention Kiddush Hashems that were caused due to the Daf Yomiat the Siyum Hashas. After the Siyum Hashas at MetLife Stadium, Rosemary Yacono wrote: There have been only a handful of events at MetLife Stadium that have so totally moved me emotionally during my tenure since 2001; today definitely qualified. Despite the horrific hate crimes as of late, Jews defied fear and chose to rise above what would have been the natural instinct to postponeand they did so with real joy, the likes of which I probably will not see againthere is a sense of community that these people truly embrace which cant help but be envied by its counterparts. It was a genuine pleasure to be part of this experience, that only occurs every 7 years. In all likelihood I will probably not be employed by the stadium for the next round; however it is extremely likely I will be attending as a spectator. Yeahone for sure, for the Bucket List.


Becky Syrett, the Operations Manager at the SSE Arena in London for the Siyum Hashas in January 2020, wrote the following in a letter to the organizers of this Siyum Hashas: Dear Siyum Team, it is 2 am as I write this to you having just got home after the Siyum. On behalf of all the team I must express our deepest pride and pleasure at being given the opportunity to host the Siyum event6,748 tickets were scanned at the door, aside from the top table, Rabbis who entered via the VIP entrance, and of course all your volunteers and crew. There are a number of points that have blown us away: 1. We have a security cupboard in which we allow guests to deposit anything deemed dangerous or inappropriate. At an event this size we would normally collect anything between 700-1,000 items. Tonight we held nothing. 2. There was not a single incident of drunkenness, boisterous or rowdy behavior. Not a single one. I have been at the Arena for 28 months and accommodated over 300 events in that time. Never have we had no incident. 3. All the team were blown away by the amount of thank yous that we received at the end of the evening. I actually thought everyone had been instructed to do this! She concludes: I am devestated that the Siyum only takes place once every seven years. This event was a delight for all of us.


On January 2, 2020, the day after the Siyum Hashas at MetLife Stadium, R Binyomin Ginsberg, who lives in Toms River, New Jersey, was pulled over by a police officer for a traffic violation. When the officer saw him with his yarmulke, he asked, Did you learn your page today? Stunned, he responded in astonishment, What? The officer said, I was at MetLife Stadium. I know that you Jews celebrated all those pages. So did you learn your page today? When R Ginsberg said that he hadnt yet learned it, the officer told him, If you promise me that youll learn your page, I wont give you a ticket. He continued that he was so impressed that 93,000 people gathered to celebrate, and there was not one intoxicated or disorderly person. Then the officer related that there was another officer who worked with him at the Siyum Hashas and he said he wishes he could be Jewish because the Jewish people celebrated that they read and understood a page. What a nation! No other nation would do that.

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R Mordechai Friedlander Ztzl for close to five years. He received Semicha from R Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[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. His father then arranged for him to learn with a Talmudic scholar who had been brought from another town by three wealthy families to teach their gifted sons. The tuition was three rubles each per week, a huge sum in those days. When these families heard that R Alexander Zusha would join their group, they offered to pay his father the three rubles for the privilege of having R Alexander Zusha learn with and motivate their sons. But his father insisted on paying the tuition himself, which amounted to his entire week's wages. After his bar mitzva, R Alexander Zusha entered the Sochatchover Yeshiva. In the summer of 1914 he became engaged to a girl from a nearby town. With the outbreak of World War I, he, his Kalla and his parents fled to Warsaw, where he studied under R Baruch Gelbart, a well-to-do Talmudic scholar who offered to support him, an offer which he refused. Postwar Poland was full of new reforms and political movements that caused many Jewish youth to rebel against traditional Torah observance. R Alexander Zusha founded the Orthodox Federation to strengthen youth who were still loyal to the Torah camp. In 1925 he was appointed secretary-general of Agudas Yisrael of Poland, a position he held until his death. He represented Agudas Yisrael in the Jewish Community Council of Warsaw. He was also the chairman of Keren HaTorah (the educational fund-raising arm of Agudas Yisrael), head of the Federation of Yesodei HaTorah Schools (the network of boys schools run by Agudas Yisrael), member of the National Executive of the Beis Yaakov movement in Poland, and director of the Bais Yaakov Teachers Seminary in Krakow. He was also a founder of the Seminary for Religious Teachers in Warsaw and lectured in this teacher-training institute. In addition to his other gifts, he was a masterful orator and writer. His speeches combined deep knowledge of the Torah with original insights, and he was the second most popular speaker for the Agudas Yisrael of Poland, second only to R Meir Shapiro. In 1919 he founded and edited Digleinu (Our Banner).  From 1936 to 1938 he was a co-editor of Darkeinu (Our Path), the official journal of Agudas Yisrael of Poland. 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: , 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 opinion " ... ..., 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] 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.  

[7] 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.

[8] 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 Schenirers Beis Yaakov and the Daf Yomi.

[9] 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.

[10] 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 didnt find the means to earn money and the guard of the Beis Midrash didnt 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 ( ) and snow descendedSimilarly, in 2013, on Erev Shabbos in Teves, an enormous amount of snow fell.

[11] Yevamos 121a.

[12] 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.

[13] 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 Rambams Mishna Torah in a year. Dirshu has introduced Mishna Brura Yomi, a daily learning plan which finishes the Mishna Brura in seven years.

[14] 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.

[15] 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.

[16] The first Siyum Hashas took place on the 15th of Shevat, February 2, 1931, in several cities in Europe and in Yerushalayim, with the main venue being the newly opened Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Lublin, Poland. Tens of thousands of Jews attended these events. R Shapiro presided over the Siyum in his Yeshiva in the presence of many leaders of Polish Jewry. In the United States, Siyums were held in Baltimore and Philadelphia. 

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