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Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin (1887-1933), at a European Orthodox Congress in August, 1923, proposed that Jewish men all over the world simultaneously study the same page of the Babylonian Talmud and pursue their study for a seven-and-a-half-year cycle of daily reading that would lead to the completion of the Talmud’s 2,711 pages. Agudas Israel accepted the proposal and established a calendar — with the first day of study on September 11, 1923, the first day of Rosh Hashone. Rabbi Shapira was alive for the first completion celebration in 1931, and the study cycle persists as a strong, unifying element in Orthodox Jewish life today. The practice is called daf yomi, a term that derives from a Talmudic story in which Rabbi Akiva nearly drowns in a shipwreck until, he says, “A daf (plank) from the ship suddenly appeared as a salvation, and I just let the waves pass over me.”
“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.” —Meir Shapira