Getting Klal Yisrael on the Same Page — Daf Yomi in Waterbury

Khal Bnai Shalom in Waterbury, Connecticut, has become an integral part of the growth of the Orthodox community with many new arrivals joining over the last number of years. Under the leadership of Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein, the shul has grown both in quantity and quality, as the members gather together for Torah and tefillah each day. Mr. Shuly Lieber, who davens in Bnai Shalom, began delivering a Daf Yomi shiur at the beginning of this cycle, and is preparing to make a siyum with his participants.

When did you begin learning Daf Yomi, and when did you start delivering the shiur?

Mr. Lieber: I began learning Daf Yomi when the previous cycle was learning Maseches Nedarim. I must share with you what in part led me to learn the Daf. In my yeshivah days, I consistently found myself drawn to learning at a quicker pace and covering more ground. When I finished my first Masechta, my father, zol gezunt zayn, took the Talman gemara that I used and had it leatherbound.

He told me that he hoped it would show me his pride in my accomplishments and inspire me to finish more Masechtos as he would keep leather-binding my gemaros for me with each such Masechta. It sure did inspire me, as I began learning the Daf on my own a few short years later and I am truly proud to possess the entire Shas leather-bound.

When this most recent cycle began, I started learning with a chavrusa, Rabbi Yosef Gutman, after the 7:00 a.m. Shacharis minyan in Khal Bnai Shalom. On one of the first days, a fellow sitting near us suddenly began asking us something relating to what we had been discussing. A day or two later, another person joined in on a discussion I was having with my chavrusa. Then two other individuals approached us together and mentioned that they had been listening in and asked if we would mind if they sat near us to listen closely to us learning.

So, this shiur was not actually planned; it evolved from the learning I was doing with my chavrusa. Before long, there were approximately eight of us, and the chavrusashaft became a regular shiur. The shiur is purposely interactive, as I always view it as an expanded form of the original chavrusashaft that I had.

When do you give the Daf and how long does the shiur run for?

During the week we learn after the 7 a.m. Shacharis. Typically it will take from about 7:45 to 8:45. On Shabbos, we daven at the 8:00 minyan, which is followed by a kiddush. By 10:30 or so, we begin learning. As everyone is in less of a rush, we can tend to take somewhat longer to learn the Shabbos Daf.

Who takes over when you are unavailable to say the shiur?

There are two individuals who have been most willing to substitute when the need arises. Rabbi Yosef Gutman, my original chavrusa, is a Rebbi in our local yeshivah ketanah during the mornings and works in his real estate management firm in the afternoons. As busy as he is, he will somehow find the time to cover for me when the need arises. Rabbi Raphael Nemetsky, who was a longtime Menahel and mechanech, takes over on some other occasions. I always feel comforted knowing I am leaving the group in very good and capable hands.

How do you prepare for your shiur?

I typically prepare in the evenings, although there are definitely times where I will set my alarm for an early wakeup in order to prepare. As I prepare the Daf I try to anticipate the questions that the participants may ask. When we are learning gemaros which I am more familiar with, preparation will obviously be more concise. With gemaros which I am less familiar with, the preparation can stretch and be more time-consuming.

How do you respond when a participant asks a good question for which you do not have a ready answer?

I do try to anticipate the questions that will be asked, and try to be prepared to answer them during the shiur. Yet it certainly does happen that I am asked questions that I was unprepared for. I have no trouble admitting that I do not have the answer and it’s something that I would have to look up. However, Daf Yomi does not pause, and sometimes the question will have to remain as such, as the next day’s Daf beckons.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

I prepare in the evenings, a time when my family is around. At times I have to make difficult choices: Do I prepare and spend less time with them, or do I push off my preparation for later, which may be quite late, and have to struggle to keep awake and focused after a long day? I am fortunate though. My wife Bracha (Rebecca) is extremely supportive of my delivering the shiur, despite all that it entails from her. She has to get the children off to school alone in the morning when I am giving the shiur and often needs to shoulder more in the evenings when I am preparing the shiur. On Shabbos, she often brings the children to shul to wait for our shiur to finish, so that we can all walk home together. I truly feel it is her shiur as much as it’s mine.

What are some of your most rewarding moments?

Three highlights quickly come to mind. First, I have a great satisfaction when I explain a gemara in a way that the participants understand it well. When I see the geshmak they have from it, I know I did justice to the blatt.

Second, my children know proudly that their father gives a Daf Yomi shiur and it has become a part of their lives, their schedules, and indeed part of their lexicon. This means a lot to me, as I believe that true chinuch is leading by example.

The third rewarding byproduct of saying the shiur is that it has taken my own learning to a higher level. While giving the shiur has increased my own level of clarity for each Daf, I feel there is even something greater that I gained. The achrayus to be sure that I prepare the Daf has led me to keep my gemara around me all the time. I find myself constantly looking for opportunities to learn the Daf. As an example, I enjoy playing baseball with my friends, but bein gavra l’gavra, or between innings, I will have my gemara by my side and look in to prepare the next day’s Daf. I look at this as a great blessing, a level of commitment to learning that I don’t know if I would have otherwise attained.

What are your plans for celebrating the Siyum HaShas?

I plan on attending the siyum in Metlife Center, as I have attended the past two siyumim. I sincerely hope to be joined by the other members of the shiur and members of my family. I’m fairly certain that we will also celebrate together locally.

In fact, just this Shabbos, someone in our shul celebrated his own Siyum haShas, and we all joined in the celebration. There was a great sense of accomplishment, and the entire tzibbur rejoiced.


Rabbi Raphael Nemetsky has worked in the field of chinuch for decades, and in this capacity has served as a principal in several cities. Today, he gives private lessons in limudei kodesh, and teaches limudei chol in the Yeshiva Ketana of Waterbury as well as in Mesivta Yesodei HaTorah in Naugatuck, Connecticut.

Can you describe how you have participated in the Daf Yomi cycles in the past?

Rabbi Nemetsky: My main goal in learning Daf Yomi is to gain as many yedios of gemaros [as possible]. During the times when I worked and lived in cities with active Daf Yomi shiurim, I attended the shiurim or learned with them at my own pace. However, I never yet completed an entire cycle of Shas with Daf Yomi. Since moving to Waterbury, I have been attending Mr. Lieber’s shiur for five years, and I hope that I will continue with it until I complete the entire Shas.

What is special about Mr. Lieber’s Daf Yomi shiur?

One of the most difficult things about delivering a Daf Yomi shiur is zeroing in on the point of a questioner to discern where he is misinterpreting a point and being able to rectify his thought process to set him straight. Often, in the tumult of a fast-pace shiur where the Maggid Shiur is bombarded from all sides with questions, it’s difficult to zero in on this. Mr. Lieber is an expert at this, and he can figure out on the spot what needs to be explained in order for the participant to understand the sugya.

Our shiur is one of three given in Waterbury, and the participants are bnei Torah who attended yeshivah and can follow the shakla v’tarya quite well. Yet in order for the shiur to proceed, Mr. Lieber often has to give a concise introduction in order to familiarize the participants with what is coming up in the sugya. It cannot be too long, due to time constraints, but at the same time it must be thorough. Mr. Lieber has mastered that, and that makes his shiur so riveting.

I often say that the sad drawback of Mr. Lieber’s shiur is that when the shiur ends by 8:45, the day has barely begun, yet the best part of the day is already past us.

How often do you say the Daf Yomi shiur, and how do you prepare for it?

I sometimes substitute for Mr. Lieber when he goes away. I usually go through the blatt using a Mesivta gemara, where I have an opportunity to see if any of the Rishonim mention anything that could come up in the shiur. When the answer is too involved, it usually suffices to say, “There is some redt on it in the Acharonim,” and supply a mareh makom for the person to examine on his own.

If I’m asked a question I did not anticipate, I will try to find an answer either by researching it myself, or by asking Mr. Raphael Deutch, someone who delivers one of the other Daf Yomi shiurim in Waterbury. However, it is sometimes difficult to come back the following day and begin discussing yesterday’s sugya in depth.

What are your plans to celebrate the upcoming Siyum HaShas?

I must mention that I have very fond memories of the Siyum HaShas that took place two cycles ago in Madison Square Garden. I recall leaving there completely enamored, and I hope I can recapture that feeling this time. I have not yet made plans for this siyum, and a lot depends on what else is happening at that time.