By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
There are hundreds of thousands of Jewish people throughout the world who study a specific daily folio of the Talmud in a program called “Daf Yomi.” To those who study the Talmud, the name Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the founder of the Daf Yomi program, is well known. What is perhaps less known is that it could be argued that were it not for the efforts of an early Pope, Innocent IV, Rabbi Shapiro may never have been able to launch the program in the first place.
In other words: No Pope Innocent IV – No Daf Yomi.
A brief background is in order. In June of 1239, Pope Gregory IX sent a series of letters to the archbishops and monarchs of kingdoms throughout Europe. The Pope’s letters leveled a series of accusations against the Talmud, inspired by an apostate Jew named Nicholas Donin. Gregory IX ordered the archbishops to have all copies of the Talmud seized. In the letter to the Bishop of Paris and the Dominican and Franciscan leaders in Paris, Pope Gregory instructed them to burn the copies of the Talmud that they had confiscated.
Of all the European monarchs, only one acted scrupulously in fulfilling Pope Gregory’s request. Louis IX, King of France convened a trial of the Talmud in Paris in 1240. The verdict? The Talmud was “found guilty” of the charges and 24 cartloads of Talmudic books were burned.
The verdict, however, may have been a negation of the Church’s traditional stance of tolerance toward Judaism. Indeed, this argument was presented to Pope Gregory’s successor, Pope Innocent IV. The new Pope accepted this argument and in the year 1247 wrote letters to the effect that the Talmud should be censored rather than burned. Innocent IV’s words were met with disapproval by many of the archbishops (Papal infallibility would not come until six centuries later). Nonetheless, Pope Innocent IV’s persistence persevered.
Had Pope Gregory IX’s edict remained, the Judaism of Europe would have been vastly different than it turned out to be. The renaissance of Talmudic study may never have happened and other texts may have ultimately been prioritized due to the lack of copies of the Talmud. The works of the Vilna Gaon, the rise of the Yeshiva movement, and even eastern European Talmudic study would never have flourished. Rabbi Meir Shapiro would never have been able to launch the Daf Yomi movement.