Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Secular Daf Yomi?

One of my favorite parts of Orthodox Judaism is its emphasis on learning. (Mind you, I think that they define "learning" far too narrowly: you frequently find people who devote a third of their waking lives to study without ever cracking a non-Judaic book.) One of the most impressive phenomena that I know of is Daf Yomi, the practice of thousands of Jews all over the world studying the entire Talmud in unison, a page a day, which takes 7 years.

I find Daf Yomi inspiring and would love to do it except that, being an atheist, I have only a slight academic interest in Talmud at this point. If I were going to devote an hour or more a day for seven years to study, I wouldn't choose the Talmud as my object.

One of the advantages (and disadvantages -- see the "America Family Association") which religion offers is its ability to organize its followers. Organizing atheists, on the other hand, is said to be like herding cats. Sometimes I wish there were a secular version of Daf Yomi, one where I could tackle a difficult subject over a long period of time, knowing that I have brothers and sisters in study all across the world.


Shlomo said...

K'luta K'hunchya Dumya (Yetzias HaShabbos) of my favorite sugyos. This is actually from Zeno.

Anonymous said...

Kind of strange that you would want to do this because "he practice of thousands of Jews all over the world studying the entire Talmud in unison" seems to be just a big form of group think. The motivating force for Daf Yomi and probably why so many "traditional" Jewish groups are so fond of it is because it fosters the idea that you should do it because everyone else is doing it. Why not just study soemthing for the same period of time you would have devoted to Daf Yomi or whatever it is you wnat to do? The purpose of learning or study is to broaden one's own mind and not just follow blindly what the masses are doing.

Anonymous said...

interestingly, in countries like France, where there is a national high school curriculum, you can go into any high school classroom on a given day and find that the students are studying roughly the same material. for many ideological and political reasons, this would never work in the US, but i have always thought it was an interesting idea, particularly if there are no "right" conclusions or answers.

Jack's Shack said...

There are a lot of things that you can learn about that are not necessarily solely focused on the religious aspects of Judaism. Business issues, family and more can be applied to an atheistic setting as you look at the mora/ethical angles.

Laura said...

Count me in - pick a book! You can be our leader ;p

Chicago instituted this One City, One Book program - but it's usually fiction. Granted, fiction has it's place, but I think your challenge is geared more toward non-fiction reading.

Hayim said...


> This is actually from Zeno

can you please elaborate ?

Stephen (aka Q) said...

The combination of individualism and secularism certainly diminishes the social cohesion of the Western world.

I heard someone say, "any institution is ultimately destroyed by its own strengths." I think this is a case in point.

I strongly support the liberal commitment to individual rights and freedoms. I think it's one of the great strengths of our culture — but it also, inevitably, diminishes social cohesion.

Add to that the phenomenon of secularization. (I don't believe this phenomenon is entirely a gain, though I certainly wouldn't want everyone to walk in lock step on matters of faith.) People now have little in common with their fellow citizens and neighbours. That is, little by way of shared commitment to core values.

This is a particularly big problem in Canada, where we are already divided by language, and have always struggled to define our identity as a nation. We don't have a strong sense of nationalism — arguably a good thing, but one more thing we lack that could hold us together as a country.

My fear is that the very strengths of Western, liberal democracies will ultimately destroy them.

Not that we were ever united around the study of the Talmud, of course!

Esther said...

May I suggest "Remembrance of Things Past"?

Yonah said...

Interestingly. I used to study daf yomi too. Contrary to what some of the commenters here think, the point of Daf Yomi was not so much to get everyone studying in unison, but rather to enable those with jobs, families, etc. to find a way to devote some portion of their day to religious study. Daf Yomi literally means 'The Page of the Day'.

Because of its finite size, many individuals have latched on to this practice. In doing so, even if one misses a day or to - the goal is simple and should be easy to keep in step with the program.

Jewish Atheist said...

Count me in - pick a book! You can be our leader ;p

Sounds like an interesting idea... :)

May I suggest "Remembrance of Things Past"?

I'd need some serious convincing before tackling that thousand-page monstrosity. :) The thing about Daf Yomi is that the participants are all convinced that what they're studying is the best thing they could be studying. We'd have to pick a book carefully.

Shlomo said...

Imagine an arrow in flight. At every moment in time, the arrow is in a specific position. If a moment is just a single instant, then the arrow does not have time to move and is at rest during that instant. Now, during the following instances, it then must also be at rest for the same reason. The arrow is always at rest and cannot move: motion is impossible.

In the sugya, a man is standing in a reshus hayachid where he shoots and arrow (or throws a Frisbee) over the reshus harabim into another reshus hayachid on the other side. The question is whether or not this becomes an issur because once in the airspace of the reshus harabim, is this object considered at rest?

The overall question is whether or not there is continuous motion. If motion is in discrete increments, then the Frisbee stops and goes along its way over our reshus harabim, and would be ossur. If motion is continuous, then the power of its beginning in the reshus hayachid continues over into the other reshus hayachid, and no issur is involved.

Halachically, we say that one can carry bishas had’chak but cannot stop in the reshus harabim on the way to the other reshus hayachid, so we poskin that motion is continuous, although this may also be due to the simple fact that we don’t have a technical reshus harabim anymore; most areas being considered karmelis.

dbackdad said...

Sounds like a great idea to me. It would certainly provide interesting fodder for our blogs as everyone would literally be "on the same page".

asher said...

Daf Yomi, literally, "the page of the day" is something that is very recent. I never understood the reason for it. Gemorah is very technical with commentary on the commentary, proofs from other sources and contradictions within itself. In yeshiva we would spend weeks on a single page and then it was still not considered exhaustive enough. What Daf Yomi does it to turn this in- depth learning into something so superflous it no longer represents study at all. The few times I've sat in on one of these sessions, the "learning" was just reading with a very limited explanation.
Of course, since this was done on the commuter rail road on the way to work, or the few minutes before praying the afternoon prayer (mincha)it had to be rushed.

I'd be interested in when this idea of Daf Yomi began. I never heard of it when I was in yeshiva some decades ago.

ADDeRabbi said...

the reason that it's not ossur (mi-de'oraysa) if you don't stop is RHR is not because we assume motion to be continuous. Rather, in order to violate hotza'ah, there must be an intentional act of placement in RHR once it's been intentionally picked up from a private domain. thus, if i pick it up in RHY and am walking it thru a RHR to another RHY, and I stop to wait for a clearing in oncoming traffic, even if i stop and wait for an hour, there's no violation.
it's easy to say that the Talmud is simply recreating Zeno's paradoxes, but to see where the Talmudists avoided abstract (and absurd) philosophical thinking and returned to commonsense experience it truly 'geschmack'.

Shlomo said...

If one does not assume motion to be continuous, then it becomes a matter of p'sik reysha, and would still be ossur, regardless of kavana.

Foilwoman said...

JA--I love the seven years to study Proust schedule. I'll sign up. Or any other subject. If it were done online, people could commit to it from whereever. I challenge you, come up with a list of books/subjects, and see who will sign up. You could start it with the New Year (2006, commmon era!). I'll sign up. Just pick a range: literature, history, religion, economics (ugh, okay, I don't like that one, but hey), even mechanics, and science. My suggestions would be: Origin of the Species, Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Don Quijote, The Prince, Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and many more. Your thoughts?

Shlomo said...

AND the only reason we permit hotaza'ah beshas had'chak is because there is technically few places that qualify as reshus harabim in the first place.

Kavana is irrelevant. Davar she'eino miskavven is exactly that....without intent, meaning after the fact and not before it. A davar she-eino miskavven does not retroactively become mutar.

There is a difference between what is considered ossur and what is, after the fact, liable an onesh.

re: Talmudists avoided abstract (and absurd) philosophical thinking and returned to commonsense experience it truly 'geschmack'.

Where you may be correct in saying that Zeno's Paradoxes do not reflect anything more than an abstraction (until we view it in light of Heisenberg's Uncertainty), I can't find anything more 'abstract' and perhaps wasteful in the way of brain power to be arguing whether or not a 'hand follows the body' or whether or not airspace is considered a resting spot for an object passing through it. (International fly zones being the exception.) Respectfully, you're basing your value upon personal religious investment, something which I would not do even with Zeno.

For the Greeks, their philosophy and their physics were inseparable. Zeno was looking to solve issues of time and motion, and since Zeno predates the Gemara, it is likely that this question came about albeit indirectly due to Zeno's influence.

To take the question of continuity out of the sugya is to strip it of any real content.

Kol Tuv

Shlomo said...

Why not just start a book club?

Kyaroko said...

I think a collection of the classics of western philosophy would make for a fantastic secular daf yomi. Starting with the Greeks and moving in chronological order. Might not be a cycle that we could repeat. Maybe we could just have the big meeting on the day we finish the last page of each book.

Mis-nagid said...

I know some secularish Jews who do a daf yomi in Encyclopedia Judaica. That way, they become knowledgable in Judaism and connect to their heritage without sacrificing their brains. You might consider trying this, since it'll give you that Jewish learning you crave.

B. Spinoza said...

I heard that Alan Dershowitz has a seder daf Yomi with some of the students in Harvard Law school