(This essay originally appeared in The Jewish Observer and has since been reprinted in The Jewish Tribune and Ha’Modi’a)
Let me clarify something up front: I am not a Gerrer Chasid.
You see, generally, when I tell people that I teach a shiur in Daf Yomi Yerushalmi, the first question they ask me is whether I am a Gerrer Chasid. After I assure them that I am not, they then ask if I have any Gerrer yichus at all. When I deny even remote affiliation to Gerrer Chassidus, they seem some what bewildered.
Like many of you, I was thrilled to be in Madison Square Garden and participate in the recent Siyum HaShas of the Daf Yomi in Talmud Bavli. For me, it was the first time through Shas. It was an even greater zechus to do so as a Maggid Shiur.
As we began to draw near the end of Shas, I began to feel the urge to learn Talmud Yerushalmi. After all, aren’t we encouraged as Bnei Torah to learn kol haTorah kulla (the entirety of the Torah shebiksav v’shebe’al peh)? I knew that at the last Knessia Gedola (in 1980), the Mo’etzes Gedolei HaTorah had adopted the initiative of the then Gerrer Rebbe, the “Lev Simcha” zt”l (thus, the association of Yerushalmi study with Gerrer Chassidus) and instituted a cycle (1) in Talmud Yerushalmi. At first, I found it difficult to even find a luach for the Daf Yomi Yerushalmi. When I finally got one, it was just before the Yerushalmi cycle began Seder Nashim. I tried to start a shiur. No luck.
This past year, the Daf Yomi Yerushalmi made its fourth siyum on Thursday, 4 Adar II 5757. I eagerly awaited that day, hoping the accompanying publicity would spark some real interest in the study of Yerushalmi, as I was intent on beginning a shiur that night, with the new cycle. You probably missed all the publicity. So did I. Not one essay, even a notice or advertisement, in any English language Orthodox periodical or newspaper.
Nevertheless, the shiur began and it continues! To the best of my knowledge, we (here, “out of town,” in Chicago) are the only English language Daf Yomi Yerushalmi shiur in the world now although I will be very happy if someone can refute that assertion. (2)
Talmud Bavli achieved prominence over Talmud Yerushalmi because the Amoraim in Bavel had access to the previously completed Yerushalmi and incorporated its wisdom in their deliberations. (The “Amoraic” period ended earlier in Eretz Yisroel because of terrible Roman persecutions.) The Rambam (in the footsteps of Rabbeinu Chananel), however, often paskens like the Yerushalmi over the Bavli. Where the Bavli is silent, the Yerushalmi, as the repository of Chazal’s opinions, is the primary source of Dvar Hashem. (3)
A few words on the study of Yerushalmi: First, I am embarrassed to say that it has been downright easy.
There are so many aids to the study of Seder Zera’im, that there is no need to ever get stuck. These include, besides the classic peirushim of the Pnei Moshe and Ridbaz zt”l, the extraordinarily lucid and simple running commentary based on the shiurim of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlita (the series currently extends well into Seder Mo’ed, and the writers are in the process of producing further volumes), (4) and the more scholarly Kav v’Naki series, co authored by Rabbis Aryeh Carmel, Leo Levi and Gershon Metzger. Interestingly, one of the most helpful seforim on the entire Yerushalmi, one that the Chofetz Chayim zt”l described as indispensable to the study of Yerushalmi, is the Mashbiach, written by the first (and I think last) Chief Rabbi of Pittsburgh, Rabbi Sivitz zt”l, in the early twentieth century and published here in America. The study of Yerushalmi is easy enough, and, more significantly, its blatt are so much shorter, that we can generally cover two blatt in an hour.To disabuse a common misperception, Yerushalmiis not sisrei Torah! You will not drown in a sea of mysterious ideas. After traversing Seder Kodashim and Mesechta Nidda in the Bavli, even Zera’im is nothing to be afraid of. There is also far less Agadata in the Yerushalmi, and it is no more mystical often less so than the Agadata in the Bavli. (Of course, we haven’t been further than the middle of Shevi’is yet. I am extrapolating from what we have seen so far and from what I have read in overviews.)
Yerushalmi sugyos are much shorter than those of the Bavli. The Yerushalmi is usually content to raise a question and let it remain unresolved, rather than pursue proofs and disproofs. The language of the Yerushalmi itself is terser, and it often contracts words, a phenomenon the Bavli (Bava Kamma 6b) recognizes and brands as “lishna kelila” (“light manner of expression”). This applies even to names. For example, the Amora known in the Bavli as Rabbi Ilo’oh is known in the Yerushalmi as Rabbi Lo. This often leads novices (like me) to incorrectly read a statement attributed to Rabbi Lo as if it is Rebbe (Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi) saying no (amar Rebbe: Lo). The girsa (the actual text) of the Yerushalmi is often inaccurate. This is due both to the horrific persecutions in Eretz Yisroel that impeded proper editing of the original text and to subsequent sloppy transcriptions. The Gr”a zt”l, however, did much to clarify the proper readings, and the later commentaries (particularly the Ridbaz) constantly quote his emendations. The inaccuracy of the girsa attracted many Acharonim to write on the Yerushalmi, as it continues to provide fertile ground for creative interpretation. (The Rishonim generally did not write running commentaries on the Yerushalmi.)
We have been taught to aspire to learn, in the course of our lifetimes, as much of Toras Hashem Yisborach as possible. The Yerushalmi includes countless inyanim that are brand new, even to those who have learnt through the entire Bavli, new vistas of Dvar Hashem to explore and experience. Now that many of us have finished Bavli (at least once), it is an opportune time to also take up the adventure of Daf Yomi Yerushalmi. Luchos and other materials are available from Mosdos Gur, 1310 48th St., Brooklyn, 11219, (718) 435 8989. (5) Perhaps the next siyum on Daf Yomi Yerushalmi won’t take place in the Garden but let’s ensure it gets noticed!
1. The cycle lasts approximately 51 months. Unlike the Daf Yomi Bavli cycle, the Yerushalmi cycle skips both Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av a great relief for those of us who are perpetually behind in both cycles!
2. There was once a shiur in Australia, but it disbanded sometime during the first cycle. I understand that there are other English language shiurim in Yerushalmi, but not as part of the Daf Yomi framework. I would like to publicly acknowledge the three “regulars” in the shiur: Rabbi Meyer Magence, Dr. David Spindel and Mr. Joel Zuger. All three are also chaverim of my somewhat more popular morning shiur in Daf Yomi Bavli, and Dr. Spindel has been with me through all of Shas. May the zechus of sustaining the study of Yerushalmi be a source of bracha for them! We do record all the shiurim and Rabbi Apfelbaum of Torah Tapes and Reb Fivel Smiles of http://www.613.org (Real Audio on the World Wide Web) have graciously agreed to make the material available. Unfortunately, they will obviously not be current with the cycle until the next cycle begins.
3. Tesh. Maharik 100; Rash Sirilei’o (an early he was exiled from Spain in 1492 and most important peirush on Yerushalmi) in his introduction; Mareh HaPonim, Bava Metzia 8:3; Doros HaRishonimv. 3 p. 112.
4. I am greatly indebted to Rabbi Kalman Redisch of Lakewood, N.J. for introducing me to this series. Without it, Kilayim would have been very difficult. It would be remiss not to mention the monumental Toldos Yitzchok on the Yerushalmi, written by the last Chief Rabbi of Moscow under Soviet rule zt”l. The stirring tale of the rescue and publication of the work by the Al Tidom Foundation, recounted by Rabbi Bronsteinz”l, can be found in translation on the World Wide Web at Toldos.
(Note: While I have, generally, left the essay intact and not added to it in honor of the siyum, I would like to note a few of the additional seforim beyond the pages of the Vilna Yerushalmi that have proven time and again to save the day with valuable peirushim and hagohos. These include, in no particular order: The commentaries of the Or Samei’ach and the Meichal Mayim (the latter by the Aruch ha’Shulchan), which on some mesechtos may be found in the back of the mesechta, but often must be found in a separate volume called the “Hashlomos” printed by the Romm publishing house as an addendum to their edition of the Yerushalmi; the indispensable Gilyon Efraim, which is “on the page” in the latter volumes, but in the back of the earlier volumes; the monumental Sha’arei Toras Eretz Yisroel by Rabbi Ze’ev Wolf Rabinovitz of Brisk. This work is difficult to obtain, and the author, to my mind, is slightly over eager to change the girso’os, but in many, many places, his illumination brilliantly clarifies the sugya; the printed transcript of the Escorial manuscript on the Bavos; and, Lev Yerushalayim commentary on Zera’im by Rabbis Friedman and Green of Bnei Brak; and, finally, the wonderful mar’ei mekomos in Rabbi Shlomo Hillman zt”l’s Or ha’Yoshor – particularly the references to the Or Samei’ach and the Teshuvos She’eilas Dovid.)
5. As Daf Yomi Yerushalmi is under the auspices of Agudath Israel, some information, including a list of existing shiurim in Daf Yomi Yerushalmi, is available from the Agudah office in New York as well.