June 13, 2024
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Rabbi Daniel Friedman’s ‘Transformative Daf’ Series Offers Fresh Views on the Gemara

For most ordinary human beings, getting out one book is a formidable experience that can take lots of time and energy, and when done, leave them eager to finally rebalance their schedules.

Rabbi Daniel Friedman of Teaneck, however, is surely no ordinary human being. Over the past two years, he’s published 11 volumes of his well-received series on the Gemara, “The Transformative Daf,” which tracks with the daily page of study/seven years covering the Shas study cycle. And he is committed to producing more volumes in the years to come.

Friedman is also the founder and director of the Center for Torah Values, and was formerly a congregational rabbi in London, UK and Edmonton, Canada.

To get a sense of Friedman’s vision for the “Transformative Daf” series and his approach to Gemara commentary, The Jewish Link interviewed him via email.

How long ago did you launch “The Transformative Daf” series?

I began blogging about the Daf nine years ago. Then two years ago, a very generous individual, Michael Gross of Gibraltar, approached me and said that it’s time we took the idea to the next level and publish the teachings. He’s passionate about publishing Torah and had previously published Rabbi Sacks’ teachings.

Who do you see is the ideal reader/user of these publications?

It’s designed for novice and talmid chacham alike. Some use it as a daily takeaway after they’ve learned the Daf. Others use it as an entry point in the world of Gemara. Others use it as a reentry point, especially if they felt disenchanted and disconnected when they’ve learned previously. The target audience is the third group. I want Jews who are dedicated to mitzvos to feel just as connected and dedicated to Torah—particularly the wisdom of our key Torah Shebaal Peh text, the Gemara.

Can you share an anecdotal reaction or two from “The Transformative Daf” readers?

Several people have told me that they haven’t opened a Gemara since their yeshiva days and even back then they never really connected with it. Now they’re learning “The Transformative Daf” every day and feel so inspired by the wisdom of our Sages.

How are the books selling? Where are the strongest sales?

Right now, we’re moving a couple hundred of each volume. The series is most popular in Teaneck and Baltimore. However, the newest volume is being piloted in a few Chabad communities, as the timing dovetails nicely with the Chabad custom to learn Masechet Sotah during the period of the Omer, as there is a Daf for each day.

Which meforshim do you draw on most often for the ideas in these books?

I can’t say there are any specific meforshim. But I do rely heavily on the Oz Vehadar Mesivta Gemara, for its insights. The final section of each volume Kaftor v’Ferach has been particularly helpful.

What major themes do you explore in the newest volume of the series, on the Tractate of Sotah?

I can’t say there are any major themes. Every page is different. I will just say that the Sotah concept is viewed prima facie as a negative topic. But here are some of my thoughts from the preface:

“Our Sages compare our relationship with Hashem to a marriage. At Mt. Sinai, Hashem gave us the Torah and betrothed us unto Him. And yet, as the prophets attested to endlessly, we often failed our Husband. He warned us not to seek other sources of affection and attention. But we ignored His entreaties.

“And so, we often feel ashamed of our conduct. It’s true we haven’t lived up to the expectations of our holy matrimony. But here’s the good news: You may have strayed. You may have disobeyed. But you didn’t cross the line. You never for a moment subscribed to another religion. You were always completely committed to our Jewish faith and tradition.

“Consequently, when you are subjected to the ‘sotah’ test of fidelity, you won’t be merely vindicated and forgiven. You will conceive and undergo rebirth and renewal. Just when you’re feeling hopeless and desperate, you will enjoy a transformative experience you never dreamed of achieving. That’s the power of Hashem’s love. He will never forsake you. When you are at your lowest point, He will raise you to the highest levels!”

How does “The Transformative Daf” book series relate to your work for the Center for Torah Values?

The mantra of the Center for Torah Values is “demonstrating the value of Torah and imbuing our values with Torah.” The first part of the mission is to assist those who struggle with finding value in Gemara learning. In addition to the book series, the Center has a daily podcast and video broadcast on the Daf. The video messages appear in two different formats. The first is a three-minute condensed presentation of each day’s TTD and that appears on Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn.

We also offer a minute-long video that appears on TikTok and Facebook Reels. Aimed at a wider audience, that version omits the text of the Gemara and jumps right into the lesson for daily living. B”H we’ve attracted thousands of social media followers. This reflects the second mission of the Center for Torah Values, which is to impact societal values by spreading the light of Torah.

But of course, social media sound bites only achieve so much. The Center’s engagement with society runs far deeper. I wrote my PhD thesis on American Christian attitudes to Israel. The Center now utilizes that research and the relationships it engendered to strengthen support for Israel in American churches and to combat antisemitism stemming from Christianity. [My wife] Rabbanit Batya and I have just returned from 10 days in Israel with Pastor John and Diana Hagee, where we witnessed the extraordinary contributions they have made to Israel and the Jewish people. Next time you visit the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, you’ll see their names in huge letters on the wall. And if that doesn’t shock you, then you also need to visit the 10,000-seat Belz shul where they’ve donated a medical clinic on the grounds of the institution. (The plaque there is a little more discreet!)

At the Center, we believe that cultivating relationships with American churches will ignite many more “righteous of the nations” to support Israel politically and materially. In addition, our current major campaign is to educate churches about the IHRA definition of antisemitism and asking them to adopt it as part of their congregational mission. As well, we’re conducting high-level discussions with some major Christian organizations, including the He Gets Us campaign that ran the Super Bowl ads.

How long do you think this book series will go?

The good news is that I endeavor to stay ahead of the Daf Yomi schedule. So hopefully, this is a seven-year project. While I could theoretically continue with a second round of new teachings from each Daf, I hope that my approach will inspire others to adopt the approach and offer other new and refreshing insights for daily living. For “The Transformative Daf,” the next stage is to translate the sefer into Hebrew, and I have an individual who has offered to lead that phase.

Meanwhile, my next publishing project will be a similar series on Mishna. When I teach Mishna, my aim is always to demonstrate the deeper messages for life beyond the simple meaning of the text.

For more information on “The Transformative Daf” series, and to order a copy of one or more volumes, please see the website www.transformativedaf.com.

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