How do you know if you are a true “fan” of something? The obvious area in which that can be answered is sports. If you derive please from a certain team winning, have their merchandise, or attend their games, you’re probably a fan. Another area is media consumption - and again, you can use the same basic questions about the industry. Do you consume their products? Do you attend their theme parks? Do you wear their merchandise? But it does not end there. It seems as though every industry has rabid followers who will only use one company’s product no matter how similar it is to others.
Do your prefer Coca-Cola or Pepsi? Do you ship with FedEx or UPS? Mac or PC? Democrat or Republican? The list is endless.
But just what is a fan? Actually, calling someone a fan makes it sound less crazy than it would if you were to use the full word – fanatic. Calling someone a fanatic makes them sound borderline crazy. By comparison, “fan” sounds tame.
In Judaism, we actually have an industry that has divisions that compare to these radical fan bases. That is the Daf Yomi. I only recently started doing the daf, and over the course of the last eight months, it has become increasingly obvious that there is a fraternity of people doing the daf who are divided into smaller sects, some of which come close to cult-like behavior.
First, let’s start with the classic Daf Yomi shiurim. These are the small groups of people who learn the daf daily either before or after shacharis in the morning, or before or after ma’ariv in the evening. This group is made up of longtime Daf Yomi learners, and every once in a while, new blood is added to the mix. The second group is the solo learners. Sometimes they may use an ArtScroll edition (or Soncino if you understand Shakespearian dialects), or just a regular old-school gemara.
But the third group is the new-age Daf Yomi learners. These are people who have decided to utilize the power of technology to get their daily Daf Yomi fix. They may use YouTube, a podcast, the All Daf app, a website, or any variety of other options. This is likely the successor of the Dial-A-Daf rage of the ‘90s and ‘00s. (To my surprise, Dial-A-Daf still exists today.)
This third group is divided into a multitude of online shiurim, and each following acts as their own fan base, sometimes recruiting others to join their team. I have jumped around from shiur to shiur until I found Rabbi Shalom Rosner’s shiur. But I have people from other fandoms asking me if I will return to theirs, because like any other fandom, followers know in their hearts that their team is the best, and others are missing out by not joining.
But this is to be expected when it comes to an activity that is such heavy commitment. Daf Yomi is every day - no matter what. You miss a day? You better make it up? You have to have strategies about missed days. You have to make Daf Yomi part of your daily routine if you want to succeed. Daf does not stop for Shabbos, Yom Tov, a personal simchah, vacation, long days at work, familial obligations, or any other excuse. And for those who have ever fallen multiple weeks behind, there is no feeling quite like that day when you finally catch up. But there is no fanfare, because the next day, it is back to work. It is there perpetually, respawning like a phoenix.
In many ways it is not dissimilar to another cult-like activity: fantasy sports. Now before you stone me for my blasphemous comparison, let me explain. Both take up an enormous amount of brainpower if you are going to be good at it. Both can be done with a wide array of resources, and if you do both, it is more than likely that you have at least one podcast/YouTube channel that gives you information on how to do it better. Both have their own language that others will absolutely not understand. If you miss a day in either, you could have significantly set yourself back. And if you play baseball, basketball, and football, there is no off-season in fantasy sports. It is literally every day – just like daf.
I don’t know what the Venn diagram of daf learners and fantasy sports players looks like, but I definitely fall in the overlap. And I didn’t pick up either as early as most people my age did. There are probably a lot of people who have been doing both for a long time. And it’s no wonder as to why: They both take a certain amount of commitment, both are slightly addictive, and both have an in-the-know community built around them. It just makes sense; they require the same output (just for different fandoms), and if you happen to be a fan of sports and Torah, and only do one of these activities, why not give the other a try? Who knows, maybe we can start the first-ever fantasy daf league? Not sure how that would work yet, but I think there’s something there.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.