NEW YORK (Sep. 22)
Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden is about to be transformed.
Instead of being filled with boisterous sports fans or concert-going teen- agers, this Sunday the Garden will host some 26,000 Jews who have come to celebrate the fact that they have studied the entire Talmud — all 2,711 pages of it, one page a day.
The celebration is the 10th Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas — completion of the daily study of the Talmud — and is being organized by Agudath Israel of America, an organization that represents the interests of fervently Orthodox Jews, known as haredim.
It takes seven and a half years to complete a cycle of a page-a-day study of the Talmud, which is a compilation of commentary and interpretation of the Torah.
Those at the Garden will be joined by another 18,000 people who are expected to fill the Nassau Coliseum, an arena in Uniondale, Long Island, that had to be rented after the Garden sold out within a month after tickets were made available in January.
In addition, more than 25,000 other Jews, in 33 locations ranging from Mexico City to Melbourne, Australia, from Los Angeles to Toronto, will be linked to the festivities by satellite television.
With a total of some 70,000 expected to participate, the 3 1/2- hour-long siyum will be “the largest number of people to celebrate Torah in modern times,” according to Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin, a vice president of Agudah and the celebration’s technical coordinator.
The Agudah is taking significant security precautions because of concerns over potential anti-Semitic violence against such a large gathering of Jews.
New York City police will be blanketing the area and participants will be required to walk through a metal detector.
The budget for the event is about $1.5 million, Gertzulin said. While most tickets were sold for $18, some went for $250 and individual and corporate sponsors were solicited as well.
About 6,000 women are expected to come to the Garden on Sunday. They will enter the arena through a separate entrance and sit in a separate section of seats, in the upper tiers, in accordance with the Orthodox practice of keeping men and women separate from each other at any religious gathering.
When studying the Talmud, sessions last between 45 and 90 minutes. Some classes meet as early as 5:30 a.m. and some as late as 10 p.m.
In the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, N.Y., for example, about 200 fathers of young children gather each night at 10 p.m. after their children are asleep.
The honor of reading the concluding words of the entire Talmud aloud is being given to Michel Silber, an Israel-based rabbi who may be the world’s most prominent Talmud study leader in his capacity as the voice of “Dial-A-Daf.”
Dial-A-Daf is a Brooklyn-based computerized telephone and tape service accessed by an estimated 60,000 people each day who call local phone numbers in the United States, Canada and Israel or pop an audio cassette into a tape player to listen to a lesson on a page of Talmud in English, Yiddish or Hebrew.
In Boston, excitement about the Siyum is sparking the creation of three new daily Talmud study classes, bringing the total to five, according to Dr. Isaac Perle, a Brookline, Mass., dentist who is organizing about 1,000 people to fill a Boston University auditorium Sunday to be connected by satellite to the main celebration in New York.
“Jews throughout the ages have held education and study as their primary focus in life,” Perle said. “The fact that everyone is unified studying the same thing every day is a very powerful force.”
The concept of Daf Yomi originated in 1923 with Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rov who headed the Jewish community in that Polish city.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews in Poland, Lithuania and other parts of Eastern Europe are said to have been engaged in Daf Yomi before the Holocaust.
Indeed, say organizers, the Siyum HaShas celebrates the fact that despite Hitler’s Holocaust and modernity’s attacks on traditional Jewish life and values, hundreds of thousands of Jewish men around the world are once again studying the same page of Jewish law and lore each day.
“To those prophets of gloom and doom who predicted that Orthodoxy was on its way out it, it is a clear demonstration that the Orthodox devotion to Torah study is paramount,” Rabbi Moshe Sherer, president of Agudah.
“We believe with all our heart that with a greater number of people studying Torah on a daily basis, we’re winning the war for Jewish continuity,” Sherer said.