Paging a Nation
Dr. Eric Chevlen from Youngstown, Ohio wrote:
Where can I learn about the history of the Daf Yomi (the worldwide coordinated study of a page of Talmud per day). My recollection is that the "uncoordinated coordination" began about 70 years ago, but I don't know that for sure, and I don't remember the name of the Rabbi who promoted or proposed it. I assume there were scholars and laymen who were studying a page of Talmud a day before that. Were they all studying different pages then? What prompted the promoter to make his proposal? How was it first coordinated or promulgated?
Dear Dr. Eric Chevlen,
The idea of having a universal Daf Yomi was first proposed by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin. It was accepted in 1922 by the Council of Torah Sages in Eastern Europe and thus began what is today an international study scheme by which tens of thousands of Jews worldwide study the same folio page of Talmud every day.
When Rabbi Shapiro raised the idea, one of his most prominent backers was Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Chafetz Chaim. He supported the idea because certain portions of the Talmud were not commonly studied, "neglected" in favor of more "popular" portions. The methodical study of a page of Talmud a day ensured that the entire Talmud would be studied in the course of seven and a half years.
The first completion of the Daf Yomi cycle took place on Tu B'Shvat 1930. In honor of Rabbi Shapiro, it was celebrated in his town, Lublin. The second completion in 1938 attracted 20,000 celebrants to Lublin, indicating just how popular Daf Yomi had become over such a short period.
The third completion was in 1945. Because of the Holocaust, the largest celebrations were in Israel. The fourth completion was in 1953. The fifth celebration in 1960 was the first one attracting mass attendance in America. Amongst others, it was attended by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky and Rabbi Aharon Kotler.
The sixth completion in 1968 came shortly after the reunification of Jerusalem and the return of the Western Wall. At that time, celebrations were held in the USA, England, Belgium, Argentina, Mexico, Holland and France. The eighth completion in 1982 was the first to cater to large crowds in America, filling New York's Felt Forum to capacity (5,000 seats) with thousands of people standing outside. In Israel there were 20,000 participants.
In 1990, 20,000 people crowded into Madison Square Gardens to celebrate the ninth completion. The tenth and most recent completion was in 1997. In America alone there were over 70,000 participants! And tens of thousands more through out the world.
Virtually any place Jews are, there are people studying Daf Yomi. It's wonderful that a person can go almost anywhere in the world and participate in a class on the exact same section of Talmud he is currently studying. It draws Jews together in a unique way.