The 13th Global Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi was held on Wednesday, January 1, with the participation of hundreds of thousands of people.
The Siyum HaShas – literally “the completion of the Six Orders [of the Talmud]” – is the celebration of the completion of the Daf Yomi program, a seven-and-a-half-year cycle of learning one folio page of the Talmud daily, with 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud being covered in sequence.
The idea of Jews all across the world studying the same page of Talmud each day, with the goal of completing the entire Talmud, was presented at the First World Congress of Agudath Israel in Vienna on August 16, 1923 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro. His idea was greeted enthusiastically, including by many Jewish leaders in Europe and America, and the first cycle of Daf Yomi began on the first day of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah that year, September 11, 1923.
Ever since then, Jews participating in the program cover one page a day, studying the text by themselves, with a group, or by listening to a lecture. A typical daily Daf Yomi lecture takes one hour.
Daf Yomi unifies the Jewish people, allowing Jews across the world and from any background to study the very same text each day, providing a commonality of purpose and injecting Jewish pride in its adherents.
The Talmud is written largely in Aramaic, and thus a translation of the Talmud, specifically the popular ArtScroll Schottenstein Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, an English-language and Hebrew-language translation and elucidation, has been credited with significantly increasing the number of participants in the Daf Yomi program. That translation, and many other resources for the Daf Yomi participant, has made “learning the Daf” an accessible avenue for Talmud study for any Jew who would like to participate in this unifying program.
With 2,711 pages in the Talmud, one Daf Yomi cycle takes about 7 years and 5 months. The completion of each tractate is typically celebrated with a small siyum, or celebration, and the completion of the entire cycle is celebrated at an event known as the Siyum HaShas.
The Siyum HaShas marks both the end of the previous cycle and the beginning of the next, and is characterized by inspiring speeches and lively singing and dancing.
Since 1990, attendance at the main Siyum HaShas in America, organized by Agudath Israel of America, has increased dramatically, necessitating the booking of larger arenas and stadiums. The 12th Siyum HaShas, on August 1, 2012, took place at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey with a sellout crowd of over 90,000. Other celebrations took place across the United States, Israel, Canada, Europe, and Australia, attracting hundreds of thousands.
The 13th Global Siyum HaShas, organized by Agudath Israel of America, was held at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and Barclays Center in New York, with the two venues being connected via live video. Hundreds of thousands more participated in remote locations, watching via video hookup, while others viewed the proceedings via livestream online.
Stories abound about the commitment Jews have shown to Talmud study in general and the Daf Yomi study program in particular.
Jay Schechter is one example.
It was at the Eleventh Siyum Hashas of Daf Yomi in 2005, when Jay Schechter, then principal and CEO of Rambam Yeshiva in Brooklyn, was in Madison Square Garden with his students. That event – especially the dancing – made a powerful impression. The very next day, Mr. Schechter established a successful Daf Yomi study group, including several students in the Rambam-affiliated Zvi Dov Roth Academy. “The Daf” became an integral part of Jay’s DNA.
Over the subsequent years, Jay suffered four heart attacks and underwent four surgeries and hospitalizations. Despite the pain and physical weaknesses involved during the procedures and recovery, Jay consistently learned The Daf. Doctors and nurses watched in awe as their patient clutched his volume of Talmud while connected to an array of monitors and machines, toiling over each holy word.
“The Daf is a commitment you make every day,” says Jay, “to learn it no matter where you are and what the circumstances are.”
At the last Siyum Hashas in 2012, Jay shared his story with a reporter. When it was shared around the world on television, Jay earned a nickname: His friends call him the “Daf Guy,” while he – of course – continues to diligently learn The Daf.
Mendy Rosenberg of Flatbush, Brooklyn, is another Daf Yomi stalwart. Mendy is currently in an advanced stage of ALS, one of the most difficult degenerative diseases known to man, and yet he studied Daf Yomi, day after day, for the past seven-and-a-half years. During most of this time, his only method of communication, the only voluntary movement he still controls, was the ability to blink his eye. Mendy, who was diagnosed in 2009, attended the last Siyum HaShas. He was so moved by what he saw that when the new cycle started, he took upon himself that by the next Siyum – this one – he would be part of the action as one who himself completed the Talmud.
And indeed, he did.