Getting Started with Talmud
If you are new to Talmud, you might be wondering where to start. There’s no “better” or “worse” time to start learning Talmud. Start with what works for you and grow from there! You will quickly discover that learning Talmud will challenge your mind, connect you to Jewish history, inspire you to think critically, immerse you in a community of learners, and enrich your life.
The Talmud is a commentary on the Mishna, a compendium of Jewish laws composed of six sedarim (Orders) which are further subdivided into 63 tractates. There are two versions of the Talmud: the Talmud Yerushalmi composed in Israel in the 4th century AD and the Talmud Bavli composed in Babylonia at around 500 AD. The more-commonly studied Talmud Bavli has Gemaras (works of Talmudic analysis) on 37 of the tractates of the Mishna covering topics as varied as the laws of agriculture, Shabbat and holidays, marriage, civil law, sacrifices, and ritual purity.
Navigating a Daf
The Talmud is paginated in a special way. Every Daf (which means page) is numbered with a Hebrew letter and has two sides (amudim) - Alef and Bet. You can tell if you are on the front or backside of a daf by looking at the page number: the Alef-side of the daf is marked with one dot (.) next to the page number while the Bet-side is marked by two dots (:) next to the number.
In the header of every Talmud Daf (page), you will find (from right to left) the chapter name and number followed by the name of the Masechet (tractate) and finally the page number.
The central text is composed of the Mishna  and the corresponding Gemara  that generally elaborates on the quoted Mishna (not all pages have Mishna text). The beginning of a new Mishna is easy to spot because it is introduced with the bolded letters 'מתני while a new Gemara is introduced with the letters 'גמ.
The text in the margins is composed of commentators; Rashi  is always found on the inner column, Tosafot  in the external column and other commentary is found around them .
Getting Started with Daf Yomi
Daf Yomi is an initiative that started nearly one hundred years ago. The idea is to learn one daf every day and thereby complete the entire Talmud Bavli (2711 dapim) in a little bit over seven years. We are currently on the 13th cycle of learning the Daf. The beauty of the Daf Yomi concept is that many thousands of people around the world are literally “on the same page” every day. This enables a wonderful exchange of ideas and creates a communal feel and energy around the learning process (Click here to join a Hadran community near you).
When joining Daf Yomi, it is highly recommended to begin on the Daf of the day. Don’t worry about making up for what you’ve missed. Once you have delved into the daf and feel more comfortable in the learning, you can decide to dedicate extra time to catching up on the dapim you’ve missed, or, if you prefer, you can simply continue into the next round of Daf Yomi until you complete the Talmud.
No matter which daf you start learning, you are entering mid-conversation. The gemara is not organized in a linear manner and personalities are never formally introduced. So, jump right in! Start learning today and soon you’ll be immersed in the conversation. You’ll begin to recognize names of the sages, commonly used terms, and the unique Talmudic style of logic.
Start at your own pace
If you’d rather not join the daf, you can also learn at your own pace, dipping in and out of different tractates. You might want to consider starting with some of the more commonly learned tractates. Berachot, Megillah, Ta’anit, Rosh Hashana, and Sukka have practical Halachic relevance to our daily lives. If you prefer legal discussions, Sanhedrin (Chapters 3, 8, and 10), Makkot, and Bava Metzia (Chapters 2, 3 and 6) make good starting points. Of course, in the Talmud, discussions can wander pretty far from their original topic, so whatever masechet you choose to start with will include lots of fascinating information that’s tangential to the subject at hand. It’s all part of the journey!
Also keep in mind that, no matter which masechet you start learning, you are entering mid-conversation. The gemara is not organized in a linear manner. So, jump right in! See below for a number of suggested starting points or go to Talmud by the Daf and choose your own.
Selected Shiurim to Start
We recommend getting started with these pages of Talmud