Commencing the 13th Talmud Marathon

I have set myself a goal for the next seven and a half years. No time like the present to start. The goal? To read the entire 73 volumes of the Schottenstein edition of the Babylonian Talmud published by Artscroll. Since 1920, Jews around the world – primarily Orthodox – have dedicated themselves to studying a page a day (or Daf Yomi in Hebrew) of Talmud. This may not sound like a lot per day, but it equates to at least one hour a day with no vacations, days off, nor shortcuts.

Wikipedia erroneously states that the Babylonian Talmud consists of over 6,200 pages.[1] Another popular site states that there are approximately 12,800 pages in the Soncino edition of the Talmud[2], but this includes indices and notes. The Shottenstein Edition of the Talmud has over 35,000 traditional printed pages in seventy-three volumes.[3] But these are approximations based on translations in addition to the original Hebrew pages or folios.

The definition of “page” is a little bit different than what we commonly assume. There are actually 2,711 pages in the Babylonian Talmud with one page being considered both front and back – what English speaking readers would normally consider two pages, and what is commonly referred to as a folio. Only the Hebrew text is considered a page. The English exposition and notes are not counted as separate pages, and in fact, are not even numbered in many editions. These are typically the English translation of the Hebrew text along with any footnotes or endnotes. In typical English reckoning, this works out to about thirteen pages a day that are studied in the Daf Yomi cycle.

Accounting for leap year, a complete Daf Yomi reading cycle takes seven years and 154 days to complete from cover to cover. This is two and a half times the typical Torah reading cycle of 3 lunar (Hebrew calendar) years. The most recent cycle ended on August 2, 2012 in a mass celebration of 90,000 participants at the MetLife Stadium in New York known as the Siyum HaShas where the final page was read and studied en masse.[4] The next cycle began the following day without a break.

Tradition holds that the primary component of Talmud (Mishnah) was the Oral Law passed to Moses at Sinai and subsequently taught through the generations. Due to religious persecution and fear of annihilation, the written form of the Mishnah began circa 200 CE. Commentaries, known as the Gemara, continued to be written in the margins of the Mishnah over the next three centuries. These combined documents are known as the Talmud. The divisions between Mishnah and Gemara are still visible in modern typeset versions of the Talmud with a small portion at the center (Mishnah) and a multitude of Aramaic commentaries surrounding this text (Gemara).

There are actually two different Talmuds; each compiled in different regions over differing periods of time and in at least two different dialects. The development of the Talmud Yerushalmi or Jerusalem Talmud ceased about two hundred years earlier than the Babylonian and remains incomplete with only four of the six “Orders” or Sedarim complete. The primary and authoritative version used today is the Talmud Bavli or Babylonian Talmud as this version contains the opinions of Rabbis in Israel (found in the Jerusalem Talmud) as well as those of Babylonia. It consists of texts dating from 200 CE through 500 CE.

Oddly, neither edition of the Talmud is complete. The Babylonian text only contains Gemara for thirty-seven out of the sixty-three Mishnah. It excludes many laws meant primarily for the land of Israel that did not apply to any other region. Yet it includes laws for Temple service that are not to be found in the Jerusalem Talmud. Other Gemara are completely missing for both editions. In addition to the variances and omissions between the two extant Talmuds, various other issues exist with the text due to hundreds of years of censorship imposed by various religions and governments.

For a comprehensive history of the censorship of that Talmud, I refer the reader to “The Essential Talmud”.[5] Another great resource for Talmud history is Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein – an Exhibition from Yeshiva University and available online. [6]


[1] Accessed August 5, 2012.

[4] Alcorn, Stan (2012). Jewish 'Super Bowl' Praises Years Of Talmudic Study. Accessed August 5, 2012.

[5] Steinsaltz, Adin (1976). The Essential Talmud (pp 81-85). United States. BasicBooks.

[6] Various (2005). Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein. Yeshiva University Museum. Accessed August 5, 2012.