An Exam Like No Other

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– Rabbi Eliezer Sandler 

Seven leading Torah sages spent hours engaging the avreichim geonim, the outstanding young prodigies of the Shas Yiden network, at the special 100 Siyumei Hashasim event held last month in Beit Shemesh, Israel. This year’s exams involved not simply questions and answers, but lengthy debate and discourse, to the sheer delight of both the young scholars and venerated sages, as well as the large number of American and UK visitors who marveled at the display of brilliance that they witnessed.

The annual exams on the entire Shas, and the Siyum Hashassim gatherings of the Shas Yiden network of kollels, have become a beloved tradition, a yearly celebration of extraordinary Torah scholarship. Each year, the video recordings of the event – which are available at www.shasyiden.com – are eagerly anticipated by yeshiva students and Torah scholars around the world.  Until this last year, the avreichim geonim (young prodigies) would cram into the home of the late Nasi (Chairman) of Shas Yiden, Maran HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, who would administer a comprehensive exam, an experience which he said gave him immense pleasure.

This year’s event, which was held in Beit Shemesh last month, featured an incredible “lineup” of sages, a veritable “Who’s Who” of Torah learning, who tested the mettle of the avreichim geonim. They included Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rav Itamar Garbuz, Rav Yaakov Ades, Rav Elimelech Biederman, Rav Shmuel Yaakov Landau, and Rav Eliyahu Stefansky. Several other luminaries graced the dais, as well, such as Rav Mordechai Stern, rabbi of Heichal Dovid in Lawrence, NY.

This tradition was initiated by the Pozna Rov, Rav Avrohom Eisen, shlit”a, who founded the Shas Yiden network 14 years ago. The public farher (exam) is intended to honor the  young scholars of Shas Yiden, and to allow the generous sponsors of this unique program the opportunity to see the fruits of their support, the emergence of towering scholars with a comprehensive knowledge of every word of the Talmud, Rashi, and Tosafot. The Torah sages who test the young prodigies have expressed the joy and delight they experience by engaging with these brilliant young scholars, and how much they look forward to this remarkable event each   and every year.

A Gift Beyond Compare

One of the students in Shas Yiden is a grandson of Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateres Yisrael and a senior member of the Council of Torah Sages. Despite his advanced age and failing health, Rav Ezrachi made the difficult trip to Beit Shemesh and climbed the stairs to the dais on the stage. Once he began engaging with the avreichim geonim, discussing and debating some of the most difficult, intricate passages of the Talmud, all signs of fatigue and frailty vanished. The Rosh Yeshiva’s face radiated with excitement and joy at the incredible knowledge that was put on display. His enthusiasm intensified as he posed questions on subjects related to kodashim (the Bet Hamikdash and sacrifices), and the avreichim geonim responded instantly, clearly and masterfully, showing their thorough knowledge of these complex, esoteric subjects.

“Hopefully, my portion should be with yours,” Rav Ezrachi said, with a great deal of palpable emotion. 

He added, “I am sure that in Heaven there must be a tumultuous response to these moments — with 100 avreichim geonim who know all the words of Shas. In truth, one should be jealous of you for this great feeling, as you are able to study and contemplate Shas the whole year through, and it lives with you… The fact that there is a group of incredible talmidei hachamim [Torah scholars] like you puts the entire people of Israel on a different level. It obliges us all to express our great appreciation to the Pozna Rov who came up with this idea of establishing such an institution, and he has truly given the Jewish people of Israel a gift that is beyond compare.”

Raising the Grandeur of Israel

Rav Itamar Garbuz, Rosh Yeshiva of Orchos Torah, visibly relished the lively interaction with the avreichim geonim. He tested them through the length and breadth of Shas, and expressed his amazement at their incredible knowledge.

Rav Garbuz’s questions focused on broader Talmudic concepts and principles. For example, he asked the scholars to name all disputes between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon in Masechet Shabbat. The avreichim geonim not only listed all the disputes, but added numerous applications of these disputes, instances where Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon’s opinions yield different conclusions. They also referenced comments of Tosafot throughout Masechet Shabbat, and then discussed implications of these debates relevant to Masechet Eruvin. The answers to Rav Garbuz’s difficult questions flowed forth at an extraordinary pace, dazzling everyone in attendance. 

After an extensive session with the avreichim geonim, Rav Garbuz exclaimed that it was a great honor and privilege for him to have this opportunity to engage in Torah study with such brilliant scholars. “In you, the Jewish people are to be blessed,” he said. “It is impossible to estimate or to describe the greatness of the zechut [privilege] of those who support this holy project that raises the grandeur of Israel and the holy Torah in such a remarkable fashion.”

Rav Elimelech (“Meilech”) Biederman, affectionately known as the “great mashpia” (“influencer”), exclaimed, “You see seated before you 100 avreichim geonim who know the entire Shas. Literally, 100 holy Torah arks before our eyes. How immense is the zechut of the donors and supporters! Through support for this cause, your merit and destiny will be enhanced for goodness and for success in all respects, both material and spiritual!” 

Rav Shmuel Yaakov Landau, dayan (judge) and rav of the Belzer Yad Cohen bet midrash in Beit Shemesh, is the father-in-law of one of the avreichim geonim.  He debated several Talmudic topics at length with the avreichim geonim, including the law which precludes the possibility of transferring or selling something which is not yet in existence (“davar shelo ba la’olam”), such as futures. He also dealt with the question of whether a person may appoint a messenger to perform a mission regarding something that does not yet exist, and other related issues.

“Add a Few Zeros!”

The discussions between the renowned scholar and Kabbalist Rav Yaakov Ades shlit”a, and the avreichim geonim was nothing short of spellbinding. Rav Ades began by offering warm words of encouragement to the young prodigies, and then launched into fierce debate regarding several topics scattered throughout Shas. He demonstrated extraordinary proficiency, as though the entire Talmud was open right in front of his eyes. As he discussed and debated with the avreichim geonim, his face shone with the joy and exhilaration of Torah. The discourse was intense, to the delight of  the avreichim geonim and of everyone present.

Afterward, Rav Ades turned to the donors in attendance, who were visibly moved and enthralled by the spectacle that they had just witnessed, and said, “I have a good idea for you. If any of you were thinking of making a donation to Shas Yiden – you should double the intended donation! And if you can, add a few zeros! You should know that the zechus of supporting such a great and holy project is indeed significant, and it’s not a simple matter. Such support obligates the avreichim geonim, as well. You have to pray for the donors and supporters, that they should be blessed with all that is good through the power of the Torah and of your prayers!”

A Celebration of Torah

The dazzling exams were followed by a heartfelt and inspirational arvit service, led by Rav Ades. This was followed by the Siyum Shassim, celebrating the completion of the study of the entire Shas by each one of the avreichim geonim over the course of the past year. 

Each of the kollel wives was personally presented with a cash-filled envelope in appreciation of their unstinting support for their husbands’ dedication to the exceedingly demanding study regimen of Shas Yiden. A sumptuous dinner followed, giving honor to the Torah and to those who generously support Torah, with musical accompaniment by Aharon Samet. It was a truly unforgettable event for everyone in attendance.

Videos of the lively and inspiring Shas Yiden exams and siyumim are available at www.shasyiden.com.

For more information about the Shas Yiden network of kollels, or to donate, please call 718-702-1528, or mail: 1274 49th Street #562, Brooklyn, NY 11219.

London: UK Registered Charity # 1191225 – Call 020-8066-1566 or Mail: 2 Timberwharf Road, London N16 6DB, England.

Reaction by Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, shlit”a 

On the Shabbat after the exams and siyumim, Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi could not contain his excitement over what he had witnessed at Shas Yiden. A guest at one of Rav Ezrachi’s Shabbat meals reported that the Rosh Yeshiva regaled them about the exam in which he had participated, describing the brilliance that flowed from the 100 avreichim geonim and pulsated throughout the hall. “I have never been so moved and excited at a public gathering,” Rav Ezrachi proclaimed. “How fortunate am I that I was privileged to witness this remarkable event!”

Reaction of a Shas Yiden Student 

Shortly after the siyumim, one of the avreichim geonim commented. “I am just 27, and I tell you the truth – I never dreamed that I would get to this point in my learning. To know the entire Shas? For me, this was something achieved in previous generations! 

“But here at Shas Yiden, I have managed to achieve the unbelievable thanks to this network, the unique method of learning that includes reviewing many, many times, amid unceasing progress through the texts. I am excited today as never before, even my wedding day …”

Overheard at the Siyumim 

The fathers of two of the Shas Yiden avreichim geonim were sitting together at the Siyumim dinner, discussing their feelings of joy at this event in which their sons played an important part. 

“If all the gedolim here were not present, I would jump up and dance with reckless abandon,” one of them said. “I have to hold myself back.” 

The other responded, “Even when I married off my children, I did not experience such incredible joy. This is just unbelievable! My son completed Shas and was tested on it thoroughly. My son knows Shas! It was worth being born and toiling all these years just to get to this most memorable occasion. I have been privileged to marry off all my children, and I must confess that I have never experienced such simcha as I do now.”

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Harav Hagaon Eli Stefansky PLUS Shas Yiden = WOW

Teaching 18,000 Jews Every Day!

Harav Hagaon Eliyahu Stefansky, Nasi of the Mercaz Daf Hayomi, conducts the most popular and populous shiur in the world, delivering an English Daf Yomi shiur to 18,000 listeners every day, Sunday to Friday. His unique style, which features broad scholarship and colloquial English peppered with witty and colorful interjections and appropriate personal greetings that are at once charming and meaningful, has earned him an enthusiastic international following. 

Appropriately, Rav Stefansky was given the honor of serving as one of the farherers (testers) at the exam administered to the Shas Yiden avreichim geonim (young prodigies). He posed his questions in fluent Hebrew, and with a warm smile, to the delight of the young luminaries who responded with immense joy and electric enthusiasm.

The morning following the farher (exam), Rav Stefansky prefaced his daily shiur by reflecting on the experience:

“A very special thing happened to me yesterday. There are chaburot [study groups] known as Shas Yiden – a hundred kollel guys, about five or six kollelim in Israel, in a network called ‘Shas Yiden.’ These avreichim geonim finish Shas every year, and they know Shas cold… If you go online (www.shasyiden.com), you can see Rav Chaim Kanievsky farhering them… and other gedoleh Torah [Torah sages] farhering them.

“Well, last night, [94-year-old] Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, the oldest of the Rosh Yeshivos, and some other Rosh Yeshivos, farhered them…and they asked me, also, to farher them, and so I did. It was an amazing and special experience…”

Rav Stefansky asked the avreichim geonim about numerous different topics discussed in the Gemara, and then pulled out his “bag of tricks,” as he describes:

“I started out calm and easy, and then I suddenly pulled out my illustrations that were especially created for the occasion. They then had to decipher them and their riddles, as to which subjects in Shas were being depicted, the context, the outcome and the halacha. This, too, developed into an extended and lively session. It was quite exceptional.

“It was a great zechut [privilege] for me to test them. Truth is, I was not surprised at their knowledge, because one of them is my chavrusa [study partner], and in our kollel we have another avreich who learns there in the afternoon – a Belzer chasid – so I am familiar with them.

“…It was just amazing. Their knowledge…

“Afterwards, I was talking with them, and I asked, ‘Is there anyone here with a normal, average brain? Someone who is not an illui [prodigy] and with a head of a gaon [genius]? Many of them raised their hands. So, I asked them for ideas or suggestions for chazarah [reviewing] and memorizing, and that opened up an interesting discussion on the subject.

“Among my questions I asked these:

Where in the entire Shas are there seven consecutive words that begin with the Hebrew letter chaf? A: Nedarim 10b

Where in Shas are there 44 consecutive words that end with the Hebrew letter nun?  

A: Shabbat 104 

“In our sugyah [topic in the Talmud], we just learned about Bar Padda, and I noticed a note in the Artscroll [edition of the Talmud] that says that he was the nephew of Bar Kappara (Meilah 4). So, I casually asked who Bar Padda’s uncle was. Instantly, all of them – and they each had a microphone – called out together, ‘Bar Kappara, Bar Kappara! Meilah, daf dalet, Meilah, daf dalet!’ It was crazy, just crazy.

“Where does the Masoret Hashas note a sugyah that is found on five consecutive folios of Shas? 

A: Gittin 20 – 24 – dealing with witnesses effecting a get.

“An incredible, amazing experience … Every year they chazer [review] Shas, every year…”