Over 90,000 mostly Orthodox Jews packed MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., last Wednesday night for the 12th Siyum HaShas, the celebration of the seven-and-a-half-year study cycle of the Talmud, completed, in sync, by Jews worldwide.
Rabbis at the Siyum HaShas hailed the event at the home of the New York Giants as the largest celebration of Jewish learning since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. The event was also the largest gathering in the history of MetLife Stadium.
The last Siyum HaShas, which took place in 2005, drew more than 50,000 participants to Madison Square Garden and what is now the Izod Center.
“This was a big deal,” said Pittsburgher Daniel Kraut, who attended the Siyum HaShas. “The event was incredible. To do anything for seven-and-a-half years is incredible.”
The study cycle is called “Daf Yomi,” and was introduced in 1923 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro as a way of bringing uniformity to the study of Talmud, and as a means of promoting Jewish unity. Through the program, Jews all over the world study the exact same page of the 2,711-page Talmud each day.
“Everybody is literally on the same page,” said Shaare Torah’s Rabbi Daniel Wasserman of the Daf Yomi program.
Every morning for the past seven-and-a-half years, Kraut, who is the CEO of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, has met with a small study group at Shaare Torah at 6 a.m. to study a single page of Talmud.
“It is a great way to start the day,” Kraut said. “And every day, my kids saw their father prioritizing learning.”
Daf Yomi students study in groups in synagogues or homes, or by themselves using resources such as audio or phone study services that offer access to the Talmud and its commentaries. There are several groups that meet in the Pittsburgh area, including those at the Kollel Institute, Young Israel, and Gemilas Chesed Synagogue in White Oak, in addition to Wasserman’s group at Shaare Torah.
While a celebratory event was held last Tuesday night at Hillel Academy, many Pittsburghers traveled to New Jersey for the big event, sponsored by Agudath Israel of America.
“The purpose of the night was that we were celebrating something that was done by all segments of the Orthodox world,” Kraut said. “Everyone was celebrating togetherness. That’s nice to see.”
The Siyum HaShas was broadcast live to 90 cities around the world, allowing tens of thousands more to participate in the celebration. Several esteemed Orthodox rabbis addressed the crowd, including Yitzchok Scheiner, formerly of Pittsburgh.
“The purpose of the event was not to pat everyone on the back, but to celebrate the opportunity G-d gave us, and the communal nature of [Daf Yomi study],” Wasserman said.
After the last lines of the Talmud were recited, and a special Kaddish was read, the crowd spontaneously began singing and dancing.
“It was just magnificent,” Wasserman said.
“About six decades after the Holocaust, [having so many participating at the event] is saying the Jewish people were able to survive,” he continued. “We were 92,000 strong, and there were tens of thousands of others throughout the world, saying, ‘We’re still here. And no one will take it away from us externally or internally. And now we start over again [from the beginning of the Talmud].
“It is a celebration of the supremacy of the Talmud, about the supremacy of Torah study,” Wasserman added. “Even if this type of study is not for you, just study something every day. Have a cycle of study to which you are committed.”
Included in the 92,000 attendees were more than 25,000 women, there mostly in support of husbands, sons and grandsons who had taken part in the Daf Yomi, according to Sheila Feinstein, principal of Anshe Emes Jewish Women’s School in Brooklyn, who attended the event.
Although the women there had not participated in the Daf Yomi program themselves, “We wanted to share in the joyous occasion,” Feinstein said. “The [Daf Yomi] program enriches the whole family. It was a beautiful thing, and the women were really very much a part of it.”
Being a part of a Jewish event of this magnitude also made an impression on Sandor Schwartz, 86, of Wheeling, W.Va., who drove over seven hours by himself to New Jersey so that he could participate in and witness the occasion.
Even the weather cooperated, he said.
“On that day, it was raining all day,” said Schwartz. “It was pouring down to the last minute. But when I arrived at the stadium at 7:30, the rain stopped. As we went upstairs, I looked down and saw a sea of 90,000 people. And there was no rain for the five hours we were there.
“It was a long journey, but I really enjoyed it,” said Schwartz, who is not a Daf Yomi student, but who has been studying Torah for the last few years with a partner, and wanted to experience the Siyum HaShas. “I would recommend it to anyone. It was overwhelming. Picture 92,000 people praying together, all facing toward the Temple, all singing together, dancing together. There were children, people in wheel chairs. It was the chance of a lifetime.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)