Q. How many years are you giving the Daf Yomi Shiur? What is your location and timing?
Rabbi Elefant: There is a two part answer to that question. I actually give two separate Daf Yomi shiurim, and am ending the third cycle of one, and the first cycle of the other.
For the past three cycles, (about 23 years,) I have been giving a Daf Yomi shiur at the crack of dawn–5:30 a.m. to be exact, at the Brizdowitz shul in Boro Park. We begin promptly, while much of the world is still asleep, and the shiur continues for about 45 minutes. This is a very powerful hour of the day, when our minds are still fresh and most of the shiur members, are able to focus. Naturally, I have to go to sleep early in order to accomplish this.
In addition for the past seven and a half years, or one complete cycle, I have been recording an additional Daf Yomi shiur, live, on the OU website every afternoon. This shiur is downloaded or listened to by up to 1,800 people each day.
This shiur is now available online, and can be downloaded at any time. In addition, you can arrange for the shiur to be instantly streamed to your MP3 every morning!
I will not be repeating this shiur for the next cycle; instead, I will be delivering a shiur on the practical, halachic aspects of the daf we are learning. For example, in Maseches Brachos, where the gemara speaks about Kriyas Shema, I will be discussing hilchos kriyas shema.
Thus, the upcoming siyum is actually a double celebration.
Rabbi Weiss: I give two separate shiurim each day, one in Boro Park, and the other in Staten Island, to many of my congregants at the shul. We will be finishing the third cycle, Boruch Hashem, in Boro Park, and the fourth cycle in Staten Island–nearly thirty years! I also used to give a Daf Yomi shiur on a radio station during the eighties, when shiurim on the radio were still popular.
In my hometown, I have a core audience of about 25 Yidden, with around 50 on Shabbos, and speak for 50 minutes. In Boro Park, I speak at 10:30 p.m. for about an hour, and my group usually numbers around forty.
Although both shiurim are similar, they are actually quite different. For one, the Boro Park shiur is held late at night, when most baalebatim are tired. Some people have already attended another shiur; this is their second lecture in a row. It’s a challenge to keep everyone intellectually stimulated, and I try to use plenty of humor.
My shiur in Staten Island is geared to a slightly different audience, yet no less engaged and passionate about learning. I try to make the shiur accessible to both novice and veteran. Both shiurim are in English, and aim to provide a comprehensive, clear understanding of the daf.
Q. How do you manage to condense one daf into less than an hour? Do you give more time for a more complicated sugya, or is the timing always the same? Do you allow questions?
Rabbi Weiss: We’re on a strict ‘clock’ at both shiurim, and have to stay within our time frame. What I can do is utilize each moment to the best of my ability. My goal has always been to make the daf easy to learn and understand. I often use wit, (to keep everyone awake,) flow charts, or personal stories to make a point.
In Pirkei Avos, we learn that the ultimate goal is “Halomeid al menas lelamed,” to learn Torah in order to teach it. I try to crystallize the lessons of the gemara, be it in sholom bayis, honesty in business, etc. If the sugya is a bit more complicated, I’ll go easier on the stories and explain the core concepts a bit more.
Since questions and interruptions are very distracting for the other shiur participants, I try to keep them to a minimum, unless they will be very short. A Daf Yomi shiur is not the forum for extended give and take.Every moment counts.
Rabbi Elefant: That’s a great question. Actually, we’re on a tight schedule, as my baalebatim have to go to daven and then work. The afternoon shiur, which is recorded, also has to stick to a timetable. So yes, we usually stay with the 45 minute model.
How do I condense a complete daf into a 45 minute shiur? It’s not always simple, especially if the daf deals with more complicated concepts. Basically, with an ‘easier’ masechta I will spent less time explaining, and more time expounding on the meforshim. The more complicated dapim will obviously require additional explanations. It’s a delicate balance, and comes with experience.
Regarding questions, I both welcome and relish them. (Obviously, this is only applicable during my live shiur. Listeners of the OU shiur can email or call with comments.)Some astute participants have been known to demolish my sevara, more than once. I don’t mind. My only requirement? That they come up with a better teirutz than I did!
Q. What happens if you inevitably miss a shiur? (Tisha B’av, Yom Kippur, Erev Pesach, etc.) When do you fill in the missing daf (or dafim?) And what advice would you give to someone who has missed quite a few shiurim?
Rabbi Elefant: The beauty of Daf Yomi is that you can never be too far behind. Rav Meir Shapiro was a very strict boss!
Inevitably, if we miss a day because of a Yom Tov or other event, we will make it up the following day. For example, we’ll have a double shiur the day after Yom Tov, and a shiur on the night following Tisha B’av. Every Motzoei Shabbos, even when the z’man is late, I will record the shiur on the Sunday morning daf.
There have been occasions, over the years, when I had to travel out of town or was otherwise unavailable. For most of these times, my OU colleague, Rav Yosef Grossman of Monsey has been my excellent substitute. Nowadays, with all the technology available, it’s easy to record a shiur, (or listen to one,) from anywhere in the world. But the live shiur at 5:30 a.m. cannot be pre-recorded.
As an aside, for the benefit of Daf Yomi magidei shiur who want to prepare for their morning shiur the next day, our recorded shiur has always been a day ahead. That is why we will be ending Shas on Wednesday instead of Thursday.
Regarding missing shiurim, nowadays there are so many seforim, tapes, and recordings of the daf. Between Dial a Daf, Kol Haloshon, Torah Anytime or other Torah lines, the daf has never been as accessible as it is today. There really is no excuse to be lax, even if one is traveling out of town. In fact, some of my shiur attendees tell me they choose a hotel while on vacation based on whether they can download the daf from its computers!
Rabbi Weiss: We make it our business to keep up with the daf! We have been known to schedule double or triple shiurim after a Yom Tov in Boro Park. My Staten Island shiur rarely has to be pushed off, as it takes place in the shul, and I can deliver it on Yom Tov.
For example, on Yom Kippur we learn the daf during the afternoon break, and on Pesach we have a shiur as well. The Tisha B’av shiur, of course, was postponed for Motzoei Tisha B’av. We try our best to make it work, and Hashem helps–we haven’t lost our track record during the past three cycles, B”H! Even if someone has to be out of town, there is always a recorded shiur or other backup plan available.
Regarding people who miss a few weeks, it’s really a shame for them to lose courage and drop out. There are 2,711 dafim in all of Shas, and it takes seven and a half years to learn every one. If you stick with the entire cycle, even if you miss a few days (or weeks) here and there, you still are going to learn over 2,000 pages. And that’s a big accomplishment!
The same goes for those who feel they can’t understand the more complicated sugyos. Even if you don’t understand 400 pages, you still are boki in most of Shas by the time you finish. And it’s not like you’re learning Torah for the first time; every single child is taught the entire Torah by an angel before he is born. We are only re-learning material we have already been taught.
Q. Do you recommend a daf shiur for bnei kolel or full time yeshiva students who can learn in depth? Or is it just for baalebatim?
Rabbi Weiss: I want to caution people about the “BTDT” syndrome. It stands for “Been there, done that,” and is an attitude that can affect those who just finished Shas.
“Why start the circle all over again?” they might feel. “I already finished it once.”
To which I say, “If you already did it once, you should realize how much more there is to know!” We’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Finishing Shas should give you an appetite to do it again, perhaps a bit more in depth. This doesn’t take the place of an ‘iyun’ seder, but it can and will enhance your life in so many ways. Just knowing you learned the whole Shas—can you top that?
Rabbi Elefant: The beauty of Daf Yomi is that it is for everyone, regardless of your background or level of education.Whether you are a baalebos, CEO of a company, a magid shiur or kolel yungerman, you should fulfill the mitzvah of ‘kovea itim’ by learning the daf every single day. If you really want to retain what you learned, review it at least once or twice. The more effort you put into the shiur, obviously, the more you will gain. The Mesivta seforim on Shas, which come in multiple sizes, are excellent for learning and review.
Naturally, if you have the time, you should also learn one masechta in depth. Yet there’s something about the daily daf…it’s an ongoing commitment, an exercise in discipline, and that has a lot of power. It’s not something you want to easily ‘drop’ when the going gets tough, especially if you’ve already been learning the daf for a couple of years.
Q. What role, if any, do women have in the siyum hashas? Do you feel they should attend?
Rabbi Elefant: Women should definitely attend! After all, they are the unsung heroines who support and encourage their husbands to go out to learn, whether early in the morning or late at night, (or both.)It’s a huge commitment for the entire family, but especially for the mothers of small children.
It is the aishes chayil who will encourage her husband to go to his shiur, and willingly undertake suppertime and bedtime on her own so that her husband can learn the daf. Now my children are grown B”H, but it still is challenging sometimes, especially on a long Motzoei Shabbos, traditionally family time. In addition, we can’t really stay late at simchos, because I must go to sleep at a normal hour in order to wake up for my shiur. So the commitment really extends to the entire family, but especially to the wives. Kol hakovod to them!
Rabbi Weiss: The gemara says, “Noshim, bameh zachyon?” What is the zechus of women? Our Sages explain that women receive s’char by waiting for their husbands and children to come home from learning. Though women don’t have the obligation to learn gemara, the fact that they encourage their husbands and sons to do so is a tremendous merit.
Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim, “Ani Avdecha ben Amosechah,” giving all the credit for his accomplishments to his devoted mother, though his father was a renowned personality.
From my experience, often women are powerful motivators who can encourage their husbands to begin a Daf Yomi cycle and stick to it, night after night. The children in such a home absorb the concept that going to learn is non-negotiable. When they grow up, perhaps they will be motivated to join as well!I highly recommend that a husband should take his wife out to eat when he makes a siyum, as a sign of appreciation.
Q. Thank you for your time, and for your devotion to Klal Yisroel. In closing, do you have anything to add?
Rabbi Weiss: I want to stress something I think is important, and that is loyalty to one’s magid shiur. At times, people might be tempted to jump from one shiur to another, to try the ‘newest kid on the block.’Remember that your relationship with your magid shiur is like that of a father-son relationship, as our sages say, “V’shinantem L’vonechoh, elu hatalmidim.” And you shall teach your children, refers to your talmidim.
The Daf Yomi magidei shiur, and there are many, work very hard preparing the shiur, day after day for many years.Though you might devote an hour of your time to the shiur, the magid shiur devotes way more time. It’s basic hakoras hatov to show your appreciation.
Rabbi Elefant: The most beautiful thing about the daf is that it unites all types of Yidden, from every corner of the world. Everyone, no matter where they live or how they look, is learning the same daf. I recently received a phone call from a Yid in London, who is making his own Daf Yomi siyum. He will be going on holiday for a week, but said he can’t leave until he thanks me for being part of his life, with the audio shiurim, for the past seven and a half years!
Recently, my wife received a moving letter from another shiur participant, who thanks her for allowing and enabling me to give the shiur. With a touch of humor, he writes that he can sometimes hear the grandchildren in the background during my pre-recorded shiur, (as I don’t have a soundproof studio.) To him, that’s what makes the shiur ‘heimish’ and so meaningful.