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Friday, April 3, 2020

Leah Cypess on Daf Yomi and ‘No Day Without Torah’

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Every day for 7 1/2 years, Jews around the world partake in Daf Yomi — reading a page of the Talmud daily. Then, when they’re finished, they attend a siyum, which honors the completion of the learning. 

In 2012, more than 90,000 Jews gathered at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to hold a siyum organized by Agudath Israel of America. And this year, on Jan. 1, thousands met again at MetLife to celebrate another Daf Yomi cycle. 

To educate Jewish children about the Daf Yomi tradition, Silver Spring, Md., author Leah Cypess recently released “No Day Without Torah,” (Menucha Publishers). The book follows the life of Rav Meir Shapiro, who was born in the late 1800s and founded Daf Yomi. Cypess is also the author of secular young adult novels and Jewish books on Purim and the Spanish Inquisition.

The Journal spoke with Cypess (whose pen name is Leah Sokol) about why this book is important, and her reverence for the Daf Yomi program. 

Jewish Journal: How long have you been writing? 

Leah Cypess: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I have it on record that when I was 8 years old, I told my grandmother that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I started submitting my short stories to magazines when I was 15, and I wrote and sent my first book out when I was 17. 

JJ: You write fiction under the name Leah Cypess. What are those books about?

LC: I write young adult and middle-grade fantasy novels for the mainstream market. My first book to be published was my young adult novel “Mistwood,” [which was] published by HarperCollins in 2010. “Mistwood” is about a shapeshifter trapped in the form of a human girl. [My other book] “Nightspell” is about a castle where many of the inhabitants are ghosts, and “Death Sworn” and its sequel, “Death Marked,” are about a sorceress forced to train a cult of assassins.

JJ: Why did you decide to write “No Day Without Torah”?

LC: “No Day Without Torah” started with a question. I knew Daf Yomi was relatively new and I wondered how it had gotten started and managed to take off and become established so incredibly fast. My research only increased my amazement at what an incredible accomplishment it was, and the more I read, the more I wanted to popularize the history in the form of a children’s book.

JJ: How did Daf Yomi start?

LC: Well, that’s what the book is about. Essentially, it was the brainchild of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, a Polish Chassidic rebbe, who introduced it at one of the meetings of the nascent Agudath Israel organization in the early 20th century. The idea took hold of people’s imaginations and became almost immediately popular.

JJ: Are kids encouraged to do Daf Yomi or do you only start at a certain age?

LC: In my experience, children are not encouraged to do Daf Yomi in its classic form. Learning an entire page of Talmud a day is quite an undertaking. But there are offshoots of Daf Yomi in other areas that children are often encouraged to do. The most common, I believe, is the idea of learning the laws of lashon harah (refraining from gossip) every day, and repeating that cycle each year.

JJ: What ages is the book designed for?

LC: The book is an early reader, most appropriate for first graders or second graders.

JJ: Where can people find “No Day Without Torah”?

LC: I’m happy to say that I’ve seen it in most of the Judaica bookstores where I’ve gone to subtly check out whether it’s there. 

JJ: What do you hope kids and adults get out of it?

LC: I’m a firm believer in the importance of history, and I think it’s always valuable for people to understand the origins of the things we do and believe. So mostly, I hope that people come to understand how Daf Yomi came to be. I also hope to share my admiration for Rabbi Meir Shapiro and encourage adults to read more about him. There was so much in my research that I had to leave out to create a narrowly focused children’s book — and to inspire kids with the knowledge that one person with one idea has, in so many ways, transformed the Jewish world.

JJ: Why is Daf Yomi a meaningful tradition to you?

LC: I have to admit that I have never personally learned Daf Yomi. For people who do, I think it is the learning itself that’s the most meaningful. For me, what makes Daf Yomi meaningful is, actually, its history. [It’s] the fact that something so innovative could arise so late, relatively speaking, in Jewish history and yet become so significant and entrenched for so many people.

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