In honor of the impending start of the next Daf Yomi cycle, we present this special guest post from Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons
Every seven and a half years, there is a siyum held in honour of having learned one daf of Gemara every day without exception throughout those past seven and a half years. Jews throughout the world participate in such a siyum. During the siyum, photographs of Rabbi Meir Shapiro are displayed, and in the course of various speeches, it is stated that it was he who proposed the idea of daf yomi. It is true that he publicised this idea and encouraged Jews worldwide to participate in this learning schedule, but the question remains whether or not the idea was his. In this article we will examine this question.
Rabbi Meir Shapiro was born in the year 5647 (1887) in the city of Schatz in Bucovina (now Romania). During the course of his life he was the Rabbi of a number of cities. He was also a member of the Sejm (the Polish Parliament), and the President of Agudas Yisroel.
The first Knessia Gedolah of Agudas Yisroel took place in Elul 5683 (1923).
Rabbi Shapiro wanted the members of Agudas Yisroel to take upon themselves the idea of studying a page of Gemara every day, and in a meeting held before the Knessia Gedolah he submitted this proposal. However, the members of this committee did not want to take the responsibility for the plenum not accepting this revolutionary proposal. They suggested a compromise in that Rabbi Meir Shapiro should put the proposal forward as his own private idea. But Rabbi Shapiro was still worried because he was among the youngest delegates in the Knessia Gedolah, and therefore the other delegates were unlikely to pay attention to him. Therefore, before the Knessia Gedolah opened, he went to speak with the Chofetz Chaim who suggested an unusual method of ensuring that the proposal would be accepted, which Rabbi Shapiro implemented.
Rabbi Shapiro said that the Knessia Gedolah should decide that from Rosh Hashanah 5684 (1923) a daf of Gemara should be studied daily according to the order of dapim in the Shas. When he put forward this proposal to the Knessia Gedolah it was enthusiastically received and applauded.
Anyone who had been present at the Knessia Gedolah, would think that the idea of daf yomi was that of Rabbi Shapiro’s. But they would have been wrong – he was not the originator.
There are reports of three people who had such an idea, but for various reasons preferred to ask Rabbi Shapiro to put forward the idea as if it were his own. These people were: the Rebbe of Tchortkover, Rabbi Yisroel Friedman; the Breslover Chossid, Rabbi Ben-Zion Apter; and the Shotzer Rebbe, Rabbi Shulem Moshkowitz. However, these reports are only second-hand.
In contrast, over two years prior to Rabbi Shapiro’s speaking at the Knessia Gedolah, there was a first-person report of the proposal in a journal in a paper written by a proposer who was Rabbi Moshe Menachem Spivak. He was born in 5640 (1880) in the town Shinsa that is close to Warsaw.
Rabbi Spivak’s idea for daf yomi appeared in his article in the journal “Digleinu” in the month of Av 5681 (1921). It appeared under the heading “Hatza’ah nichbada” (an honorable suggestion).
He stated that in his opinion a Chevras Shas should be established in which all the participants would be charedi traders, workers, craftsmen or day labourers. They would fix a time daily between Minchah and Maariv to study a daf of Gemara in the order that the dapim appear in the Shas; it goes without saying. that every member was to be obligated to take upon himself to learn every day at the same time.
Did Rabbi Shapiro know about Rabbi Spivak’s idea, and if so, did he know of it before he proposed the idea in the Knessia Gedolah?
There is no doubt that Rabbi Shapiro knew of Rabbi Spivak’s idea before the Knessia Gedolah was held, and that the two Rabbis spoke about it, at least after the Knessia Gedolah.
In a letter written by Rabbi Shapiro to Rabbi Spivak, he wrote that he was sorry that at the time he put forward the idea of daf yomi at the Knessia Gedolah, he did not mention that the idea had been put forward two years earlier in the journal “Digleinu.”
Rabbi Spivak always resisted the wishes of his household and his relatives who wanted to publicise this, because he felt that it would result in damaging the name of Rabbi Shapiro or of Agudas Yisroel. Not so Rabbi Spivak’s son, who has fought every year to reverse the insult to his father.
About ten years before Rabbi Spivak made his proposal to study daf yomi, such a proposal was published by Rabbi Yechezkel Fraser. This means that Rabbi Spivak was also not the first to propose this idea.
Rabbi Fraser was born in 5589 (1829) in the town of Virbalis in the Mariampol district of Lithuania and he later moved to New York, His proposal appeared in his book “Porachas Hagefen – Yom Yizrael” and was written in Yiddish. He suggested that all Shas groups should unite to be one company, and that each group should teach the same daf in the same maseches at the same time in its own Shul.
There are also (at least) four sources reporting daf yomi suggestions at earlier dates than those given above. They are: the Rebbe of Ger; Rabbi Ya’akov Lorbeerbaum of Lissa; Rabbi Akiva Eiger; the Jewish Community in Moravia.
The last named appears in the ordinances of the Jewish community of the city from 5519 (1759), namely more than one hundred and fifty years before Rabbi Shapiro put forward his proposal to the Knessia Gedolah..
In conclusion, many people put forward the idea of daf yomi before Rabbi Shapiro submitted the idea to the Knessia Gedolah. However, Rabbi Shapiro publicised it, and thanks to his efforts and personality, the idea has been accepted to this day throughout the Jewish world. There is even a calendar for the entire daf yomi cycle which he prepared and is still in use today virtually unchanged.