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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Siyum HaShas events unite Jews worldwide

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Thousands gather in 2005 for the 11th Siyum HaShas held at Madison Square Gardens in New York. [Agudath Israel of America photo]

It may be a surprising crowd for New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium: 100,000 Jews, mostly men in dark jackets and hats – but it’s no surprise that the 12th Siyum HaShas on Aug. 1 will draw a huge crowd, says Rabbi David Appelrouth of the Forest Hill Jewish Centre in Toronto.

“It’s going to be a very powerful experience.”

Toronto participants will gather simultaneously in the Sony Centre, joining many cities worldwide.

Celebrating the 12th completion of a daily cycle of Talmud study known as Daf Yomi (“a page a day”), the event marks the largest celebration of Jewish learning in over 2,000 years, according to MySiyum.com. It is organized by several Jewish outreach organizations.

The term shas is an acronym for the shisha sidrei (six orders) of Mishnah comprising the oral Torah, given at Mount Sinai along with the written Torah, Rabbi Appelrouth said.

After the Mishnah was written down, it was compiled with commentary into the Talmud, whose 63 tractates have been “the mainstay of Jewish academia for the last 2,000 years,” local organizer Mark Mandelbaum said.

 A siyum is a traditional celebration for completing any significant Jewish text.

It was inaugurated in 1923 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, a Polish rabbi who desired unity among Jews and saw that certain tractates were being neglected.  With over 2,700 pages, the cycle takes about 7-1/2 years.

“Tens of thousands of Jews around the globe study the daf on a daily basis,” said Mandelbaum, who’s proudly among them. “It’s an enormous accomplishment… a big, big cause for celebration.”

Since Rabbi Shapiro’s time, groups and chavrutas (partners) have carried on, even through the Holocaust. While the first two siyums, in 1931 and 1938, attracted tens of thousands of European Jews, the third was marked only by scattered relics in Israel and Germany. Now, it’s grown beyond anything they could have imagined.

“It’s great to be in shul when it’s packed on Rosh Hashanah – imagine a stadium that’s packed,” Rabbi Appelrouth said. He is taking his nine-year-old son to the MetLife gathering.

Toronto organizers are confident they’ll fill the 3,200-seat Sony Centre. At the event, the last few words of the final tractate will be recited, Rabbi Appelrouth said. “There’s an elaborate ceremony, followed by a lengthy Kaddish.”

Then there’s singing and dancing, followed by distinguished speakers. About half of the program will be broadcast live from MetLife, including Rabbi Yissocher Frand of Baltimore and Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, known as the Novominsker Rebbe and head of Agudath Israel, a coalition of haredi organizations.

Though Mandelbaum doesn’t know of any women participating in Daf Yomi, they’re welcome to attend. “Absolutely! This is a celebration of the Jewish community, [including] wives and spouses of people who study… Without their support, it wouldn’t happen.” Women will be seated in a separate section.

One woman, who is not attending, is “very proud” of her husband’s accomplishment. “[Men] bring their Gemarah [Talmud] when they go away for yom tov. They learn even when a new baby is born. Obviously, this is all with the support of the wife. Throughout the cycle, my husband has shared with me things he has learned that he knew would interest me.”

But, New York’s Dov Weinstock said, “We have a number of women who participate on a daily basis” in his modern Orthodox Daf Yomi class. He’s part of a group behind an alternative Aug. 6 Siyum HaShas study evening in New York (www.siyumhashas12.com) welcoming “all those with an interest in Talmud study… men, women and children.

“Our siyum reflects a more diverse and inclusive approach to Torah study.”

With co-sponsors including Toronto’s Torah in Motion, four of 14 teachers will be women. Another will be Toronto’s Rabbi Martin Lockshin, who is also a CJN columnist.

Weinstock stresses that the two events are not mutually exclusive – many will attend both. His group aims to highlight the diversity within the Orthodox world. Like the Torah, the Talmud belongs to all Jews, and as Rabbi Appelrouth said, studying it has “been the main staple of Jewish living – it has sustained the Jewish People for thousands of years.”

For more information or tickets to the Toronto event, call 1-855-SIYUM-12 or email siyumhashastoronto@gmail.com.

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