The Biggest Event in Modern Jewish History

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THE LARGEST TORAH GATHERING IN MODERN JEWISH HISTORY





In less than four months, Met Life Stadium is going to be electrified with excitement as never before. Only this time, it won’t be the Super Bowl champion New York Giants generating the excitement, but rather “giants” of another sort entirely, as leading rabbis, community leaders and thousands of others from across the Jewish spectrum gather for a worldwide celebration of Torah study.

It was 88 years ago, just before Rosh Hashanah 5684 (1923), that Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the famed rabbi of Lublin, Poland, stood up at the First Knessiah Gedolah (Great Assembly) of Agudath Israel in Vienna and shared his vision of a Jewish world united through the holy language of Torah. The concept he presented was stunning in its simplicity – a standardized study program whereby Jews throughout the world would learn the same daf (two-sided page) of the Talmud each day. By Rabbi Shapiro’s calculations, this uninterrupted regimen would enable even the simplest working Jew to complete the entire Talmud in just over seven years.

A mere two weeks later, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, thousands of Jewish men opened their Gemaras to the first page of Mesechet Berachot, and Daf Yomi – the daily learning program that would eventually revolutionize Torah study – was officially launched.

“The study of Daf Yomi creates a discipline in the student that everyday must have a measure of Torah study,” explained Rabbi Eli J. Mansour, who leads a Daf Yomi class that is also available online at www.DailyGemara.com. “The program trains its members in a regiment of never missing a day of learning no matter what. In a world that is filled with addiction and vices, finally an addiction that doesn’t need rehab, indeed the addiction itself is its own rehab.”

From Lublin to New Jersey 

Rabbi Shapiro’s dream of uniting the entire Jewish nation through Torah study had yet another luminousfacet. At the completion of each seven-and-a-half-year journey through the Talmud, hundreds of thousands of Daf Yomi students from around the world would join in a glorious simhat haTorah – a Siyum HaShas, celebrating the completion of the Talmud.

Attendance at the very first Siyum HaShas, which was arranged and presided over by Rabbi Shapiro himself, fell short of the large numbers that he dared to imagine, but the event did succeed in drawing participants from throughout Poland and beyond. A Siyum was also held at Yeshiva of Meah Shearim in Jerusalem.

The European gathering, held at Rabbi Shapiro’s then relatively new Yeshivat Hachmei Lublin, would be the only Siyum HaShas that the “father of Daf Yomi,” who died at the young age of 46, would ever attend. 

His revolutionary study program, though, would flourish over the next few decades, as Torah Jews of every background – from Lithuanian to Hassidic to Sephardic, from “black hatters” to “colored kippot,” from fulltime kollel students to physicians to lawyers to businessmen – pulled up seats in the international “yeshiva without walls.”

The Daf Yomi explosion would be reflected in the steady increase in attendance at theSiyum celebrations. In North America, the primary events, organized by Agudath Israel of America, grew from a gathering of several hundred in 1960 to a mammoth 2005 celebration that drew tens of thousands of Jews from around the world and necessitated the booking of three separate venues – the main arena at Madison Square Garden, New York’s Jacob Javits Center, and the Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey.

History in the Making 

And now, with less than four months left to the Twelfth Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi, the Jewish community is preparing to witness the grandest fulfillment yet of Rabbi Shapiro’s vision. With the help of Hashem, on that night more than 250,000 Jews around the world will join together to commemorate the culmination of 2,711 consecutive days of Talmud study by participants in the Daf Yomi program.

The primary North American celebration, which is dedicated to the memory of the eminent Torah patron Jerome Schottenstein, a.h., is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, August 1 (13 Av) at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. With over 90,000 seats, the recently constructed stadium is by far the largest single venue ever to host the national Torah celebration.

“After the Eleventh Siyum HaShas in 2005, we were determined to find an arena large enough to accommodate all the celebrants at the next Siyum,” says Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin, Agudath Israel’s Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration and Chief Operating Officer of the Twelfth Siyum HaShas. “And judging by the dramatic increase in Daf Yomi participation that followed each past celebration,we knew the twelfth Siyum would require a really enormous venue. So we are extremely fortunate and grateful to be able to host the upcoming simhaat MetLife Stadium.”

At the contract signing ceremony held at the stadium last October, Rabbi Gertzulin recalls, special guest speaker Rabbi Nosson Scherman, general editor at Artscroll/Mesorah Publications, noted that the ultimate purpose of everything in the world – including MetLife Stadium – is to increase Hashem’s glory. The speaker illustrated his point by recounting a conversation with Thomas M. Steinberg, President of Tisch Family Interests (owners of the New York Giants), and one of the guests at the signing event. Mr. Steinberg mentioned that for 12 long years he was involved in the planning, design and construction of the new stadium, and it is only now that he understands why: so that tens of thousands of Jews would have a place to gather for an unprecedented celebration of learning.

In addition to its size, the new location has the advantage of being easily accessed from anywhere in the Tri-State Area and along the eastern seaboard. The stadium is also close to Newark’s Liberty Airport – an added convenience for the thousands of participants who are expected to fly in for the event.

While the prospect of filling 90,000 seats would give most event planners pause, the Siyum organizers are unfazed.

“This is no ordinary event,” observes well-known philanthropist and Siyum Hashas Chairman Elly Kleinman. “A ticket to the Siyum is nothing less than a ticket to history in the making. Not only will the Siyum unite Jews in numbers not seen since before the destruction of the Second Bet HaMikdash, it will further fuel the explosive spread of Daf Yomi study, in particular, and Torah learning, in general, throughout the Jewish people.” 

Since tickets became available back in mid-February, says Rabbi Gertzulin, seats – even entire blocks of seats – have been selling at a brisk pace. Yet the Agudah leader, who has been at the helm of Siyum preparations since 1982, is hardly surprised by how quickly the stadium is filling up. 

“Agudath Israel conducts dozens of important projects and programs for the Jewish community. But none of them elicits a greater desire to be part of a nationwide event than does this mass celebration in honor of Torah.”

To be continued next month...