On January 1, 2020, tens of thousands of Jewish men will dance in a joyous celebration of the completion of Talmud Bavli. But many of them couldn’t have done it without the equal devotion of their wives
On Rosh Hashanah 1923, Jews around the world sat down to learn Maseches Brachos — and daf yomi was launched. Nearly a century later, daf yomi continues to unite the Jewish Nation and connect Jews to their Creator.
I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the women who showed up at MetLife Stadium for the 12th Siyum HaShas back in August 2012, hours of rain doing nothing to dampen their enthusiasm. These women had spent years doing bedtime single-handedly and braving the morning rush on their own while their husbands were learning. Clearly steady precipitation wasn’t going to come between these n’shei chayil and the siyum.
One woman told me she drove 11 hours from Detroit to MetLife because she wasn’t going to miss the siyum for anything in the world. Dozens and dozens of girls came from summer camps in the Catskills to share in the simchas haTorah, one of whom told me that she was “dancing in her heart” in the ezras nashim while the men did the two-step shuffle down below on the stadium floor.
There’s no doubt that daf yomi is a man-centric undertaking, but the Siyum HaShas was an accomplishment celebrated with overflowing hearts on both sides of the mechitzah. As we approach the next siyum, I spoke with the devoted wives of the maggidei shiur to discover what it’s like for those holding down the fort back at home.
In the Wee Hours
While I expect to hear about all the sacrifices made by daf yomi wives, none of the women I speak to consider it a hardship to take on extra work so their husbands can give their daily shiur. Time and again, I hear how thrilled they are to move mountains so that the untold thousands who commit to learning the daf can have a shiur each and every day.
Take Lakewood resident Zissy Fried, whose husband, Chai Lifeline’s New Jersey director Rabbi Sruli Fried, wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every day to prepare for the 5:50 a.m. daf yomi shiur he gives at Bais Shabsi. Zissy admits that sometimes things are more than a little crazy while her husband is out of the house.
“It can get hectic when you’re nursing a baby, a toddler is just waking up, you have to get boys on the Shacharis bus, and you’ve been manning the house by yourself from the wee hours of the morning,” says Zissy.
The Fried’s youngest child is four months old, and their oldest is just home from seminary in Eretz Yisrael.
Zissy recalls the thoughts that swirled through her own head after her year in seminary as she and her friends prepared to marry learning boys.
“We thought that support means sacrificing, working hard while making do with little,” says Zissy. “But support for us daf yomi women means relinquishing our husbands’ help or companionship at inconvenient times in an honestly supportive and encouraging manner.”
Zissy laughingly recalls the days when daf yomi first took root in her home, saying, “I did something crazy back then. I woke up early every morning with him, but that was years ago. However, now I understand what it means to be getting up that early every day.”
The aura of daf yomi permeates the entire Fried home. Zissy shares that there are days where even she knows the daf, as her husband sometimes listens to a shiur in the car as they drive home from a simchah.
“There’s so much joy in our house because of daf yomi,” she says. “My kids wake up in the morning and see their father coming in after the shiur. There is so much beauty in seeing that this is how he starts his day. It puts the stamp of Torah on the entire day.”
Zissy wholeheartedly disagrees with the idea that having a husband doing the daf is a burden on the family. “We think that sacrifice has to come with misery, but this is a thing of joy,” she observes. “It’s like having a suitcase full of diamonds, and when those diamonds are yours, they aren’t heavy at all.”
The daf Must Go On
Yossi Gleiberman has a double dose of daf yomi, giving the 5:40 a.m. shiur at Rabbi Bergman’s shul in Flatbush and then making his way over to Rabbi Sherer’s shul immediately after Shacharis for round two. His wife Estie notes wryly that he’s not naturally a morning person.
Yossi started learning daf yomi in the early days of their marriage when their first child was on the way, and the writing on the wall indicated that the time had come for him to start working. Committing to a morning daf yomi seemed like the best way to make sure learning wouldn’t become a casualty of day-to-day life, and Yossi began attending the 5:20 a.m. daf at the Agudah of Avenue H, recording the shiur on cassette tape to review later on the train.
He made his first siyum on Shas at age 29, getting up and telling everyone, “I’m a regular guy. I watch football on Sunday, and I’m on the train at 7:15 every day to get to work. If someone like me can learn the daf and finish Shas, anyone can.’ ”
A short time later, Rabbi Sherer’s shul launched its own daf yomi shiur, with Yossi filling in whenever the maggid shiur, Rabbi Eli Shulman, couldn’t make it. When Rabbi Shulman became rav of another shul in Flatbush, Yossi stepped in to say the shiur in his place. Things were often hectic, recalls Estie, who took on responsibility for getting all the kids to school, among many other things.
“The car pools were really hard,” she admits. “Getting someone to watch the kids when you carpool because you can’t fit all the kids in the car wasn’t easy. Sometimes I’d take my kids to a nearby bakery and give them money for cookies and ask the guy there if I could leave them for 20 minutes so I could get the other kids to school.”
And then there was the time that Estie went into labor and a tough call had to be made — the hospital or the daf? The decision was a no-brainer, says Estie.
“There was no one to cover for him. I told him to give the daf, and in the zechus of the daf the baby would come quickly,” she reminisces. “We went to the hospital as soon as he came home, and the baby was born right away.”
In the case of another medical emergency, one of the Gleiberman boys needed to go to the emergency room on a Friday night. In the ER at Boro Park’s Maimonides Hospital, husband and wife looked at each other. Knowing the hospital was more than an hour’s walk away from where Yossi said his daily daf, there was no question that the show had to go on.
“He asked me if I was sure if it was okay if he left us there, and I told him it was,” says Estie. “He left, gave his shiur, and then turned around and came back to the hospital afterward.”
Neither of the Gleibermans are shy about getting others on the daf yomi bandwagon. Bumping into women whose husbands are in Yossi’s shiur, Estie makes a point of telling them how much their participation is appreciated. When the Gleibermans go on vacation, or when Yossi travels for business, a different person is recruited to say the daily daf each time, giving each one a taste that will hopefully lead to them filling in more often, and maybe even giving over a shiur of their own one day.
Estie has attempted to get numerous women on board so their husbands can commit to the daily program despite the inherent complications. “They say they need their husbands at home to help in the morning, but I tell them that their kids will get to school somehow,” she says, adding, “There’s no better chinuch for children than to see their parents being moser nefesh for Torah.”
And then there was that memorable cruise to Alaska where Yossi only thought he wasn’t going to be saying shiur for a few days. “Someone came over to my husband while we were eating and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but the rabbi missed the boat and we need someone to give over the daf,’ ” recalls Estie. “My husband asked me if I was okay finishing dinner by myself, and he went off to prepare, giving the shiur an hour later.”
All in the Family
Having a schedule that revolves around daf yomi is just the way things are in the Gleiberman house. The oldest Gleiberman boys were five and eight years old when they went to their first Siyum HaShas, finding themselves the subjects of press interviews because children at a siyum were a rarity at that time. Their daughter Avigayil is currently in seminary and has been pushing for months to come home for the Siyum HaShas, pointing out that it’s literally a family simchah.
Estie insists that she and her husband are just regular people who are committed to making things work. “I think the biggest thing is showing kids that while learning full-time is beautiful, even people who work can be totally committed,” she Estie. “If daf yomi is the center of your day, then between the learning, the actual shiur, and thinking it through afterward, your day is focused on the daf.”
Estie jokes that after 120, she’ll come up to Shamayim and the malachim will look at her and say, “We need to let her in. She carpooled her boys all those years to get them to yeshivah because her husband was never available to do it.”
Chesky Eider began attending Sruly Bornstein’s daf yomi shiur at Lakewood’s High Street shul after being inspired by the energy of the 12th Siyum HaShas. He felt compelled to share the beauty of the daf with others.
His wife Shani recalls how he’d tell everyone he met that they simply had to get to his morning shiur, expanding its reach first with live attendees, then a call-in number, and finally with the creation of a website and the Lakewood daf yomi mobile app. The app, which has thousands of subscribers worldwide, has become a family project, and includes shiurim on numerous topics in addition to daf yomi.
“My husband’s daf has really affected the entire family,” remarks Shani. “At the Shabbos table, there’s always discussion about the daf, and my kids know that their father is always busy doing something for the daf.”
The younger Eider children have gone with their father on occasion to set up coffee for the Sunday morning shiur, proudly telling their teachers about their contributions to that day’s daf yomi. And for nearly a year, Shani’s freshly baked muffins added further sweetness to the morning’s learning, enticing an even larger number of people to come.
Shani seems puzzled when I ask her to talk about the extra responsibilities she’s taken on for years so that her husband can be part of daf yomi on multiple levels. “When you’re doing something you love, it’s not like picking up the slack,” she explains. “If your husband was out making millions of dollars at his job, you wouldn’t think of it as picking up the slack. My husband is doing the biggest thing for our family, and it has changed us in amazing ways.”
For his part, Chesky notes that Shani hasn’t just been a passive supporter of his learning. The numerous themed siyumim she has hosted were highly anticipated events, celebrating the accomplishments of the entire shiur and attracting new members. He credits Shani and the thousands of other women of the daf for the fundamental role they play in the program. “I would say with confidence that wives are the most essential support for the success of any of the daf’s married members’ consistent attendance,” says Chesky.
I reach out to both Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of the Orthodox Union’s kashrus division, and his rebbetzin, Mrs. Miriam Leah Elefant. Rabbi Elefant, who is about to complete his fourth daf yomi cycle as a maggid shiur, wakes up every morning well in advance of his 5:40 a.m. shiur at K’hal Brizdovitz in Boro Park to prepare the daf. A daily shiur that he recorded for the OU for the 12th daf yomi cycle is available online for free download.
I try to cajole Mrs. Elefant into sharing details with me of the extra efforts she had to expend when her four children, all of whom are now married, were small so that her husband could give over the daf, but to no avail. She tells me only that despite the time commitments of the daf and a job where emergencies can often arise, her husband was a very involved parent. If asked to picture their father, her children would describe him sitting and learning in his makom kavua in the house.
“We figured out how to make it work,” says Mrs. Elefant.” My husband wakes up very, very early, so he needs to go to sleep early, as well. When we go to weddings, we need to factor that in.”
Rabbi Elefant, on the other hand, is more expansive when it comes to discussing his wife’s contributions. “The shiur wasn’t just another child in our house, the shiur was the child that got the most attention,” says Rabbi Elefant. “I can honestly say that if not for my wife I could never have done any of this.”
He notes that those who give the daf yomi shiur are often lauded for their efforts, a pat on the back their wives rarely receive. “When I go places, people know me,” observes Rabbi Elefant. “They recognize my voice, my face, and my shiurim. When my wife goes places, she’s just Mrs. Elefant. Our wives typically sit quietly when we get those compliments, but the truth is, that they are as much a part of this as we are. It’s my wife who’s the real hero.”
The importance of the role that women play in the daf yomi program is not lost on anyone at Agudath Israel of America. A full 19,792 of the approximately 90,000 seats at MetLife Stadium will be designated for women at the upcoming global siyum, with seating for an extra 3,000 women available in the stadium’s premium suites. Organizers of the Siyum HaShas said that numerous daf yomi shiurim are sponsoring premium seats for the wives of those who give over the daily daf as a way of expressing their hakaras hatov to these n’shei chayil.
Rabbi Labish Becker, executive director of the Agudah, quotes the words of Rabbi Akiva who told his talmidim that the Torah that both he and they learned truly belonged to his wife Rachel. Similarly, notes Rabbi Becker, wives of those who immerse themselves in the daf yomi are the lifeblood of the program.
“By encouraging their husbands, giving them the time to learn, and sacrificing for, or supporting and motivating them, these women are continuing the long legacy of nashim tzidkaniyos who have sustained Klal Yisrael for generations,” says Rabbi Becker. “This is a true partnership, and without their efforts, daf yomi as we know it simply wouldn’t exist.”
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 661)