This month, the Jewish world will commemorate the conclusion of the daf hayomi learning cycle of studying one page of the Babylonian Talmud every day. This cycle of Talmud study lasts for over seven years and this is the eleventh time the cycle has been completed since it was inaugurated at the instigation of Rabbi Meir Shapiro in 1923 (Rosh Hashanah 5684.)
This learning program of daily Talmud study has tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of participants, and has grown in popularity and strength over the past decades. It is a tribute to the greatness and genius of Rabbi Shapiro that his idea of daily universal Jewish study of the Talmud has withstood the test of time and circumstance. But it should not be that surprising to us, since Rabbi Meir Shapiro was an unusually gifted and prescient personality.
He saw daf yomi as a tremendously necessary unifying factor among the Jewish people. He said that if you look at a page of the Talmud, you see the words of the greatest Jewish minds covering the entire spectrum of Jewish life and history: There were Jews from the Land of Israel and Babylon; from France (e.g. Rashi) and Germany (the Baalei Tosafos); and in the back of the Talmud there was Rabbeinu Asher, “the Rosh,” from Spain, the Maharsham from Poland and the Maharam from Lithuania. He said that a page of the Talmud is the most universal and unifying fact in Jewish history because everyone great from every place in the world in history are all gathered in a single place.
Ironically, when he proposed his Daf Yomi there was great opposition. Of course, opposition is not necessarily bad. It tests an idea (or a person). But he had great opposition — especially from the Lithuanian yeshivas who felt that the study of one page per day would become perfunctory and not convey the depth of Talmudic knowledge. Time has proven it to be one of the most enormous educational tools in Jewish history.
Rabbi Meir Shapiro had no children. His great yeshiva, Chachmei Lublin, was desecrated and destroyed in the Holocaust and never regained prominence again after the war. However, the daf hayomi project continues to grow in popularity and acceptance. It is through the learning of the daf hayomi by tens of thousands of Jews daily that Rabbi Meir Shapiro gains immortality and eternity amongst the great leaders of Judaism.
Though the commemoration of this eleventh cycle will take place in many Jewish communities and smaller venues worldwide, the main celebration and commemoration will take place in the new Met Life Stadium located in the Meadowlands of New Jersey just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, home to the two New York professional football teams, the Giants and the Jets.
I doubt that even Rabbi Meir Shapiro ever imagined that the completion of the learning cycle would be commemorated in a gigantic football stadium, which, somewhat ironically, on fall and winter Sundays is dedicated to the modern form of gladiator entertainment – American professional football. Nevertheless, the conclusion of this eleventh cycle is by itself a testament to his greatness and creativity. The righteous, even after their death, are still deemed to be alive.