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A Daily Page of Talmud
By: Herman Wouk

Tossed into a stormy sea when his ship was wrecked, the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva was given up for lost. This is how he later described his miraculous rescue to Rabbi Gamaliel: "A daf (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 between the two World Wars, initiated the program for Jews all over the world to study the same daf yomi (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." The entire Talmud is covered in seven years by those who keep to the prescribed daily pace.

Because by now the Talmud is in my bones. Its elegant and arcane ethical algebra, its soaked-in quintessential Jewishness, its fun, its difficulty, its accumulative virtue ("I learned a 'blatt', a page, today, I've learned forty 'blatt' this year") all balance against the cost in time and the so-called "remoteness from reality." Is 'Lear' closer to reality? I think they are about as close in different ways, and that the Talmud is holy besides.   Anyway, I love it. That's reason enough. My father once said to me, "If I had enough breath left in me for only one last word, I'd say to you, 'Study the Talmud.' "I'm just beginning to understand him. I would say the same thing to my own sons. Above and beyond all its other intellectual and cultural values, the Talmud is, for people like us, 'identity,' pure and ever-springing.

Herman Wouk,
unpublished diary, 16 January 1972.

Herman Wouk is a bestselling American author with a number of notable novels that have brought him resounding international acclaim, including The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance.