Thousands of Jews in Jerusalem united via satellite with close to 100,000 in America to jointly celebrate Torah learning.
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler
Close to 100,000 people on Wednesday packed the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to celebrate the herculean task of completing the entire Babylonian Talmud, called “Siyum HaShas,” which takes seven-and-a-half years of daily dedication. This was the 13th Siyum HaShas gathering.
Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld, Rosh Yeshiva of Kollel Iyun Hadaf, participated in the organization of the English-speaking event at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, noting that the growing Anglo community in Israel shows “tremendous interest” in joining this “unforgettable event.” The event was one of many throughout the world celebrating this tremendous achievement in Torah learning.
Rabbi Kornfeld organized the first Siyum HaShas gathering in Israel for English speakers in 2005 to mark the 11th learning cycle. Following that landmark event, the International Convention Center was similarly filled to capacity in 2012 as well as on Wednesday.
The program is credited with making Talmud study accessible to laymen as well as Torah scholars. It was first proposed in 1920 in a World Agudath Israel publication. In 1923, Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Poland pushed the idea as a way to unify the Jewish people. He explained, at the time, the advantages of unifying Torah study worldwide. He noted that a person traveling anywhere in the world could join any Talmud study group and know exactly what was going on.
The first Siyum HaShas took place in 1931 with tens of thousands of Jews attending in Jerusalem and throughout Europe. Rabbi Shapiro presided over the festivities in Poland.
“Not even our great Rabbis could have anticipated the amount of technology and advances in communications that allow a person to access the daf yomi [one page of Talmud a day] wherever he is,” Rabbi Larry Shain, spiritual head of Kehillat Ahavah v’Shalom synagogue in Ramat Beit Shemesh and principal of Yeshivat Ateret Yaakov in Jerusalem, told United With Israel (UWI).
“I participated in the last three gatherings of Siyum HaShas, two of which I was in Madison Square Garden in New York,” Rabbi Shain continued. “Living in Israel, it was fantastic to celebrate in Jerusalem.”
The Talmud contains 2,711 pages in the entire set of tractates. “One who participates in the daf yomi program shows amazing discipline,” Rabbi Shain explained. “I dedicate from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours every day to this study. That is a serious chunk of time. Part of the greatness of daf yomi is that one puts aside a large amount of time every day to study Torah.”
Highlights of the event included speeches by Talmudic scholars, prayer sessions, dancing, and performances by cantors, choirs and singers, including Jerusalem’s Mayor Moshe Lion, known for his singing talent, who joined famous Jewish performer Yosef Chaim Shwekey onstage.
“Torah and good deeds unite the Jewish people where ever we are,” Rabbi Shain said. “It is wonderful to be part of something this great with Jews from all different stripes. Siyum HaShas is a very uplifting and powerful experience.”
Following a string of anti-Semitic attacks in America, security was high at the Siyum HaShas event at MetlLife Stadium in New Jersey.
NYPD Chief of Patrol Fausto Pichardo tweeted, “As another year begins, our officers continue to be present and vigilant to ensure the safety in every neighborhood across NYC. Expect a larger presence in #Brooklyn as we continue to work with all of our partners so everyone can safely celebrate #SiyumHashas.”
The New Jersey State Police also sent 300 officers to safeguard people at the MetLife Stadium.
The New Jersey-Israel Commission tweeted a picture of Consul General of Israel in New York Dani Dayan with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy at the stadium, “During today’s incredible
#SiyumHashas at MetLife Stadium it was wonderful to see [Consul General of Israel in New York] Dani Dayan alongside [New Jersey Governor] Phil Murphy during this very special occasion. NJ was proud to host over 90,000 members of the Jewish community from around the world.”
Jewish educator Nili Couzens shared various Facebook comments regarding those who had to work at the New Year’s day event. “The NJ EMS guys I partnered with were blown away by how many people said ‘Thank you’ to them. They said they never experienced anything like it before.” Another said that it was an “honor” to work at such an event. Another wrote that a 19-year veteran staff member said, “it was the most beautiful event in all her time there,” adding, “I hope to do this again in seven years.”