New Jersey: Governor to Attend Massive Jewish Talmud Celebration
Those who believe defensive Jews when they suggest that the superstition-laden, filthy, anti-Gentile Talmud is no longer a major factor in Jewish life should read this piece. They need to learn about the huge, continuous, worldwide efforts of what Jews call “the world’s largest book club.” This controlled media story doesn’t mention the Talmud’s horrific contents, of course — and never forget that the Jews’ Torah, what Christians call the “Old Testament,” is also vile.
ORGANIZERS are billing it as the largest gathering MetLife Stadium has ever hosted.
But the throng of more than 92,000 men and women expected to pack the East Rutherford venue on Jan. 1 aren’t gathering for a playoff game or New Year’s gala: They will celebrate having read the entire Babylonian Talmudfrom cover to cover in an event called Siyum HaShas.
Learning the ancient, voluminous work of Jewish law and folklore is no simple feat: It takes participants 7½ years to complete all 2,711 pages.
Such a venture warrants a momentous celebration — in Hebrew, a siyum.
Isaac Perle of Lakewood, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who describes himself as a lifelong Giants fan, said that even if the Giants were to win the Super Bowl, it couldn’t compare to the Siyum HaShas.
“This definitely tops it,” Perle said.
The MetLife gathering will be the largest venue — organizers have erected seating and a large dais on the field — and an overflow crowd of 20,000 is expected at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Through satellite hookups, the event will be beamed to over 100 sites across the globe, including Boca Raton, Florida; Los Angeles; Scottsdale, Arizona; and across South America, Europe and Israel.
Siyum organizers — and public safety officials — say security will be tight at the event.
“There will be over 300 uniformed state police in the stadium, and that’s just the visible ones,” said Rabbi Yosef C. Golding, chief operating officer of the Siyum HaShas.
The East Rutherford stadium, Golding said, will be “the safest place to be on January 1st.”
Golding said he’s been working for months with more than 50 law enforcement agencies, including the New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Department of Homeland Security, New York Police Department and FBI to ensure safety during the celebration.
All told, more than 150,000 participants will be marking the 13th cycle of daf yomi, Hebrew for daily page, which refers to the worldwide study program of the Talmud, said officials at Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Jewish group that has sponsored the event since its inception 96 years ago.
In short, this is the world’s largest and longest-running book club.
Participating creates a sense of unity among Jews around the world because everyone is literally on the same page every day, said Henry Frisch of Teaneck.
The retired English teacher has been learning daf yomi since 1993, which means he’s completed the Talmud 3½ times, and has attended several Siyum HaShas events. “There’s a camaraderie,” he said.
Gail Licht, a retired attorney from Teaneck, attends the same study group as Frisch; it meets at Congregation Keter Torah in the township early each morning. “I have found groups in Florida and Jerusalem,” she said, adding that she’s even listened to a daf yomi app provided by El Al on a recent flight to Israel.
Part of the lure, she said, is the intellectual stimulation. “It’s very similar to studying American law,” she said.
The daf yomi program was established in 1923 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Poland, a Hasidic rabbi known as the Lubliner Rav whose aim was to increase unity among the Jewish people and bring laymen into Talmudic study.
Participation continues to grow. Wednesday’s event will mark the 13th Siyum HaShas.
“I remember in 1982, when 5,000 people showed up and I thought that was a lot. Then in 1990, we held it at Madison Square Garden and 25,000 people came,” said Rabbi Labish Becker, executive director of New York-basedAgudath Israel. “The participation is across the Jewish spectrum. Everyone feels a part of it.”
The previous siyum, in 2012, also held at MetLife Stadium, was a sold-out event that drew a crowd of 90,000.
Gov. Phil Murphy is among the VIPs expected to attend the event, which will feature singing, dancing and words of inspiration from rabbinic leaders. The celebration will last a few hours. And afterward, daf yomi participants will open the first page of the Talmud and begin all over again.
The Talmud is a compilation of wide-ranging rabbinic discussions of Jewish law, which guide every aspect of life from business ethics and real estate law to marriage and parenting advice.
Today, people from many walks of life are able to learn the complex work, in large part because of the proliferation of study groups and numerous translations of the text, which make it easier to understand.
Study of the ancient work has also had a growth spurt because of technological advances. Talmud apps, podcasts and e-mail groups have allowed people to access the lessons anywhere they go at any time of day. Several Facebook groups are devoted to daf yomi, including one exclusively for women and another for beginners. And at least one Twitter user, Rabbi Josh Yuter, who is formerly of New Jersey and now of Israel, tweets out daf yomi lessons daily.
There are daf yomi groups that meet in synagogues, in carpools, at Israeli army bases, and even on the New York subway and Long Island Rail Road.
For centuries, Talmud study was considered the domain of men. But in recent years, an increasing number of women have been diving into it, with more opportunities for women’s Talmud study opening. Organizers of the siyum anticipate that around 30% of Wednesday’s participants will be women.
Author Ilana Kurshan wrote eloquently about her experience digging into daf yomi in her novel “If All The Seas Were Ink” (St. Martin’s Press: 2017). This year for the first time, a celebration for women around the world will be held in Jerusalem to mark their completion of the daf yomi.
Perle, who began learning daf yomi in 1978 while a dental student at the University of Pennsylvania, found a rabbi with whom to learn daily at 6 a.m. “At the time, there weren’t so many study groups like there are now,” Perle said. Eventually, he moved on to Harvard, where he started his own daf yomi class. Thus far, he has completed shas five times. “Each time, I realize how little I know,” he said.
Frisch said that although he has already completed the Talmud several times, he’s not done.”This is something that really becomes a part of your life,” he said. “I can’t imagine stopping at this point.”
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