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During the upcoming month, there will be worldwide commemorations and programs marking the conclusion of the almost seven-and-a-half-year cycle of studying one page each day of the Babylonian Talmud. The originator of this program was the famed Rabbi Meir Shapiro, a leader of Polish Orthodox Jewry in the interwar years of the twentieth century. Rabbi Shapiro was a member of the Polish Parliament and the leader of the Agudat Yisrael party, who represented the interests of the Polish Orthodox Jewish community.

At a convention of Agudat Yisrael in the early 1920's, he publicly proclaimed the inauguration of the Daf Yomi initiative. The idea gained traction in the Jewish world, though like all ideas, especially in Jewish society, it also raised criticism in certain circles. The scholarly purists objected to Daf Yomi because they claimed it would only provide a superficial understanding of the Talmud, and would prevent the deeper knowledge and discussion, which was so central to the study of the Talmud in the great yeshivot.
Nevertheless, because of the great stature of Rabbi Shapiro himself, this criticism remained muted, and was kept alive only in the most densely scholarly of Talmudic circles. By the beginning of World War II, after a number of cycles of Talmud study were complete, there were thousands of Jews, especially in Eastern Europe, who were loyal participants in the daily study program. Rabbi Shapiro himself passed away tragically at a very early age, in the first half of the 1930s, and his death had a profound effect upon the Jewish world of that time, and on his beloved project.
After the destruction of European Jewry in World War II, Torah study generally was in precipitous decline. A great percentage of the prestigious Torah academies of Europe, as well as its scholars, leaders and students, had been destroyed. A handful of great scholars, those who had escaped the Holocaust, began the painstaking work of rebuilding the world of the yeshivot and with it, the intensive study of the Talmud. This work was mainly carried on in the nascent state of Israel and in the United States.
The Agudat Yisrael religious political party saw itself as an influential force in Israel as well as in the United States. Part of this renaissance was its activity in restarting the daily learning program. Though initially, in the middle decades of the 20th century, the participants in this learning program were small in number, the program itself eventually gained great popularity among all sections of the Jewish Orthodox world, even among Jews who were otherwise ideologically opposed to many of the ideas and worldview of the Agudat Yisrael. All groups within the broad Orthodox Jewish community began to participate in this learning program, and the Daf Yomi became an integral part of the daily lives of tens of thousands of Jews throughout the world. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that today there are more participants in this daily learning program today than ever before in its history.
As we near the commemoration of the completion of another cycle of this worldwide study of the Talmud, we certainly should note the remarkable success that began almost a century ago in Eastern Europe. Its success testifies to the unbreakable bond of the study of Torah with the Jewish state and the Jewish people. In our time there have been many innovations in helping people study Talmud. Translations, expanded commentaries, electronic communication, recorded lectures and classes have all contributed to the revival of the study of the Talmud. It is one of the many miraculous achievements of the Jewish people over the past 80 years, that the Daf Yomi learning program is so popular and continues to grow from cycle to cycle. It should be clear to all that basis of healthy Jewish life is the knowledge of Torah.
The rabbis of the Mishna stated long ago that ignorance is the enemy of morality and piety. There can be little understanding of Jewish life, its traditions and value system if one is ignorant of the teaching and methodology of the study of Talmud. This Daf Yomi learning program and process grants the participants the ability to swim in the great ocean of Jewish knowledge and holy values that the Talmud represents.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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