July 14, 2024
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Rabbi Moshe Menachem Mendel Spivak: Giving the True Creator of the Daf Yomi His Due

On July 17, Dr. Henry Abramson wrote an article for the Orthodox Union website titled “Meet the Non-Jew Who Put the ‘Daf’ in ‘Daf Yomi.’” In his article, Dr. Abramson argued that there is a need to give credit to Daniel Bomberg, the non-Jew who paid Jewish scholars to clean up the Talmud text from the handwritten manuscripts of the time and create the printed page that we find today. Abramson notes that Bomberg, who did copy the Soncino editions, added page numbers and states: “Yet by standardizing the Daf, Bomberg made possible the notion of an international, coordinated study of the Talmud.”

However, throughout his article, Dr. Abramson mentions that the Daf Yomi concept was a “brainchild” of Rabbi Meir Shapiro in 1923. According to Abramson and others, Shapiro sought to use the Daf Yomi as a way of bringing together a fractured Jewish people under the umbrella of Jewish study, a myth that we will hear often as we approach the Siyum Hashas in January 2020. While Dr. Abramson is undoubtedly correct in crediting Daniel Bomberg with the critically important work of standardizing the Talmudic text so that Jews all over the world can all use it in an instantly recognizable fashion, and Rabbi Shapiro played a critical role in pushing the idea forward, the inspiration for the concept of Daf Yomi belongs to a different rabbi who has not received his proper due: Rabbi Moshe Menachem Mendel Spivak (no known relation to the author of this article).

Rabbi Eliezer Katzman, in a 1997 article in the Jewish Observer (1997) titled “An Unsung Hero: Rabbi Moshe Menachem Mendel Spivak, The Martyred Originator of the Daf Yomi Concept, Who Steered the Folio-a-Day Plan From a Dream to Reality,” illuminates Rabbi Spivak’s key role. This research was later expanded upon in the program given out to the 92,000 participants of the 12th Siyum Hashas at MetLife Stadium on August 1, 2012.

In 1919, Alexander Zusia Friedman (August 1897–November 1943), a prominent Polish rabbi who would be murdered at Trawniki concentration camp, created and served as editor for the first Agudath Israel publication titled “Digleinu” (our banner). The 1920 (AV 5681) issue of Digleinu (Vol. I, No. 7, which is found on Hebrewbooks.org page 42,43) contained a proposal by Rabbi Spivak to organize a worldwide “Chevra Shas,” involving businessmen, laborers and workers to study a blatt Gemara each day to complete shas. When the idea did not get the traction that Rabbi Spivak, then the rabbi of Krasnobrod near Lublin and the author of the work Mateh Moshe, felt it deserved, he approached the Lubliner Rebbe, Rabbi Meir Shapiro (March 3, 1887–October 27, 1933). Rabbi Spivak’s idea was for Rabbi Shapiro to speak about the nascent Day Yomi plan at the May 22–28, 1924, cornerstone-laying ceremony for the construction of the Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin building, a yeshiva founded by Rabbi Shapiro. Rabbi Shapiro felt this was not the right forum to introduce the concept. Instead he chose to speak about it at the first Knessia Gedolah, held in Vienna August 15, 1923 (Elul 3, 5683), which would be attended by the greatest rabbis of the generation and which lasted for 10 days.

Almost a century later, this meeting has gained renewed fame, thanks to brief footage showing the 90-year-old Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hakohen) of Radin. The Knessia introduced two programs that would forever change education in the Jewish world. The first was the introduction of formal schooling for girls under the banner of Sarah Schenirer’s Beis Yaakov. The second was the Daf Yomi program.

According to reports, Rabbi Shapiro had second thoughts about introducing the concept. He was concerned that the idea was controversial. Before speaking, Rabbi Shapiro approached the Chofetz Chaim about the idea. The Chofetz Chaim advised Rabbi Shapiro to come late to the stage, and when he entered the Chofetz Chaim rose and greeted him and ushered him to the podium.

This gave Rabbi Shapiro the support he needed and in his excitement forgot to credit Rabbi Spivak with the idea. Rabbi Shapiro later wrote Rabbi Spivak a letter apologizing for the oversight. The idea quickly took hold. The first Siyum Hashas took place on 15 Shevat, 5690 (1931), at the newly built Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin building. Tens of thousands of Jews are believed to have attended this first one. Unfortunately, Rabbi Spivak would never truly know the world-changing success of his idea as he murdered in Auschwitz. But at the upcoming siyum there will probably be more than 10 times that many participants. Rabbi Moshe Menachem Mendel Spivak may not have gotten the full credit for his inspiration, but surely his achievement continues to grow every day that people engage in the Daf Yomi program.

By Rabbi Marc Spivak


Rabbi Marc Spivak is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr Torah in West Orange.

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