A person should ask about the meaning of a verse or a law – even if everyone will laugh at him.
– Seder Eliahu Rabba 13:6
How I Became The Accidental Talmudist
In 2005 I entered The Mitzvah Store on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles to buy a gift. I’d been there on several occasions and always noticed the volumes of Talmud. Lacking any formal Jewish learning beyond my bar mitzvah, I was completely intimidated by the Talmud, which occupies as much shelf space as three Encyclopedia Britannicas.
On that particular day, however, I thought, “What am I so scared of? They’re just books. I studied English at Harvard and law at NYU. Surely there’s a Book One of the Talmud – I’ll just get that and see what it’s like.”
I found the first book, Berachos, and took it to the counter. The kid at the register said, “You’re doing Daf Yomi?”
I said, “What’s Daf Yomi?”
He looked at me strangely. I thought, “Oh man, I bet I’m not allowed to read this book. You probably have to be a rabbi just to touch it. Maybe you need special permission to buy one. I must look like such an ignoramus.”
The kid said, “Daf Yomi is a worldwide program for reading the whole Talmud. Everyone reads one page a day on the same schedule. It takes seven and a half years to complete, and today… is day one.”
I said, “Oh.”
The enormity of the coincidence started to sink in. “Uh, I’ll take it.”
I walked back to my car, and calculated the odds against this “coincidence.” Two thousand seven hundred and eleven to one.
I said, “Ok, G-d, I get the message. I’m doing Daf Yomi.”
Many people start Daf Yomi. Few finish. It takes about an hour a day, EVERY DAY, for seven and a half years.
In 2012, I was blessed to attend the Siyum HaShas at Giants (MetLife) Stadium in NJ, along with 93,000 Jews. As we danced to celebrate the completion of the Talmud cycle, I could not help but think of Nazi stadiums, where they burned our books and chanted death to our people. Nazis murdered my grandfather at Dachau. He never met my mother – an infant survivor carried by her mother through Terezin.
The Nazis are long gone and there we were, 93,000 strong, celebrating the accomplishment of a much smaller number of Talmudists – the ones who completed Daf Yomi that night. I was one of them – the Accidental Talmudist.
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The story above is just one chapter in the Accidental Talmudist journey. Another key chapter is I Saw My Grandmother’s Soul Leave Her Body.
These tales form the spine of an Evening With The Accidental Talmudist.