Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Another reason why I distrust Daf Yomi

If your neighborhood is like mine, lots of the locals belong to a Daf Yomi. Many of them probably take it pretty seriously. They wake up early, or miss meals and family events to attend the shiur. They invest in Art Scroll editions of the Talmud and other study aids. Many of them also pay attention to the lecture, ask questions and review the material afterwards.

But does it do them any good? Here's why I say it doesn't. After I've read an interesting book or heard an interesting lecture, I like to discuss it. I'll bother my wife and close friends about it. If the subject is a safe Torah topic I'll introduce it to people in shul or work. If its a controversial issue, I'll run to the Interwebs and provoke conversation via this blog or my SM accounts. If I have questions about the material , I'll get them answered. The point is I'm always eager to share what I've learned and to hear what others have to say about it. For me, that's part of the pleasure of learning and often its a necessary part of the process.

My local Daf Yomi people are different. I never hear them discussing a sugya. Around the sholishudis table or bein gavra lgavra their conversation ranges from sports to gossip, but it never -- and this has been going for years, so I do mean never - touches on the implications of a piece of Gemarah. Nothing these Daf Yomi people learn ever seems to have ever made them them think or wonder. They're never mystified  They're never puzzled. They have no questions and their previous certainties seem undisturbed   Now, I admit this account is anecdotal. It relates only to people I happen to know, and I have no idea what's actually happening in their heads, nor do I know what they're discussing with other people. So, I can only report that it seems odd that none of the Daf Yomi people I know are ever in my presence disturbed or even puzzled about any of the oddities, mysteries and strange beliefs and behaviors recorded throughout the Babylonian Talmud.

It may be that they are believers, not contrarians, so their reflex is to paper over difficulties. It may be that they are shy about raising question in public. So let it be said a different way: These people learn every day, through considerable mesiras nefesh, but don't seem to have developed what was once called a "Torah personality" They don't quote the axioms and stories. They don't refer back to the lessons. They never say this reminds me or relates to something that happened on Daf __.  And ever in the strictest secular sense they seem unamused by what they've studied, as they don't share the whimsical or bawdy accounts either. Whatever happens during the 60 minutes they sit at the Daf Yomi table seems walled off from the rest of their lives. Two separate realms. Is the answer simply that these people, the ones I happen to know, are not intellectually inclined? Fine. But then why do they engage so wholeheartedly in an intellectual activity?  If they get no pleasure from the world of ideas, why do they visit it daily?

Rather than implicate my friends, I prefer to implicate the institution. The failure isn't in the members, its in the Daf itself. Something about the page-per-day format is rotten. It allows men to imagine that they are accomplishing something, that the vast literature is being studied, but in reality nothing is learned and nothing is remembered. No one is changed, and no one is saved. At least in my neighborhood. --and again, I hasten to temper this judgement by admitting that it is based on my personal experiences alone.

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