Siyum connects 90,000 Jews all ‘on the same page’

The Siyum HaShas celebration at Met Life Stadium on Jan. 1, 2020. Photo: Howard Shalowitz

By Hazzan Howard Shalowitz

On Jan. 1, more than 90,000 Jews from around the world gathered at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. at the main worldwide venue to celebrate the 13th cycle of the Siyum HaShas — the completion and celebration of studying the entire Babylonian Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud is the oral law that comprises the Mishna (c. 200 C.E.) written mostly in Hebrew and the Gemara (c. 500 C.E.) written mostly in Aramaic. Hundreds of thousands of others celebrated from other venues around the world from New York to Melbourne, and London to Johannesburg. 

Long before “on the same page” was used as an idiomatic phrase, Rabbi Meir Shapiro, then Rav of Sanok, Poland, advocated that Jews around the world literally should be “on the same page.” On Aug. 16, 1923, at the First World Congress of the World Agudath Israel in Vienna, Shapiro put forth the idea of Jews in all parts of the world studying the same, new, consecutive daf (page) of the Babylonian Talmud each day. He believed that of the 63 tractates of the Talmud many were not being studied regularly, that there was an obligation of Jews to learn Torah, and that this would unify the Jewish people. The first Daf Yomi (daily page) cycle began on the first day of Rosh HaShanah that same year (Sept. 11, 1923). Studying one two-sided page a day of the 2,711 folios in the 63 tractates of the Babylonian Talmud takes seven years and five months to complete. 

The completion (siyum) of each tractate is typically celebrated with a festive meal following the recitation of the Hadran (“we will return”) and a special kaddishKaddish D’itchad’tah, in honor of the completion of that tractate. At the completion of the entire 7-year-and-5-month cycle an event known as the Siyum HaShas (“completion of the Six Orders [of the Talmud]”) takes place celebrating the achievement of thousands of Jews around the world who have studied every day and have completed the entire Babylonian Talmud. The Siyum HaShas marks both the end of the previous cycle and the beginning of the next, and is characterized by inspiring speeches and rousing singing and dancing. 

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The First Siyum HaShas took place on Feb. 2, 1931 in several cities in Europe and in Jerusalem, with the main venue at the Lublin Yeshiva in Lublin, Poland. Tens of thousands of Jews attended these events. Throughout the years, the publicity and excitement surrounding the Siyum HaShas has resulted in more participants, more Daf Yomi shiurim (lessons), and more Siyum locations with each cycle.

The Siyum HaShas has grown so large that the sold-out MetLife Stadium required an overflow venue at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Satellite broadcasts and web feeds were piped to over 100 locations, including Chicago, Baltimore, Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Uruguay, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Hong Kong, and Lublin, Poland.

Many rabbis and Torah scholars have completed the study of the entire Talmud one or more times in their lifetimes.

Where does one even begin such a long, disciplined course of study? Keeping in mind the Chinese proverb “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” will help from the first page of Brachot dealing with when we recite the Sh’ma in the evening to the end of Niddah when we learn that studying G-d’s ways and laws will allow us to have a place in the world to come.

The great sage Hillel is quoted as saying “do not say I will study when I have time, lest you never find the time” (Ethics of Our Fathers 2:4). With the myriad and plethora of resources here in St. Louis and around the world, there is no longer an excuse not to learn. Daf Yomi can be studied alone, in a chavrusa (with study partners), in a daily shiur (class) led by a rabbi or teacher, or by audio and online resources. There are at least three times a day in St. Louis that Daf Yomi is offered, with each daf lasting approximately one hour.  

Rabbi Shapiro felt that daf yomi “will create a common language among our people. When two Jews from different towns, or even different countries, meet, the knowledge they share on the Gemara currently being studied will help them form a deep bond of friendship.” Watch the video of the entire Siyum HaShas visit http://bit.ly/siyum2020.

Hazzan Howard Shalowitz is a St. Louis attorney.