A Page a Day Men Meet before Dawn to Study Jewish Law

Article excerpt

* "It is a wonderful feeling to start the day with the study of the Talmud."

Dr. Pinchas Klahr

Before dawn most mornings, about 10 men hurry through the white double doors of Agudas Israel. It's a storefront synagogue on Delmar Boulevard in University City. Each man carries a book of Jewish law, the Talmud. It takes two hands to carry the large, folio-sized books - 11 inches wide by 14 inches long and a couple of inches thick. The men remove their dark hats, and, in what appears to be a continuous, flowing motion, they slip on black velvet yarmulkes - skullcaps - and secure them with pins. The men quickly settle into blue-padded folding chairs arranged around a wood-grained metal table near large bookcases. Each man opens his leather-bound, gilt-titled book. Remaining standing, Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt leads the men in reading one page of the Talmud for an hour. One morning this week they were so absorbed in the readings that the rabbi and two others swayed their upper bodies back and forth, a movement called schaluling. "It is a wonderful feeling to start the day with the study of the Tal mud," said Dr. Pinchas Klahr, 36, an allergist. "It's the fulcrum of Jewish learning, law and philosophy, the core of Jewish thought." Jews call themselves the People of the Book. In childhood many Jews begin to learn Hebrew so they can read the Torah, the scripture and the law in the Talmud. In adolescence, they mark their 13th birthdays by publicly proclaiming the scripture in the synagogue at a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. At their weddings, parents of Orthodox Jewish brides traditionally give the groom a 20-book set of the Talmud. All this is to prepare for the Jewish ideal of reading Jewish thought every day of their lives. "You hope that the law, its ethics become part of your whole life - family, professional, friendships," said Klahr. The University City gathering is a Daf Yomi, or page-a-day in Hebrew, group. Nationally, there are about 600 groups that read a page a day of the Talmud. This is the only one in the region. At the pace of one page a day, it takes 2,711 consecutive days - nearly 7 1/2 years - to read the entire 20-volume Talmud set with commentaries. On Sept. 28 all 600 Daf Yomi groups in this country will read the final page of volume 20. The next morning they'll start on volume one again. Before beginning the Talmud again they will celebrate. Some members will be at Sept. 28 celebration in Madison Square Garden in New York. That day the public may join a celebration at the Jewish Community Center Association, 12 Millstone Campus, Creve Coeur, at 5 p.m. The New York celebration can be seen there via satellite. Talmud is the Hebrew word for teaching. The volumes the University City men have read over the past seven years focus on the Mishnah, a collection of oral tradition of rabbinic law written down beginning in the year 200. One part written by the Babylonian Jewish scholars around 550 contains extensive quotations from the Torah - five books that Christians include in their Old Testament. They give religious, social, agricultural and economic law. …

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