Next week, hundreds of thousands of Jews will celebrate a global cultural event, and the chances that you will read about it in the media are slim. You might read reports about a protest rally that attracted tens of thousands. Or a sports event that attracted thousands. Or perhaps even a music concert by a foreign band that sold hundreds of tickets. But you will probably only hear a passing mention of this global event that will take place in hundreds of venues around the world.
The event is Siyum HaShas (“The Completion of the Talmud”), as the current study cycle of the Daf Yomi ends.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world have dedicated about an hour every day for the past seven an a half years to study the Talmud. If you sum it all up, that’s over a hundred days. That’s how long it takes to complete the Babylonian Talmud if you study one double-sided page every day.
This form of Torah study has become widespread over the past decade. You can find Daf Yomi lessons in almost every synagogue in Israel. Many workplaces have a lesson during lunch break. There are many websites that offer audio and video lessons in several languages. Today I heard about people who formed study groups on their daily bus and train rides to and from work.
The Daf Yomi is today probably the most common form of regular Torah study, and this is not a trivial thing. Talmudic study requires a major effort, not only in terms of time – think about taking an hour off your current schedule, every day – but also in terms of the intellectual challenges it poses. Many tractates of the Talmud are difficult to study because they deal with issues that have not been relevant for millennia. Furthermore, mastering the Talmudic vocabulary (half of which written in a dead language: Aramaic) and its way of thinking is not an easy task, especially for “laymen” who have not spent years in Yeshivah.
So when you do hear that cursory report on the news about some “religious event” taking place, know that this is a major cultural event of global proportions, second almost to no other cultural event which you will attend or hear about next week.