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House of Representatives—Daf Yomi
Harrison Weblog

2005 blog


House of Representatives conducts a
brief seminar on basics of Talmud, March 3, 2005

Christians from Nevada and Illinois and two Jews from New York City have instructed their colleagues in the House of Representatives on the tradition of reading a page of Talmud each day until completion 2,711 days later and then commencing immediately another cycle of reading.

U.S. Reps. Jon Porter (R- Nev), Danny Davis (D-Ill),  Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY) noted that on the same day they were speaking—March 1—many thousands of Jews in Orthodox communities around the world were assembling to celebrate the completion of the 11th cycle of Talmud reading since the practice known as Daf Yomi was initiated in Poland in 1923 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of the Agudath Israel movement. The most recent cycle had begun on Sept. 28, 1997.

Successfully seeking passage of  House Resolution 124 congratulating Jewish communities around the world on completion of another 7 1/2-year cycle, the congress members explained the basis of the Babylonian Talmud.

Explained Porter, who is a Roman Catholic: : "It consists of the Mishnah, which was the original written version of the Oral Torah, and the Gemara which is essentially a commentary on the Mishnah. Together, these two intertwined texts form Talmud, which serves today as an explanation of the law as described in the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy." 

"Simply put," said Porter," it was written to help Jews better understand God's will.  It is called the Babylonian Talmud because, at the time of its composition in the 5th century A.D., the contributing rabbis and a significant portion of the Jewish population lived in Babylon,  outside the bounds of the Roman Empire. The rabbis contemplated, discussed, argued and told stories 
to express their positions on the law. They recorded their thoughts, and the end product, the 
Gemara, accompanied the Mishnah and the two texts became known as the Babylonian Talmud."

Nadler next related the story that Rabbi Akiva, a great Talmudic sage, had been in a shipwreck and given up for lost: "This is how he (Akiva) later described his miraculous rescue to Rabbi 
Gamaliel: He said, 'A daf,' that is a wood plank, 'from the ship suddenly appeared as a 
salvation, and I just let the waves pass over me.'  When Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the rabbi of Lublin, Poland, initiated the programs for Jews all over  the world to study the same Dafyomi, that is, daily page of Talmud, he explained the significance of this undertaking by paraphrasing Rabbi Akiva, ``A daf is the instrument of our survival in the stormy seas of today. If we cling to it faithfully, all the waves of tribulation will but pass over us.'' 

Nadler added: "Mr. Speaker, the latest 7-year cycle of completion of the Talmud will occur in the first month of the Hebrew month of Adar, corresponding to March 1, 2005, which is today. This will complete a formidable 7 1/2 -year educational and daily study cycle introduced in 1923 at Agudath Israel's first international Congress in Vienna by Polish Rabbi Meir Shapiro ``to enhance the sense of unity of Jews worldwide.'' 

"The entire Talmud is covered in 7 1/2 years by those who keep to the prescribed daily pace of 
one page at a time. By studying the Talmud, groups and individuals throughout the world spend time learning the precious details of Jewish law and life. They are able to step back, to develop a 
sharply honed understanding of Jewish history and law. People study in every country and every 
city, in groups, alone, with friends and over the Internet. 

"CEOs and cab drivers, doctors and shop owners, of different ages and nationalities come together to learn the Talmud. Tens of thousands, mostly Orthodox Jews, around the globe are on the same page, literally. In the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, in my district, for example, about 200 fathers of young children gather each night at 10 p.m., after their children are asleep." 

Weiner said that "today, on March 1, 2005, over 120,000 Jews from across North America will be joining together to celebrate the culmination of this, the 11th cycle. To give you a sense for what it means in my hometown of New York, Madison Square Garden will be filled, Nassau Coliseum will be filled, Continental Arena will be filled, the Javits Center will be filled, all with folks who are studying, at the exact same time, the exact same final page of the Talmud. And also they will be learning the meanings. They will be learning what it means to our daily lives and why it is so important... 

"This is, of course, a tribute to not only Rav Shapiro, who, as was mentioned, at the first World 
Jewish Congress at the Agudath Israel in Vienna began this program; but it is frankly a tribute to 
the Agudath Israel movement throughout the world today," Weiner said. 

Davis, a Baptist, said  he thought "that everyone, regardless of their faith and beliefs, can appreciate and respect the profound commitment people must make in order to complete such an 
impressive task....I think that the participants and teachers alike deserve a rousing applause from this body for their shared sense of purpose."   —Donald H. Harrison