Nearly 100,000 Jews filled an arena and a stadium in New York and New Jersey yesterday to celebrate the Siyum HaShas, which marks the completion of the Daf Yomi, the daily reading of the foundational Jewish text, the Talmud. To read a single page a day — of the 2,711 — takes seven and a half years. The last Siyum HaShas was in 2012.
The larger crowd was at the open-air MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where participants braved the cold to listen to speeches and offer blessings. (Similar events took place in cities across the world.) At Barclays Center, men and boys in black hats sat courtside to watch a simulcast of the New Jersey event on a jumbotron. Women and girls in long skirts filled the upper deck, and some of the prayerful davened near the concession stand.
Listen to reporter Jessica Gould's story for WNYC:
The Talmud is a collection of texts covering Jewish law, ethics, tradition and business. Retired rabbi Sidney Solomon of Woodmere said he finds the page-a-day ritual grounding. “It gives me a certain focus, a certain anchor each day,” Solomon said.
“It’s amazing to see the insights that the rabbis had many many centuries ago in terms of human nature and life,” Solomon added. “Very important to me is that there are multiple opinions expressed and even the ones with which they do not agree are retained. And there’s a mutual respect for other views. It’s something which is lacking today.”
On stage, rabbis invoked recent anti-Semitic attacks in speeches that also touched on the legacy of the Holocaust. Security at the venues was tight, with the NYPD, FBI, and even the Guardian Angels patrolling Barclays Center.
A woman named Tziporah from Brooklyn, who declined to give her last name, said she trusted the NYPD would secure the venue, and God would protect the people inside it. She said the attacks have made her feel more resolute about attending events like this one. "We don't stop,” she said. “We're here thousands of years and we intend to go on. Even when the Messiah comes. We don't give up on anything."
Avi Davidoff of Queens said the Siyum HaShas tradition is about perseverance, marking the start of a new challenge. "When we finish something we don't just finish it,” he said. “We actually start it again." Now he and many others will go back to page one of the Talmud. Davidoff said he'll be back in another seven and a half years — God willing.