Friday, August 07, 2020

Rabbi Steven Weil and Rabbi Menachem Genack on the floor at the siyum.

(Credit: Moshe Gershbaum and Chaim Schwartz, Agudath Israel of America)

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It was an extraordinary and beautiful spectacle to witness the 13th Global Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi, held on Wednesday, January 1, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Hundreds of community members took the day off to celebrate with shul friends or their learning partners, with many entire families joining together to celebrate. Of course, they ended up celebrating with 90,000 of their newest friends as well.

Passaic’s Rabbi Yitzchok Eisenman wrote in an article widely distributed online in the days before the siyum that all should be careful to thank and wish a happy new year to the MetLife Stadium employees for working on a legal holiday. He must surely have been thrilled to have heard the many echoes of “thank you” and “Happy New Year!” greetings that community members offered the stadium staff, the New York State Police, the Shomrim, the CSS, and all those who worked to make the event a success. The siyum was, in essence, completely congenial, safe and friendly, with all those in the audience united in celebrating those who study the Talmud and the pleasant ways of Torah.

With 2,711 pages in the Talmud, one Daf Yomi (literally “Page of the Day”) cycle takes about seven years and five months. The Talmud is the exposition of the six tractates of the Mishnah, written by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince) in the beginning of the third century. It is considered the oral law of the Jewish people. “Shas” is an acronym for shisha sedarim (the six orders).

Speaking at the Siyum HaShas were many Torah giants associated with Agudath Israel of America, including rebbes of various chasidic and haredi sects. Speaking memorably from the Ner Yisroel community of Baltimore was Rabbi Yissocher Frand; Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, of Lakewood, spoke movingly as well. “The simcha is even for the Yid who does not learn Shas,” he said. “Every one of us is enriched by the learning of klal Yisrael.”

“It’s a collective Siyum HaShas, but a person who learns even a masechta inherits an entire world,” said Rabbi Kotler.

The completion of one tractate is typically celebrated with a small siyum, or celebration, but the completion of the entire cycle, a much larger project, should certainly be celebrated on a grander scale. Individuals who complete such a vast daily commitment often must make a great effort to include the Daf Yomi in their lives, often getting up early or staying up late to finish their page for the day; their family members notice and are often inspired by their commitment.

Abby Cooper, of Bergenfield, told The Jewish Link that she was inspired by her husband’s completion of the last cycle, and joined him for this one. “We had the privilege of attending the siyum with our five children. We decided to bring them because my husband and I have been doing Daf Yomi together for the past 7.5 years, and we thought it would be meaningful for them to attend,” she said.

Jewish Link contributor Andrea Nissel of Teaneck was there to support her husband, Yosef, who completed the cycle. His mother, as well as the entire Nissel family, were there to celebrate. “So proud of Yosef for completing the Daf Yomi cycle. Truly an amazing accomplishment culminating in an incredible siyum at MetLife Stadium,” she wrote on Facebook.

The Daf Yomi concept was presented at the First World Congress of Agudath Israel in Vienna on August 16, 1923, by Rabbi Meir Shapiro. The idea was greeted enthusiastically, including by many Jewish leaders in Europe and America, and the first cycle of Daf Yomi began on the first day of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah that year, September 11, 1923.

Ever since then, Jews participating in the program cover one page a day, studying the text by themselves, with a partner or group, or by listening to a tape—or today, with a podcast. A typical daily Daf Yomi lecture takes less than one hour.

Rabbi Moshe Elefant is one such podcaster, whose daily Daf Yomi lectures now appear on the OU’s new app AllDaf and on Apple Podcasts. “As I complete my fourth cycle of learning the daf, I am astounded by how far daf learning has come,” he told The Jewish Link. “From shiurim in shuls to the use of technology, learning is more accessible than ever before. And now, we have many supplemental materials to the daf—whether it is history, Halacha, Tanach, inspiration, review, memory aids and more. Modern technology has made learning Torah accessible, interesting and enjoyable.”

On the AllDaf app, Rabbi Elefant’s daily lecture is available alongside those of Rabbi Shalom Rosner, Rabbi Sruly Bornstein, Rabbi Shloimy Schwartzberg and Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz. Supplemental clips by Rabbi Yaakov Trump and “Jewish History and the Daf” by Dr. Henry Abramson are also offered, as well as outlines, reviews and lectures that go deeper in depth into a specific daf or commentary. Those with a specific learning level in mind, as well as preferences of speakers who talk “fast or slow,” certainly can peruse the choices offered and select a teacher best suited for them. 

Daf Yomi podcasts also abound on the YUTorah app, with featured lectures by Teaneck’s Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, Hewlett’s Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, Englewood’s Rabbi Zev
Reichman, and many others. A podcast called Daf Yomi 4 Women, is also available on Apple Podcasts or Facebook, given by Michelle Cohen Farber, but it should be noted that all Daf podcasts are suitable for both men and women. Farber’s podcast, however, is, at this moment, the only daily Daf Yomi podcast that features a female teacher. For those interested in a book about the experience of a woman doing the Daf Yomi, “If All the Seas Were Ink” by Ilana Kurshan is a great read.

The plethora of supplemental materials today has popularized the learning of the Talmud, which is written largely in Aramaic. Specifically the popular ArtScroll Schottenstein Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, an English-language and Hebrew-language translation and elucidation, has been credited with its accessibility, vastly increasing the number of participants in the Daf Yomi program. That translation, and many other resources for the Daf Yomi participant, has made “learning the daf” a reasonable avenue for Talmud study for any Jew who would like to participate in this unifying program.

The Siyum HaShas marks both the end of the previous cycle and the beginning of the next, and is characterized by inspiring speeches and lively singing and dancing.

Since 1990, attendance at the main Siyum HaShas in America, organized by Agudath Israel of America, has increased dramatically, necessitating the booking of larger arenas and stadiums. The 12th Siyum HaShas, on August 1, 2012, took place at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey with a sellout crowd of over 90,000. Other celebrations took place across the United States, Israel, Canada, Europe and Australia, attracting hundreds of thousands.

Approximately 3,300 women attended a first large-scale Siyum HaShas for women in Jerusalem as well, which honored approximately 40 women who stood when asked who had completed shas. The reaction was thunderous applause and support. It was organized by Hadran, a group co-founded by Daf Yomi 4 Women podcaster Cohen Farber, who is American born but lives in Ra’anana. 

 By Elizabeth Kratz

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