Tens of thousands of Jews worldwide ‘on the same page,’ celebrating 13th ‘Siyum HaShas’

January 3, 2020 by Dov Lipman - JNS
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Tens of thousands of Jews around the world joined together on Jan. 1 to celebrate the 13th Siyum HaShas—“the completion of the Six Orders [of the Talmud]”the culmination of a seven-and-a-half-year study cycle in which each of the 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud’s 63 tractates are learned in sequence.

View of the crowd at the 13th “Siyum Hashas” of Daf Yomi at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, Jan. 1, 2020. Photo by Moshe Gershbaum and Chaim Schwartz/Agudath Israel of America Archives.

The cycle is part of a project called Daf Yomi (“daily page”).

Rabbi Shalom Rosner, one of the most prominent Daf Yomi teachers, whose class is recorded and listened to by thousands, told JNS: “Daf Yomi creates a mechanism that enables all Jews to be connected through that daily page. Wherever a Jews is around the world, that page holds them together and unites them. Just like the Jews at Mount Sinai stood as a unified people to receive the Torah, we are unified as a people today, studying our traditions with all learning the same topics and words as their fellow Jews each day.”

One Daf Yomi cycle takes about seven years and five months to finish. The completion of each tractate is typically celebrated with a small siyum, or “celebration,” and the completion of the entire cycle is celebrated at an event known as the Siyum HaShas.

This year’s celebration of the completion of the 13th cycle, organized by Agudath Israel of America, included MetLife Stadium and other arenas in the United States and Israel.

“The goal of this event was to have a celebration which was as broad and unifying as possible—with attendees and speakers from Hebrew- and English-speaking populations, Israel and Diaspora communities, and men and women.”

According to Elly Kleinman, chairman of the first siyum at MetLife Stadium and one of the sponsors of this year’s event, while planning the siyum event is always a massive undertaking, this year’s was especially complicated.

“The planning and logistics for the siyumcelebration are an enormous undertaking. This year’s event was even more complex because we added a second major venue, Barclay’s Center, where the Brooklyn Nets basketball team plays, and we also connected to celebrations around the world via satellite.”

In addition, the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world and in the United States over the past year meant that security was a bigger concern that in the past.

“Aside from reserving the venues, marketing the event, distributing tickets, video production, coordinating satellite feeds and live streaming, and planning the speakers and musical performances, we also had to prepare contingency plans for possible bad weather. And especially, given the rise of anti-Semitism, we needed to coordinate security with federal, state and city law-enforcement and counter-terrorism agencies,” explained Kleinman.

“Keeping 92,000 Jews safe in an open-air stadium requires a staggeringly complicated coordinated effort which included protecting the airspace above the stadium,” he added.

In the end though, the weather cooperated and everything went smoothly.

“Despite the fact that it was extremely cold, the weather for this siyum was manageable and law enforcement did a remarkable job keeping everyone safe,” he said.

‘What an incredible thing’

The Babylonian Talmud, also known as the “Shas” (an abbreviation of shisha sedarim, Hebrew for the six orders of the Mishnah), is the primary source for Jewish law. Edited and compiled in 500 C.E., it contains the teachings of thousands or rabbis on ethics, history, customs, philosophy and religious law—many passed down from teacher to student since the time of Moses.

The Daf Yomi idea was first proposed in December 1920 in World Agudath Israel publication Digleinu by Rabbi Moshe Menachem Mendel Spivak, and was put forward at the First World Congress of Agudath Israel in August 1923 in Vienna by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, then rabbi of Sanok, Poland.

“What an incredible thing,” Shapiro told the nearly 600 delegates at the gathering. “A Jew travels by boat and takes [tractate] Berakhot under his arm. He travels for 15 days from the land of Israel to America, and each day he learns the daily page. When he arrives in America, he enters a place of worship in New York and finds Jews learning the same page that he studied that day, and he gladly joins them. Another Jew leaves the States and travels to Brazil or Japan, and he first goes to the synagogue where he finds everyone learning the same page that he himself learned that day. Could there be greater unity of hearts than this?”

The resolution was adopted on Aug. 22, 1923. The first cycle began on Sept. 11 of that year, and the first Siyum HaShas took place on Feb. 2, 1931, accompanied by public celebrations throughout Europe and in Jerusalem, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Over the decades the project grew, and by the 10th siyum in 1997, some 70,000 people celebrated in the United States. By the 11th siyum in 2005, after the advent of the Internet, which features many websites with recordings of rabbis teaching the page, and with the release of the Artscroll Schottenstein English translation of the Talmud, a whopping 120,000 participated in celebrations in the United States, and 300,000 joined siyums all around the world.

The project grew so large that organizers of the main celebration for the completion of the 12th cycle in 2012 had to rent out the MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets. Celebrations were also held in basketball arenas in the United States and Israel, with smaller celebrations taking place in cities throughout the world.

While Daf Yomi originally began as a project of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel organization, which still organizes the main celebration, it has now spread to many other populations. World Mizrachi, a religious Zionist organization, held a sold-out celebration at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem that included female speakers.

Rabbi Doron Mizrachi, CEO of the Mizrachi World Movement, told JNS that “the goal of this event was to have a celebration which was as broad and unifying as possible—with attendees and speakers from Hebrew- and English-speaking populations, Israel and Diaspora communities, and men and women.”

In addition, an organization called Hadran-Advancing Talmud Study for Women has arranged the first ever siyum for women, who study the daily page and are now completing the entire Talmud.

Kleinman, who also sponsored the Daf Yomi Commission for Agudath Israel, which oversees all operations related to the spreading of the project and the planning of the main celebration, told JNS, “Suffice it to say that when all is said and done, Rabbi Meir Shapiro’s dream and vision of the Jewish people being literally and figuratively ‘on the same page’ has come to fruition and continues to inspire as the number of those studying the daily page continues to grow with each siyum and each new generation.”

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