Imagine you get this prescription: One daf q.d. for seven-and-a-half years. You might ask: What is it? Why should I take it? Is it covered? When should I take it? Any contraindications with my current meds?
A daf a day is known as “Daf Yomi,” and it refers to a two-sided ”daf” of Talmud. (“Yomi” is daily, from “yom” which means day.) A “daf” is a leaf; an “amud” is a side of the leaf, or page. Talmud page numbering is by daf and amud; 23a = daf or page 23, amud alef or side a.
An article in the NY Times describes one of the major celebrations of Daf Yomi devotees marking the end of a seven-and-a-half year cycle of daily learning.
The Talmud is an impressively rich piece of literature, filled with hypothetical (sometimes to the absurd) legal discussions, folklore, spirituality, physiology, ritual process and much more — a trove of rabbinic imagination. Much of it is arcane, some of it is impenetrable (for many of us), some of it is astonishingly relevant to today and some is entertaining.
Even a cursory glance at 15-30 minutes a day, as many will do by reading (rather than studying) a daf a day, can be illuminating, frustrating, astounding. I recommend this piece by a Reform rabbi who is finishing the cycle on Shabbat.
Two avenues — in English! — to pursue are My Jewish Learning and Reshet Ramah. There are many others; just enter “daf yomi” in a search engine.
To be fair, an article in Haaretz suggests that Daf Yomi is “Talmud Lite” a
nd that such a casual approach does a disservice to this august work of religious art and to the would-be learner. (It might be easier to judge if you give it a try.)
In answer to the questions above: It’s a challenge unique to our people; take it because you’re curious and because it’s a major goal to accomplish. It’s not covered, but there’s no cost for most “plans.” Take it any time of day, preferably at the same time each day (routine!). It will not interfere with anything else you’re putting in your body or brain, though it might stimulate various feelings about our sages of old.
Daf Yomi has generally been “prescribed” for ultra-Orthodox men over the past almost 100 years. Recently, men and women across the spectrum of observance have taken some ownership. Se in our congregation who have participated in Daf Yomi or who intend to try it this new cycle.
I didn’t take the Polar Bear plunge, but I am trying this one. Join me!