- ITEM #: 1224
- ISBN: 0-87306-675-8
- Weight: 1.6600 lbs
- Binding: Hard Cover / 408 pages
- Published by: Feldheim Publishers
As seen on http://www.thejewishstar.com/stories/The-Kosher-Bookworm-Rabbi-Meir-Shapiro-and-the-Daf-Yomi-Legacy,3362
By the first week of August, a new cycle in the study of the Talmud, according to the method established by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of blessed memory, will have started. This week’s essay is in tribute to Rabbi Shapiro, and by extension, to all those dedicated souls who have made his Daf Yomi a part of their daily spiritual regimen.
Rarely does a biography of a long deceased person witness a forth printing within the space of eighteen years. In addition to this irony is the fact that the original Yiddish manuscript was written in the mid 1930s only to be published many years later, long after its author, Rabbi Yehoshua Baumol, Hy”d, was martyred in the Holocaust.
Translated by Charles Wengrow, of blessed memory, under the skilled editorship of Martin H. Stern, “A Blaze in the Darkening Gloom” [Feldheim, 1994,1997,2003, 2012] relates the legacy of the life and accomplishments of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, [1887-1933] the founder of the Daf Yomi legacy and the gifted Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin.
The recent edition of this work, timed for the upcoming siyum, is a must read for all siyum participants to better appreciate the historical significance of the siyum experience.
The life’s work of Rabbi Shapiro, as a result of this republication, will give a whole new generation of Jews a chance to see what a great spiritual leader can accomplish with the limited financial resources at his command. This was done with a determination and courage to see his dreams and goals accomplished despite the opposition of those who lacked the vision, will and foresight that would, in the many years to come, give both purpose and focus to the study of the Talmud as it has never been studied in history prior to the 20th century.
In his editor’s foreword to the fourth edition, Martin Stern states the following heartfelt observation:
“It has been eighteen years since we published the first edition, and with this fourth printing, the intervening years have seen the rebirth and revival of Yiddishkeit in places that were once the center of global Jewish life,where millions of our ancestors lived and learned for 1,000 years, until the Holocaust destroyed almost everything.”Further on Stern makes the statement. “Barely seventy years after the destruction, when our grandparents were murdered in Hitler’s blood bath, we are forgetting the world that was. The fourth edition of “A Blaze in the Darkening Gloom” is our way of preventing such dangerous amnesia. Our future as Jews is inextricably linked to all that came before us. We must never forget where we came from, how that has an impact on who we are today, and on the Jewish generations that will hopefully follow us.”
By the example of Rabbi Meir Shapiro’s determined and focused leadership we can all learn through his example how to continue his legacy regardless of the impediments that are placed in our paths.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
By extension to the quality study of the interwar years in Europe from after World War One to World War Two, there are two books that I wish to bring to your attention.
The first is by the distinguished historian, Professor Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University. His book, the latest in a series, is entitled, “The Jews In Poland and Russia, Volume Three, 1914 – 2008” [Littman Library, 2012].
Within this exquisite work, we have the following observation concerning Rabbi Shapiro:
“The best known of the inter-war yeshivas was unquestionably Chachmei Lublin. The brainchild of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, one of the most dynamic younger leaders of the Agudah, it was not affiliated to any Chassidic court, and because of its modern building, boarding facilities, and impressive faculty, it attracted the elite students. Ben-Zion Gold, later the Hillel rabbi at Harvard, has described his experience as a student there. Coming from a traditional family in Radom, where his father was an Agudah town councilor, he received a modern cheder education. Against his father’s wishes, he decided to study at Chachmei Lublin, inspired by an older schoolmate. Study there, he writes, ‘was a life dedicated in the service of G-d in prayer and study with a fervor only people that age are capable of. We spent all our waking hours studying and praying, careful lest we waste a precious moment of time idling’.” Such was the spiritual legacy of the influence of Rabbi Shapiro upon the youth of his day.The next work is “On The Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War” [Simon and Shuster, 2012] by Prof. Bernard Wasserstein of the University of Chicago, who makes the following observation concerning Rabbi Shapiro’s legacy:
“The pride of Polish orthodoxy was Rabbi Meir Shapiro’s Lublin yeshiva….Its six-story, 120-room building contained a large dormitory, and infirmary, a 40,000 volume library, and a scale model of the Temple. Rabbi Shapiro’s program for daily study of the Talmud, known as Daf Yomi attracted wide attention and the support of the influential Gerer Rebbe. Thousands of students all over the world studied the same page each day in a seven and a half year cycle. This was an innovation, but in pedagogy and dissemination, not substance.”
For whatever one might agree or disagree with these observations, both of these learned works deserve your attention for your upcoming summer reading. Their narratives are riveting and in many respects enlightening.
It is a history that, unfortunately, many never get in today’s yeshivas.
Let me conclude this week’s essay with the following sober reflection by Dr. Wasserstein:
“The total number of yeshiva students in Poland in the 1930s has been estimated at no more than 20,000, representing around 14% of Jewish male teenagers. These figures, as Shaul Stampfer has pointed out, clearly indicate that ‘traditional Jewish society in Poland was declining in the 1930s’.”
Elsewhere in his work, Wasserstein points to other facts that serve to belie the optimistic picture of the state of Judaism experienced in “der alte heim” in that time. The reality teaches us otherwise. It was very far from ideal.