Sunday, June 07, 2020

With so much Torah material available to us with Hashem’s help in our age, one must be very selective regarding which sefarim to read. Torah Judaism is literally inundated with hundreds if not thousands of new books each year. It is impossible to read all of them. How do we decide which new books deserve our attention?

My recommendation is to select the sefarim that provide the greatest return on your investment of your time. Rav Zev Reichman’s series “Daf Delights,” of which the latest edition on Masechet Sanhedrin was recently released, delivers a very high rate of return with more than 120 selected short pieces on this most interesting and diverse Masechet.

As readers of The Jewish Link know, Rav Reichman is blessed with the right touch for presenting Daf Yomi discussions to a wide audience. The Gemara is replete with discussions that seem hyper technical and abstruse for those not yet fully immersed in the Talmudic sea. Rav Reichman, though, has the right touch to identify Talmudic and post-Talmudic topics to which the contemporary reader can relate. Rav Reichman is blessed with the knack to identify the discussions that we find relevant, meaningful and satisfying.

Here is a sampling of the topics he addresses: May a Jew attend a cooking school and observe the cooking of meat and milk; may a sinner be lashed in our days; can a man testify on behalf of his girlfriend; how were Shemayah and Avtalyon permitted to serve as members of the Sanhedrin; when should you trust a dream; do Arabs require brit milah; may we address angels when we pray; and is the world ending in the year 6000.

Rav Reichman works hard and succeeds in making the read a pleasant one, providing insight and imparting deep knowledge without overwhelming and losing the reader in a forest of details. “Daf Delights” is a light and satisfying read that is suitable both for the beginner and advanced scholar.

Rav Reichman very often chooses discussions from Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, the great Israeli rav who has earned a well-deserved reputation for imparting important Torah lessons and love of Torah in a most entertaining manner. For example, one chapter deals with the question as to whether a man who unwittingly ate a worm in his fruit requires teshuva/repentance. In the course of this brief discussion the reader is introduced to the important concept of mitaseik, one who performs an act mindlessly, and the debate as to whether mitaseik is merely exempt from a korban or perhaps it is not a sin altogether.

These brief essays give us a taste of the endless joy of Torah learning and study in a serious yeshiva. One tastes the incomparably sweet taste of Torah and understands why thousands upon thousands of Jews today are willing to devote their entire lives to Torah study, often with great sacrifice.

The love of Torah and the essential nature of Torah to our people emerges from the pages of Rav Reichman’s sweet work. A yeshiva administration was faced with the dilemma as to whether it may deny entry of a child to the yeshiva when the father refuses to pay his tuition bill. We learn that this is unquestionably forbidden, for such an act constitutes an assault on the soul. Just as a poor man’s work tools may not be taken as collateral for it is with these tools the impoverished soul generates the income to purchase his family’s daily bread, so too we may not use the child’s Torah study as collateral for his parent’s financial obligations, for every Jew has an inherent right to learn Torah.

For those who have the privilege and joy to participate in Daf Yomi learning, Rav Reichman’s work adds a beautiful dimension. For example, Sanhedrin 39a describes immersion in fire as a means of purification. Rav Reichman brings us into the world of Torah where this Gemara was applied in practice. A gentile man who had received a brit milah but not yet immersed as part of his conversion was burned at the stake by the Christian authorities in medieval times and was regarded as a full convert and eligible to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. His tragic burning was viewed by the poskim of the time, in light of Sanhedrin 39a, as a form of immersion and purification that made him a member in good standing of our people.

Two caveats about Rav Reichman’s delightful work. In many of the discussions it would be worth mentioning the accepted practice. For example, in a discussion as to whether a beit din hearing may be conducted via Skype, it would have been worthwhile to briefly note that it has become the accepted practice in batei din to hear cases via Skype. In the discussion as to whether a get requires a beit din, it would be valuable to add that most rabbinic courts in the United States do not make this requirement whereas most Israeli rabbinic courts adopt the stricter approach.

Another concern is that Rav Zilberstein sometimes condones and advocates for aggressive self-help. For example, in one case a rebbe’s jacket was taken and replaced with a more rabbinic-style outfit by his talmidim. Rav Zilberstein is cited as having approved of this action. There are a few similar rulings presented in the book that this author finds to be a bit troubling. Vigilante justice can disrupt shalom bayit and shalom community and lead to a lawless society. Thus we must prudently avoid in engaging in such unauthorized actions.

Rav Reichman’s introduction notes that the presentations are for discussion only and not to determine actual practice. Yeshiva students are keenly aware of the tall barrier that exists between discussions reserved for the beit midrash and actual practice. Readers are reminded to follow the lead of the world of yeshiva and be mindful of this significant gap.

Despite these concerns, Rav Reichman’s “Daf Delights” is a highly recommended purchase. Rav Zev Reichman knows how to choose the “right stuff” that his audience will love. Readers are indeed left thirsting for more. As soon as I completed “Daf Delights” on Sanhedrin I could hardly wait to read the volume on Bava Kama. How privileged are Rav Reichman’s congregants, students and loyal readers to have such a competent leader guide us through the timeless world of deep and authentic Torah study. It is especially meaningful to read this work at this point in the Jewish calendar between Pesach and Shavuot as we seek to ascend spiritually each day of the Sefirat HaOmer. Time invested in reading “Daf Delights” is one that is guaranteed to reap rich short- and long-term gains.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.