Daf Yomi Starter Guide

Note: this page is full of links to other resources. For some reason, they don’t show up as nicely as I’d like, so tap around. They are there!

Second note: I’m not a scholar. I’m a layperson who has made this commitment to daily learning. Please do use other people’s resources, too!

What is daf yomi?

Daf Yomi is the study of one double-sided page of Talmud (2a/2b, for example) each day. Studied this way, it will take 7.5 years to get through the entire Talmud. Here’s some more information about the Talmud. This article written by Ilana Kurshan, author of If All the Seas Were Ink, is also helpful.

The last 18ish minutes of this episode of The Straw Hat include an interview with me about my daf yomi experience. The episode is worth listening to prior to my interview; Rabbi Wolkenfeld and Rabbanit Sarna discuss daf yomi and other daily learning programs. 

How do you read it?

The Talmud has been printed by many publishers. People who want English along with Hebrew often use ArtScroll or Koren for printed volumes. 

I use Koren’s Talmud Bavli Noe edition, which has extensive translation and explanatory notes. It also has the Vilna Shas pages (what we visualize when we think of a Talmud page). You can get a large copy (my preference), a medium copy (they call this the daf yomi edition, but i’m not sure why), now in paperback leaflets (easier to carry around but you have to get several per tractate), and in PDF (note that the PDF does not contain the Vilna Shas pages). 

When I can’t take my gemara with me, I use Sefaria: a Living Library of Jewish Texts Online, an app that contains (for free) the entire Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and much, much more. It’s especially great when I stand in line at the post office or other places where using a large volume is less practical. 

Where do you get the volumes? Hardcopy or PDF?

Both PDFs and paper copies can be purchased from Koren Publishers online. You can even subscribe to the volumes, and they will just charge your credit card every other month and send you the volume before you will need it for the next tractate. Shipping is free, and there’s a 20% discount on the volumes. 

I prefer to buy from a local Jewish bookstore because I like shopping at a small business — and they give me the same discount.

You could order the volumes from Amazon, but they will cost more. 

Podcasts and Websites

Podcasts are a great way to either get through the daf or review what you have already read. I recommend listening while commuting or doing household tasks. You don’t need to use all of these resources; that’s too overwhelming. See if you can find one or more that fit your needs and can fit into your life. I recommend listening to a shiur for a few days to see if it is the right one for you. (I’m giving you websites for these podcasts so you can look into them more, but I have looked up all of them through my podcast app and just subscribed that way.) 

Daf Yomi for Women is a daily shiur taught in Israel by Rabbanit Michelle Cohen Farber. 

Rav Yitzchak Etshalom offers a concise analysis of each daf.I don’t think his RSS feed has been  restarted for the new cycle, but you can download from the archive. 

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah has an archive with close to the entirety of the Talmud in daily shiurim.

Jewish History in Daf Yomi by Dr. Henry Abramson, a 3-4 minute nugget of history on one aspect in each day’s daf. 

Five Minute Daf with Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld

WebYeshiva will be offering a weekly daf yomi review.

The Orthodox Union has a lot of resources on their website and on AllDaf, which is available as a website and as an app. In addition to several shiurim by different rabbis on each daf, they have a large amount of supplemental information, brief 3-4 minute podcasts. 

Real Clear Daf is an app that has been recommended by other daf yomi users, and at first glance, it seems very useful and user-friendly.

Need to know when a particular tractate will begin or end? How many pages it contains? Dafyomi.org has the answers to your daf yomi calendar questions. I keep it open in my phone’s browser. I also downloaded the daf yomi calendar from Hebcal to my iphone.

How do I fit daf yomi into my life?

I read the daf on my own, and then during my commute, I might listen to a podcast to better digest what I’ve read  I read in pockets of time whenever I have a few extra minutes, and I listen while making dinner, folding laundry, etc. 

MyJewishLearning.com is sending a daily email throughout Brachot (the first tractate) approaching the daf from a variety of Jewish backgrounds. 

I am also in a few FB groups, Unorthodox Daf Yomi and Daf Yomi for Beginners, where a lot of questions are asked and answered. (These can be overwhelming, though, especially right now at the beginning of the cycle. Pick a group or two, and consider turning off notifications and unfollowing the group so that you can look at it when you are ready to look at it.)

Many people learn in chevruta or at a daf yomi shiur (class). I’m not usually able to go to the shiur at my synagogue, but when I can, I do, and it’s well worth it. I also have a number of “study buddies” who I know are also doing the daf, and if I have a question or want to share a quirk or odd insight, I will often text them to get their take. 

Daf Yomi on Social Media

You can see little chunks of people’s learning by following them on social media. If you follow the #dafyomi hashtag, you will find many people who are sharing their images, poems, and insights on each daf. They are generally worth following and will add to your understanding. You are welcome to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, where I use the handle @hashtagdafyomi.

Why do I do daf yomi?

I was fascinated by it for a long time, but I never thought I’d have access to the text. I don’t have a strong formal Jewish education, but I’ve certainly picked up language and concepts, as well as observance, over the years. I don’t do daf yomi to learn the answers to questions. I do daf yomi to understand what questions were being asked 2000 years ago (and in many cases, still today). I do daf yomi to get a view of our history from one of the most core texts. I do so because the Talmud is my birthright as a Jew, and I deserve to be able to read it and engage with it  instead of merely having it interpreted for me. 

Doing daf yomi also gives me an intellectual outlet I hadn’t had in a while, and to be entirely honest, it has reduced my screen time significantly. 

What do I love about it? Seeing the quirky things, the insults the rabbis toss at each other, the wide range of conversation (interior design, mathematics, Greek letters, zoology, vegetation, meeting heads of state, nursing mothers, King David waking up at midnight, how you treat the deceased, etc. I love seeing the real parts of our Jewish lives (when do you say full or half hallel, how do you treat the deceased, when do you say shema, which foods should be used as simanim on Rosh Hashanah, how do you kasher glassware, how do you kill an animal in a kosher way, etc.) come from a real place. I love the use of language that I recognize from the siddur or my very average modern Hebrew appearing right there in the Talmudic text. 

The thing about daf yomi is that the learning is superficial. You will never dive too far because you don’t have time. The next day, you need to move on to the next page. But superficial learning can still give you a wide breadth of information. And if you’re not engaged in Jewish learning now, it will also give you more than what you’re already doing. 

Can you really do daf yomi as a beginner?

Yes, and it will be hard, and it depends what being a beginner means. I had almost no experience learning Talmud before I started, but I had a strong foundation of Jewish practice and vocabulary. That was crucial to my success. If you have Hebrew (or Aramaic!) skills, that will help. If you understand the Jewish year, that will help. If you have a basic familiarity with tefillah, that will help. If you know the Torah well (and even better, Tanach!), that will help. 

I started as a relative beginner, and it was (and is) hard, but it is also exhilarating. Over time, I have gained a better vocabulary and understanding of what is going on, and then we are on to the next topic! 

If this sounds too overwhelming, it’s possible another learning program will be better for you right now, but daf yomi will always be here for you later. Here are some other learning ideas: 

Can you do daf yomi only in English?

Yes, strictly speaking, you can. The English text is available on Sefaria and in paper volumes, but the Talmud is infused with Jewish religious and cultural references and wordplay that cannot be translated. Jewish vocabulary comes from this text, and some of it is lost in translation. Reading it in English is certainly preferable to not reading it at all, but if you are able to skim the Hebrew alongside it, your experience will be richer.

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Many thanks to Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr, and Rabba Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez for their contributions to this document.