Thursday, March 31, 2005

R. Zecharia b. Avqulas Lives (Part One)

One of the best known stories in the Talmud is that of 'Qamtza and Bar Qamtza' (Gittin 55b). The story is cited all of the time as an expression of the causeless hatred (sin'at hinam) that brought about the destruction of the Second Temple (cf. Yoma 9b). There is, however, another person who figures prominently in the story. His name was R. Zechariah b. Avqulas. [I addressed another aspect of this story here.] Little is known about R. Zechariah b. Avqulas, aside from his role in the Qamtza/Bar Qamtza story.

Briefly, according to the Gemora, Bar Qamtza travelled to Rome and claimed that the Jews were in revolt against him. Nero chose to test the Jews by sending a sacrificial animal to be offered on his behalf in the Temple. If the Jews offered the animal, it was a sign that they remained loyal and if not, their refusal would be a clear declaration of rebellion. Bar Qamtza, however, owing to his deep resentment of a slight he felt he had received at the hands of the rabbis was intent upon proving the Jews to be in rebellion. Hence he sought to prevent the offering of the animal. This he achieved by splitting the lip of the animal, thereby rendering it unfit according to Halakhah. His choice of blemish was ingenious. For, while such a physical imperfection was recognized as such according to Jewish Tradition, it did not disqualify a sacrficial animal according to pagan lore. Hence, reasoned Bar Qamtza, the Jews would refuse to offer the sacrifice for reasons which Nero would take to be unsatisfactory at best and disingenuous at worst. In any event, Roman retaliation would be assured and Bar Qamtza's lust for vengeance satisfied.

The Talmud recounts, that upon receiving the animal from Nero and the rabbis realized that Bar Qamtza had maneuvered them into a corner. They expressed their determination to offer the animal in any case in order to avert the Emperor's wrath. Only one man stood against them, R. Zekharia b. Avqulos. Eloquently he countered each and every argument marshalled in favor of offering the animal. The crux of his argument? Halakhah must stand pristine under any and all circumstances. No other considerations may prevent the precise implementation of an>established halakhic ruling. In a word, 'Let the Law bore through the mountain!' ( Yiqov HaDin et HaHar). And so, the animal was not offered. Rome attacked and the rest is history.

I thought about R. Zechariah this morning when I heard two, ostensibly unrelated, news items. The first concerned the call by the former chief rabbi and the Yesha rabbinical council, for mass desertion from the army in order to prevent the retreat from Gaza. Now I personally oppose Sharon's unilateral withdrawal, which was approved in a thug-like fashion and is being carried out in the absolutely worst manner possible. Nevertheless, these rabbis are calling for the destruction of the army (and, by extension, of the country) in the name of ideological/halakhic purism. No thought is being given to the implications, both the security implications and those that relate to the social fabric of the country (or what's left of it). R. Zekharia b. Avqulos lives.

The second news item related to the Supreme Court decision to recognize Conservative and Reform conversions performed in Israel, under the subterfuge that the final ceremony takes place outside of Israel. Interestingly, in this case, all sides involved betray characteristics of R. Zekharia b. Avqulos.

The Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Aharon Barak, in the name of personal autonomy and post-modern liberal theory, consistently ruled against Tradition in the Israeli Public Sphere. Justice Barak's position is a principled one, but it contradicts the collective nature of Judaism and Jewish identity. Absolute individual liberty cannot co-exist with the demands of Jewish destiny and religio-tribal identity. Nevertheless, with a consistency that is truly stunning, Barak and his court have pushed their agenda so that, eventually, the Jewish character of the state will be expressed by some vague ideals related to prophetic Judaism (whatever that is). He's said as much himself. This decision is another step in that direction, and it bodes very badly for Israel's continued existence as a Jewish State. After all, it is the tribal nature of Jewish identity that holds us together. R. Zekharia b. Avqulos lives.

The Conservative and Reform movements also act like R. Zekharia b. Avqulos. They promised to commit themselves to the truly landmark compromise known as the Neeman Commission Joint-Conversion institutes. However, despite that understanding, they continue to convert independently of the Neeman framework. In large part, this is out of a personal (potentially destructive) desire to being validated within the Israeli context. Their grievances are understandable. Their unwillingness to compromise is not. R. Zekharia b. Avqulos lives.

Finally, the Israeli rabbinate is deeply tinged with the syndrome of R. Zekharia b. Avqulos. Consistently we hear that Reform and Conservative converts turned away from the rabbinate because of the shoddy way in which they were treated. The rabbinate will not even register people who were converted by the Neeman Commission schools or by R. Haim Druckman's Bet Din. These are both Orthodox frameworks (the first, de facto and the second, de jure). By adopting a R. Zekharia b. Avqulos position the rabbinate is directly aiding and abetting the division of the Jewish people into two (or three or four). R. Zekharia b. Avqulos lives.

I think all concerned must keep in mind R. Yohanan's rueful observation that 'The punctiliousness ( anv'tanuto ) of R. Zekharia b. Avqulos destroyed our Temple, burned our Sanctuary and exiled us among the nations!'

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Mikveh and the single Girl Redux

A few days ago, I started a discussion on the question on Mikveh for single Women and judging from the traffic yesterday, it aroused a not inconsiderable amount of interest. I'd like, now, to

Monday, March 28, 2005

Words of Wisdom and Dialogues of the Deaf

My friend, Maria, has asked me if I follow the blogger that goes under the pseudonym of Geviha ben Pesisa. At her suggestion I do check up on it occasionally (and was flattered to find myself 'linked'). Anyway, he just posted something that I thought was worth noting, especially since I've often argued that facts have no place in an inter-religious dispute. So here it is:

So, I've been thinking about this for a long time. It won't make a difference, but it makes me feel good. So....

The Arabs claim that our presence here is illegitimate. They deny the fact that Israwel was given by God to the Jews (though it says so in the Quran). They claim we must dismantle the State of Israel because we conquered them. OK. How did they get here? Well, the Arabs conquered Byzantine Palestine at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636 CE. The Byzantines, of course, were merely the Eastern Roman Empire. The Romans conquered Israel from the Hasmoneans in 63 BCE. The Jews, of course, had had autonomy under the Persian Empire, which conquered the Babylonians in 539 BCE. The Babylonians conquered Judaea from...the Jews, who had taken it (by divine mandate) from the Canaanites.

So, if conquest is illegitimate, so is theirs. If we move backwards, the only people who are identifiably original inhabitants and who were conquered are...the Jews. So, no matter how you cut it. Eretz Yisrael belongs to us.

Mikveh and the Single Girl

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around the question of non-marital sexual activity among otherwise religious people who, for whatever reason, have delayed marriage and wish to continue to consider themselves Orthodox while ignoring the prohibitions against sexual contact. First, there was a written exchange on the subject on Ma'ariv's NRG site. segment of Sahra Blau's Erev Shabbat program that dealt with the issue. This was followed, last week, by an evening panel discussion at Ohel Nehama in Jerusalem, under the auspices of Ne'emane Torah vaAvodah. The even was held to mark the publication of the latest issue of Deot, the movement's journal, which devoted a three page article to the topic. The evening was covered in the press and has now engendered lively discussion on the various Jewish discussion lists.

The way the issue is being addressed here, one would think that this was an unprecedented development, (which it might be). It certainly, however, is not unprecedented on the North American Orthodox scene. Twenty five years ago, New York was all abuzz with talk of 'tefillin dates' and the wayward behaviour of the Upper West Side of Manhattan (the phenomenological equivalent of the Qatamon 'swamp.') In fact, not long after I received my first semikha (from Mori ve-Rabbi R. Gedaliah Felder, zt'l), I started receiving questions from various friends who had no access to rabbis. The second shayla I was asked was from an acquaintance from my Harvard days who wanted to go to miqveh in order to be with her boyfriend. I was still learning at YU, and I decided to moot the question. The results were interesting, to say the least.

The first person I asked thought that the question of mikveh for an unmarried woman was an open and shut one. True, the Rivash had intimated that this was a theoretcal possibility. Nevertheless, R. Hayyim Ozer Grodzenski, in Resp. Ahiezer, had stated emphatically that one does not violate lesser prohibitions in order to avoid more serious ones (le-hatzil me-yede hamurot). [Resp. Ahiezer, III:33. See, however, ibid. no. 26.]

To my surprise, however, a very senior member of the Kollel took strong issue with this interpretation of R. Hayyim Ozer. The case there involved a group of women who were unwilling to pare their nails (and ruin their manicures) in order to go to miqveh. They were perfectly willing to clean their nails, but unwilling to obey the added humra of removing one's nails lest there be an unknown hatzizah. This Talmid Hakham pointed out that Reb Hayyim Ozer's case represented a contradiction in the act of immersion. In other words, his ruling could easily be interpreted that one does not forego strictures in Hilkhot Tevila in order to save the immersion. In the case at hand, however, where the two perspective prohibitions (non-marital sex and an issur karet ) are independent of the tevilla, it may be that one does try to save a person from more serious transgressions.

A few days later, I received another response. He acknowledged that technically it might be possible to make allowances. Nevertheless, one does not allow someone to brazenly trample a Biblical prohibition in the interest of saving one from a more serious Biblical prohibition. [ Here I should add, that the general perception that the status of sexual contact that does not lead up to intercourse is a matter of dispute between Maimonides and Nahmanides, with the latter maintaining that it is Biblical and the latter, Rabbinic, in origin. This is not totally correct. If one looks at the Ramban's stricture against Rambam's Sefer Ha-Mitzvot [Neg. 353] it emerges that he notes two opinions. In the first, he does say it's rabbinic. In the second he assets it's a hatzi shi'ur of Gilui Arayot. In other words, it's also Biblical.]

This last offered opinion, over 25 years ago, is the most important one to be discussed. The question is not just legal, in nature. It is one of religious policy, which is also an halachic consideration. Furthermore, as opposed to the question that I was asked, the current discussion revolves around singles asking for an a priori and global license to ignore halakhic norms. This side raises issues that go far beyond the narrow issue of miqveh.

On the other hand, I am very much aware that this is not twenty-five years ago and the singles phenomenon has grown far beyond anything that I would have thought then. Men and women, religious men and women, are suffering in ways that we absolutely must take into consideration. On the other hand, it is also true that as opposed to years ago, people who find themselves on the wrong side of Halakha are not axiogically rejecting the whole Torah and realize they can do Teshuvah. The decline of the perfection or nothing view of Judaism is a welcome development.

In any event, every effort must be made by the community to encourage and support marriage. This is going to require a tectonic shift of values in our community, which I hope to discuss on the Orthodox Caucus website. At the same time, I fully agree that the topic must be discussed by rabbis, rashe yeshiva, psychologists and others. The question is: Where? As opposed to those who are cited in the De'ot article, this is most emphatically NOT a subject for public pronouncements or Television shows [see the aposite remarks in todays HaZofe]. It should be candidly, and discreetly, discussed by those involved. The leadership of the Orthodox community has to validate the issues facing unmarrieds (without endorsing behaviour that runs contrary to the Torah.) That's the nature of Halakha and of real modesty (as opposed to some of the extremes to which the latter has gone and, as a result, indirectly contributed to this particular situation.) This is a very sensitive topic and time in the life of our community. It's not one that can be answered, either with condemnations or liberal pronouncements.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Hakarat HaTov to the Conservative Movement

Gil Student recently highlighted the crisis that has presently siezed Conservative Judaism. In large part, JTS Chancellor, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, attributes the decline 'to the exodus of young Conservative Jews with strong religious educations.' In other words, despite the heavy emphasis upon scholarship that was the hallmark of JTS, the Conservative movement has remained, what it always was, a phenomenon driven by the laity, whose values are usually derived from whatever trends dominate American, liberal society and not from Jewish knowledge This was pointed out by the late Marshall Sklare, over forty years ago, in his classic study, Conservative Judaism. (Sklare, who I knew well, was a Life-long Conserrvative Jew.)

I wanted to highlight this angle of CJ's crisis, because I was an early example thereof. I grew up, in a 50's and 60's America wherein Conservative Judaism was viewed as the way of the future. Orthodoxy, I grew up hearing, was 'too much' and would be confined to the dust bin of history. Reform, on the other hand, was too 'goyish.' It was often said, with disdain, that Reform was just one step from assimilation, intermarriage and (as time went on, apostasy). It will be noted, that this was a CJ that heavily emphasized traditional ritual, and (more importantly) Jewish education. Here, it must be admitted, it could really excel (if it and the parents so desired). I went to an 'intensive Hebrew School' wherein we learned Hebrew, Hebrew Language, Hebrew Literature, History, Humash Navi, and Siddur. The goal of the program was to prepare the students for entry into the Prozdor of Boston Hebrew Teacher's College (now, Hebrew College). Of course, most kids didn't go this way. This path, however, was validated and offered. Day school was not yet respected as an option in Boston, since Boston Jews (my parents included), were doctrinnaire believers in the value of a public school education.

The knowledge that Hebrew School imparted, and (more importantly) the ability to attend the Prozdor and then Hebrew College, afforded me a broad Jewish education the like of which one is hard put to acquire anywhere in the world today. True, Torah she'b'al Peh was not taught in Hebrew School. However, the linguistic and textual tools we were given provided me with the basis that allowed me, at age eighteen, to start my nine and a half years of study with my beloved rebbe, Rav Soloveitchik, zatzal.

I started my way out of the movement not long after my Bar Mitzva, though the final break came when I was graduated from High School. Indeed, it was my years in USY that helped me to ease myself out, as it afforded me a context in which to assume Shemiras Shabbos.

In the end, I left because of the lack of authenticity I found in the leaders of the movement. I left because of the contempt and anger that rabbis had toward tradition and, especially, toward the Gemora. I left because, even then, I felt that the movement (to reverse an image by Tchernichovsky) strove to 'put tefillin on a statue of Apollo.' Tradition had no integrity in their eyes, and certainly none in the face of whatever transient modes of thinking or values were making their way through the American Jewish MIddle or Upper Class. It was at this crucial point in my life that three of my teachers at Hebrew College: Rabbi Dr. Arnold Wieder and Rabbi Dr. Isaiah Wohlgemuth introduced me to the world of Torah. More to the point it was Rabbi Wohlgemuth (tofether with Rabbi Dr. David Schapiro) who made it possible for me to enter the Rov's shiur, a moment that transformed my life forever.

Nevertheless, despite my thirty two year axiological opposition to and rejection of Conservative Judaism, and my sense of validation at their current brain-drain, I would be guilty of the most churlish form of ingratitude if I did not (at the same time) acknowledge that it was the education they provided that allowed me to find an authentic, Torah way of life. My wife, who's training to become an art therapist, offers that people need to own all of the parts of their lives. This is my way of owning mine.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Torah Currents...A Project of the Orthodox Caucus

Few Modern Orthodox initiatives have been as successful and influential as the Orthodox Caucus. If there is a usable Pre-Nuptial Agreement to block recalcitrant husbands; if the RCA Bet Din eas reorganized and upgraded; if there are Yoatzot Halakha in the US; if the Orthodox Community is confronting tough ethical issues it is because of the Caucus.

Now, the Caucus has undertaken a new learning initiative, in the form of an on-line journal cum blog, known as Torah Currents. I am proud to be on the Editorial Board and to have published my first piece there, about Megillat Esther. I welcome comments, there or here.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Words of Warning from Ben Chorin

My friend, Ben Chorin, is one of the most astute observers of the Israeli scene that I know. It is for that reason that I decided to share his latest posting:

Westerners tend to imagine that non-Westerners are just like them only less so. For example, they imagine that Muslims couldn't possibly take their own religion so seriously that they wouldn't give up some of its rough edges on behalf of the promise of prosperity and freedom. Another example, even closer to home, is the inability of American Jews -- including many American olim -- to appreciate the many ways that Israeli politics is more similar to Soviet politics than to American politics.

One example should suffice. Both the media and the law enforcement agencies in Israeli are highly centralized. Both remain in the control of an old guard with a very specific agenda and are used to promote that agenda. And most importantly, the two are completely in cahoots -- none of that "watchdog of democracy" crap around here. Let me give a few examples.From time to time, the old guard wishes to weaken mitnachalim and strengthen Palestinians. Here is how it is done. Law enforcement agencies create minor events that portray mitnachalim as dangerous and subversive. This is done, for example, by having provocateurs say or do weird stuff. For instance, they have GSS-agent Avishai Raviv take responsibility for murders of Arabs or perform some bizarre swearing-in rite in a cemetery. Or they get some kids to shout some inanity at a politician (most recently, Bibi Netanyahu and Limor Livnat). Or they take crank letters that have been systematically sent to politicians for many years and announce a major right-wing threat to the safety of our intrepid leaders. Or they issue reports detailing how mitnachalim pillage the treasury by receiving funding for fully-authorized "unauthorized" construction (beats me). The non-story is then fed to cronies in the press and gets pumped up into a major event. The morning headlines blare, the late morning talk shows follow up and the nightly news drives it home. In response, politicians pass laws targeting opponents of the agenda, the law enforcement agencies harrass "suspects", more provocateurs are planted, and the cycle begins anew.

At the same time, Palestinian terrorist activity is downplayed, if not concealed entirely. Tactical lulls in terrorist activity or the failure of terrorists to reach their targets are deliberately and falsely portrayed as strategic shifts. (I remember one classic incident at the height of Oslo, when a terrorist plowed a car into a crowded bus stop near French Hill killing several people. Aryeh Amit, a Jew-baiting polemicist then masquerading as a police commissioner, took to the airwaves to announce that it was a traffic accident at the very same time that his uninformed detectives on the scene were describing it as an obvious terror attack.)I know, I know.

If you're American, you're probably thinking that this sounds paranoid and that in fact all that is happening is that like-minded people with no agenda and no coordination are acting according to their own independently-arrived-at understanding of events. Just like everywhere. If that's what you think, you are wrong on two counts. That's not what is happening here and it's not what happens everywhere. That's how it works in the U.S. with its decentralized media and law enforcement. Here it is coordinated and utterly predictable. Any oleh from Russia can vouch for the familiarity of it all.Here is a prediction (written with a trembling hand). If and when the withdrawal is about to happen and resistance to it needs to be quashed, the shooting of an Israeli soldier by a mitnachel will be arranged. I pray that I'm wrong and you get the chance to say I-told-you-so.

Ben Chorin is no crackpot. If he is fearful of this kind of scenario (which we all pray won't happen), it says alot about the nature of the Press and Public discourse in Israel. For Americans: Think about the Iraq War without Fox News as an alternative.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A Parochial Moment

Anu Ratzim ve-Hem Ratzim... Posted by Hello
(Some pictures are beyond words. Thanks to my brother, David, for sending it to me.)

The RCA, Bris Milah and the Orthodox Roundtable

Seventeen years ago, in response to a proposal from, and with the support of, leading lay and rabbinical leaders in the YU World, I initiated and guided (as Executive Chairman) a Modern Orthodox Think Tank called the 'Orthodox Roundtable.' The idea was to push back the frontiers of Halakhic discourse, engage issues that were being avoided, and provide a responsible, God-fearing Modern Orthodox approach to pressing halakhic issues.

During the five years that it functioned, the Roundtable managed to publish some truly ground-breaking papers on subjects like conversion and adoption, smoking, Child Abuse (by Rabbi Mark Dratch), The limits of Parental authority (by Rabbi Reuven Bulka). an annotated responsum by Rav Ovadia Yosef on enforcing sanctions against recalcitrant husbands (a collective effort of Rav Yosef, Rabbi Michael Broyde and myself) and a number of others. The response to our activities was mixed. There was a lot of lay and rabbinic support, and a lot of vitriolic dismay in other circles. Over time, for a combination of reasons, which I might yet write about, the Roundtable ceased operations in 1994.

One of the earliest pieces the Roundtable published was a learned, heavily documented, call for the use of a glass tube by mohalim for the oral suction the Talmud requires be applied to the wound after a Bris Milah (Metzitza). In light of the rise of AIDS and STD's, we thought that the issue wa a mix of Piqquah Nefesh and Qiddush HaShem. Our suggestion was summarily ignored (and not so politely) by muuch of the Orthodox community. Typically, the position was heard such problems belong in the non-religious community, NIMBY.

I"m bringing this up, because today's Jewish Week reports that the RCA has now endorsed the use of a glass tube for Bris Milah. The action comes in the wake of a scandal in New York in which a baby appears to have died from an infection contracted from a mohel who directly used his mouth. (Gil Student has all of the details.) On the one hand, I feel that we are now vindicated ( as we were on the issues of child abuse, adoption/conversion, recalcitrance etc.) I really applaud the RCA for showing leadership while the Haredi world is in deep denial. OTOH, the obtuse response to the Roundtable, in this case, was (at least, indirectly) responsible for a little baby's death. If there had been a responsible response to our call then, if using a glass tube had been required of all mohalim (at least in our circles) this baby might still be alive.

OTOH, the Commentator reports that Rabb M.D. Tendler was savaged by Yated Ne'eman for supporting the use of the tube. Plus ca change...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Siyum HaShas: Daf Yomi Redux

[It's been weeks since I last posted, the result of jet-lag, work load, graduate students and a bout with some bug I picked up somewhere in North America. In order to return to the Blogosphere, I thought it apt to start with Divre Torah.]

I"ve had a long, conflicted relationship with Daf Yomi. I started a number of times, finished Berachos (at least six times, though not with DY) and fell when the cycle reached Shabbos. There were two reasons for this. First, personal discipline. Second, and more importantly, the idea of surfing the 'Yam HaTalmud' didn't seem to suit me. After all, nine and a half years with Rov זצ"ל, leave an imprint for life. In good years, we used to learn between 14 and 20 blatt a year. In the Summers, which in my day were dedicated to Qodoshim, we considered ourselfs lucky if we finished 7 (10 was a max). The reason can be summed up with an anecdote which, even if not true, expresses the philosophy we learned in the Rov's class. The story goes as follows ( I heard it from a friend back in my YU days, a young ilui named R. Shlomo (Stevie) Rosenberg):

In 1960, after undergoing surgery for the removal of a cancerous growth, the Rov resumed his shiurim in Yeshiva. Under doctor's orders, he chose to teach Mishnayos Hallah. The idea was that the material wa less demanding and the shiur would be more for information (beqi'us) than for analysis (iyyun). Studying this relatively short massekhta took much of the year. When asked why this was, the Rov was reputed to have said: Beqi'us is fine but you have to understand, too.

Once I got to Shabbos, the temptation to delve deeper, 'to understand,' was always more than I could handle and so away went my involvement with the Daf Yomi. Last week, I decided to try again. After all, it would be nice to get to parts of Shas that would never be otherwise on my radar. My brother, David, who just finished his first time around, put the rationale as follows. His thought are so beautiful that I wanted to share them (with his permission).

For the past few months, I have been struggling with what I should do post March 2nd, after the Siyum haShas. Should I start learning the daf again or should I go on to something else. I got a lot of different answers; the answers I got depended largely on how people viewed the Daf Hayomi. In the end, I listened to my friend Ephraim who told me that if I didn’t start again, I would have missed the point of the last 7 and a half years.

Not wanting to miss the point of the last 7 years, I started again. But I also didn’t want to admit to Ephraim that I wasn’t quite sure what the point of the last 7 and a half years was. So, as I ended the 11th cycle, I have spent a lot of time trying to understand what Ephraim was telling me. I think the answer lies in understanding what learning the Daf accomplishes and what it does not.

At the beginning of each cycle, many people get caught up in the excitement and inspiration of the event of the Siyum and start to learn the Daf everyday. After a while, many of them stop. They get left by the wayside. I had a conversation with a friend from shul who told me that he felt that learning the daf was not worthwhile. If you couldn’t learn b’iyun then there was no value. In fact after the last Siyum, he was learning in Israel and told his Rebbe that he wanted to learn the Daf. His rebbe told him that if that is what he wanted to do then he needed to learn it with all the Rashi’s and Tosaphos and the Rif and Rosh… You get the idea. Needless to say he didn’t even start.

It was clear that the Rebbe also missed the point of learning the daf. In the title Daf Hayomi one needs to understand that the Ikar is not daf but yomi. It is keva versus kavana. There is a value of learning everyday and feeling the obligation that if you miss a day you are behind and need to make it up. Even in davening, though we have the concept of ‘making up tephila’ we don’t always feel it pressing us.

The daf presents us with an ongoing awareness that we need to learn every day. Rain, shine, sick, well, traveling or at home. Over these past 7 and a half years, I learned the Daf all over the world. In Crete, where I needed 9 others for a minyan, in Hevron, in the Avraham Avinu synagogue and in Amsterdam, Holland. On vacation in Cancun. In Sioux Falls South Dakota. Wherever I went, I brought my G’marah with me. To fall behind, even a little imperils the entire effort.

Learning the daf is a lot like davening. I have gone to shiurim all over the world. I know what everyone is learning. I know where they are holding and I am instantly part of the kahal. I did attend a shiur in Dutch which wasn’t quite as inclusive as I would have liked but, the daf was the same. And it is the same all over the world, people carving out an hour a day to learn the daf.

My cousin Seymour suggested that now that I have gone through it once I should add m’forshim to the learning. I told him that the point was not to make it more time consuming but to keep to the keva. Everyday. That’s what Yomi means. And I think this is the point that my friend Efraim was telling me. If you think the point was to learn shas and then cross it off your list, you are wrong. It is not the product that’s important but the process. Its aim is to work on your avodas hashem as part of klal yisrael. And as such you can’t worry about the insights you miss or the speed at which you cover a sugya.

I tell people that if you can get past daf 5 of Brachos, you can make it to the end of Niddah. Daf 5 holds the secret to learning Daf Yomi. On daf 5 is the ma’aseh that R’ Elazar was ill. R’ Yochanan went in to visit him. He saw that R’ Elazar was crying. R’ Yochanan asked him “why are you crying? If it is because you did not accumulate as much Torah knowledge as you wanted, but we learned in a Mishnah “both the offering of one who gives much and the offering of one who gives little are equally pleasing to the K”BH. Provided he directs his heart to heaven. It is at that daf, that the point of the 7 and a half years is revealed.