Humans of Beth Am Blog

The Accidental Talmudist, Sal Litvak: Embracing New Beginnings and Endings
In 2005 I entered The Mitzvah Store on Pico Blvd to buy a gift. I'd been there on several occasions and always noticed the volumes of Talmud. Lacking any formal Jewish learning beyond my bar mitzvah, I was completely intimidated by the Talmud, which occupies as much shelf space as three Encyclopedia Britannicas.

On that particular day, however, I thought, "What am I so scared of? They're just books. I studied English at Harvard and law at NYU. Surely there's a Book One of the Talmud - I'll just get that and see what it's like."

I found the first book, Berachos, and took it to the counter. The kid at the register said, "You're doing Daf Yomi?"

I said, "What's Daf Yomi?"

He looked at me strangely. I thought, "Oh man, I bet I'm not allowed to read this book. You probably have to be a rabbi just to touch it. Maybe you need special permission to buy one. I must look like such an ignoramus."

The kid said, "Daf Yomi is a worldwide program for reading the whole Talmud. Everyone reads one page a day on the same schedule. It takes seven and a half years to complete, and today... is day one."

I said, "Oh."

The enormity of the coincidence started to sink in. "Uh, I'll take it."

I walked back to my car, and calculated the odds against this "coincidence." Two thousand seven hundred and eleven to one.

I said, "Ok, G-d, I get the message. I'm doing Daf Yomi."

Many people start Daf Yomi. Few finish. It takes about an hour a day, EVERY DAY, for seven and a half years.

In 2012, I was blessed to attend the Siyum HaShas at Giants (MetLife) Stadium in NJ, along with 93,000 Jews. As we danced to celebrate the completion of the Talmud cycle, I could not help but think of Nazi stadiums, where they burned our books and chanted death to our people. Nazis murdered my grandfather at Dachau. He never met my mother - an infant survivor carried by her mother through Terezin.

The Nazis are long gone and there we were, 93,000 strong, celebrating the accomplishment of a much smaller number of Talmudists - the ones who completed Daf Yomi that night. I was one of them - the Accidental Talmudist.

Now, I share a bit of Jewish wisdom every day with over 600,000 followers at