By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I’ve noticed many articles online about an event that was attended by a huge number of orthodox Jews called a siyum. Even after what I’ve read I don’t really understand the significance of this event and why so many people went to be there for it. Could you please enlighten me?
I would like to answer your question in the context of the Olympics currently being held in London, but first, a few words of background:
Siyum means completion, and the event you are referring to commemorated the completion of the study of the entire Talmud by tens of thousands of Jews around the world.
This event, which sold out MetLife stadium in East Rutherford, N. J. (home of the New York Giants and Jets), was the largest event of its kind in Jewish history. Some 92,000 Jews were in attendance in that stadium, a nearby stadium was filled with some 30,000 of the spillover crowd and smaller sister events were held throughout the Jewish world, with some 100 cities (including Dallas) in 28 countries hooked up to the event live.
The Talmud is an encyclopedic work — the core foundation of all of Jewish law and the principal text of what once comprised the “oral law.” It is written in a combination of Hebrew and ancient Aramaic and contains deeply intricate discussions and arguments cited to explain the terse words of the Mishna.
To say the least, it is not an easy read. It is comprised of 63 tractates, or separate books, made up of 2,711 folios, or two-sided pages. If one were to study one folio per day, quite a load, they would finish the entire set in about 7½ years.
In 1923 a great rabbi, Rav Meir Shapira, made a novel proposal at a congress of the world’s leading rabbis, presenting an idea that few realized to what extent would revolutionize the world of Torah study for many generations to come.
He proposed that Jews around the world would all study the same page of Talmud on the same day, so that the Jew from Warsaw meeting a Jew from Pinsk at the train station should have the same Torah lesson to discuss together, leading to more Torah study and more Jewish unity. He called it “daf hayomi (daily folio). His idea was accepted, grew year by year, continued into the Holocaust, during which classes were held in the worst conditions, providing the Jewish people with strength, inspiration and hope.
This study has exploded into our technology generation, affording multiple new ways for people to study the daily folio. Classes studying daily are held throughout the Jewish world early in the morning before the workday, late at night, in synagogues, on New York subways and at lunch-and-learns in Wall Street board rooms. Tapes, CDs, call-in numbers and pre-loaded iPods are available for those whose schedules don’t allow them to attend a live class.
This past siyum, hosted by Agudath Israel of America, was the completion of the 12th cycle since the Daf began in 1923, (the last one 7½ years ago, which I attended in person, still had in attendance an original student of Rav Shapira, who recited kaddish for the 6 million). A group of children in attendance had studied 1,500,000 Mishnas in memory of the 1-1/2 million children killed in the Holocaust, as well as 6 million lines of Talmud.
I felt it was significant that many media outlets brought this news side-by-side with news of the London Olympics and its gold-medalists. As we all know, those Olympic medalists achieved their goal through amazing levels of dedication to put in thousands of grueling hours of training, day in and day out without letup for years to get to that special moment.
On the night of Aug. 1, tens of thousands of Jews throughout the world became “Jewish gold-medalists” by completing 7½ years of remarkable devotion, commitment and perseverance, day after day, to complete the entire Talmud.
Doctors, lawyers, business people of all backgrounds, religious levels and denominations joined together with the greatest of all Jewish unifiers: the study of Torah, and became Jewish Olympic gold-medalists for us all to stand back and be proud of.
That pride and celebration is what drew nearly 100,000 Jews to MetLife stadium and should be cause for every Jew everywhere to hold their heads a little higher and declare “Am Yisrael Chai.”
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel, Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.