North Shore Hebrew Academy High School 10th graders Talia and Jordana have a lot to do during their short lunch break: they’ve got to eat, discuss the daily Daf Yomi, and write and record a podcast about their daily learning.
“Yo yo yo my yomis!” the 15-year-olds start off each episode of “Daf Punk,” a new podcast for teens by teens about the Daf Yomi, which Talia and Jordana started last year.
Daf Yomi, otherwise known as the “world’s largest book club” is the practice of learning a page of Talmud each day. The entire world follows the same cycle, which takes about 7.5 years to finish. The current cycle started on January 5, 2020. There are 37 volumes, or tractates, in the Talmud, each that deals with a different aspect of Jewish law, everything from vows to marriage to sacrifices.
“I started doing Daf Yomi in March of last year because I was speaking to Rabbi Avi Miller about ways to increase my learning of Gemara,” explained Talia, referring to the rabbinical commentary. “My middle school didn’t teach girls Gemara, and when I got to NSHA High School, I felt like I was looking for a way to catch up. Rabbi Miller suggested Daf Yomi because you need to dive in every day and then you get used to it very quickly.”
Podcasting makes the texts come alive
Learning Daf Yomi, and creating the podcast, has been transformational, Talia said. “There are so many things that I do just out of habit, because I was taught to do them,” she said. “But now that I’m learning more about laws and traditions, I’m starting to understand why I do them, and I’m feeling a kind of connection I never felt before. It’s created this appreciation for mesorah [tradition], and I think, how many people have learned from this same source, stretching back generations? It’s fantastic.”
Talia said as she got more involved in learning Daf Yomi in 2022, she was frustrated not to see other teens in the classes offered at her synagogue and in the community.
“I started asking, is there anything I can do to help teenagers experience this and connect to Judaism in the best way possible?” So Talia started playing around with different ideas of making Daf Yomi more accessible and fun — and decided to start the podcast.
Talia floated the idea by her friend Jordana towards the end of their first year at NSHAHS. Jordana was immediately on board. They started working with teachers, including Rabbi Jacob Braun, who is on the Talmud faculty at NSHAHS, to learn how to create a podcast.
Rabbi Braun suggested they take the summer to practice molding their thoughts into a short, 2-5 minute podcast, by sending him recordings each day. Over the course of the summer, the teens got better at writing scripts and being concise with their interpretations. When school started back up in the fall, they dove into the daily recordings, which they completed during their lunch break, recording in empty classrooms.
They’ve also recruited their classmates to act as guest hosts, encouraging a number of students to study Daf Yomi on their own time.
“It really brings the texts to life, and I’m looking at Daf Yomi in a whole new way,” said Jordana. She said the sections about the Land of Israel have been especially meaningful as she prepares for a trip to Israel this summer.
“When I study, I’m looking for things to talk about on the podcast, and that makes some of the dry translations feel a little more personal,” she said. “When the halacha [Jewish law] becomes more personal, you’re able to form a deeper relationship with God.”
Daf Yomi: Just the Highlights
The Daf Punk podcast is available on Spotify, and is meant to be a fun highlights reel of each day’s subject, the Instagram Story version of a full Daf Yomi podcast, which usually clocks in at around 40 minutes. Over the school year, with the help of many staff members, Jordana and Talia have improved their podcasting skills, learning how to add a musical intro, edit their recordings, and record higher-quality audio.
“I think it’s amazing that teenagers are launching this initiative, and especially females, who historically have not been offered the chance to learn Gemara,” said Rabbi Braun, who oversees the podcast. “Now, many women are at the forefront of Gemara, and to see two female high school students who are passionate enough to do this on their own take it to the next level to make it fun and engaging for others is just incredible.”
Braun said one of the biggest issues among today’s teenagers is apathy, which is why it is so exciting to see Talia and Jordana run with the idea and stick with it for the past six months. Recording a daily podcast, even a short one, takes an enormous amount of work, especially when students are balancing a packed dual-academics schedule.
“Whether it’s Daf Yomi or a parasha class, the fact that they’re passionate enough to shake things up and create something that wasn’t there before is incredible,” he said. “Seeing students come together to create something like this is beautiful and inspiring.”
“Learning Daf Yomi is a monumental undertaking in its own right, but they’re also committed to building a shared learning community among their peers,” said Rabbi Avi Miller, the NSHAHS Judaics Studies Advisor. “Their learned, lucid explanations of the Gemara, coupled with their honest personal reflections create an exciting virtual space. It helps the Gemara, which is often full of abstruse dialectical argumentation, feel not only accessible, but vibrant, engaging, and deeply relevant for Jewish teens.”
Neither Talia nor Jordana knows what they hope to do when they graduate, though they both are sure it will involve spreading Torah knowledge in some way. In the meantime, they hope that their podcast audience will grow, so they can reach people outside of the NSHA community, and maybe, in the future, create new partnerships so the Daf Yomi podcast continues beyond their high school careers.
“We have this opportunity to bring Gemara to people, and that brings us so much joy,” said Talia.
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