It was freezing cold on Wednesday, January 1, in East Rutherford, New Jersey; yet that didn’t stop tens of thousands of Jewish men and women from traveling to MetLife Stadium and Barclays Center to participate in the 13th global Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi.
There is something that is indescribable about heading towards a celebration of Torah of such magnitude with a trainload of fellow Jews, then stepping off the train and seeing so many Jewish brothers and sisters filling a huge football stadium to celebrate Torah learning. It’s mind-boggling.
The Siyum HaShas began with Minchah. Imagine davening together with so many Jews at once.
As one rav said, “Mazal tov, Hashem!”
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, shared that 90,000 people braved the cold, which means that everyone there is a supporter of Torah. He imparted how proud the Agudath Israel of America is to host such a wonderful event. Among those 90,000, there were approximately 30,000 women who attended. Rabbi Akiva’s quote is quite apropos to this event: “Sheli v’shelachem, shelah” (The Torah knowledge that is mine and yours is hers).”
As one Daf Yomi learner explained, he would not be able to go out every morning to learn if his wife wasn’t home holding down the fort and taking care of the children.
Standing in the security line, this writer saw a large number of incredible women of all ages who, like the men, came from all different stripes, and everyone came together to celebrate.
Many people may not be aware that the recent participation of proud women many of whom are wives, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and others, all came about because of one woman. Women were not invited to the first three North American Daf Yomi siyumim because of logistical considerations. Disappointed by this fact, Mrs. Libby Schwartz of Brooklyn penned a letter before the Eighth Siyum HaShas (1982) to Rabbi Chaskel Besser z”l. In the letter, she wrote: “As the wife of a magid shiur in Daf Yomi (and a mother of young children), I felt terribly slighted to see that I was excluded from such an historic event. I take great pride in my husband’s learning, and just as I would expect to be present at an event marking his professional achievement, so too, so much more so, I would want to participate in this simchah.” If there are men who learn Gemara daily with a chavrusa or as part of a shiur, if there are magidei shiur who not only give a shiur but also spend time in its preparation – then there are women behind the scenes who encourage these men to learn. Mrs. Schwartz pointed out in her letter that women sitting at a mass Torah gathering would also receive chizuk from g’dolim for all that they do on behalf of Torah.
Mrs. Schwartz’s letter and a reply were printed in the December 1982 edition of The Jewish Observer. The reply stated: “Barring Mashiach’s arrival until then, Agudath Israel of America has reserved the main arena in Madison Square Garden…to celebrate the Ninth Siyum. A special section is being set aside for women.”
It is truly amazing what one individual can accomplish. The pen is a powerful tool, especially when wielded by a woman!
It is also interesting to note that, in the first Siyum HaShas, in 1930 at the Philharmonic Zalle in Lodz, Poland, posters advertised a special gallery reserved for women. So, we see that the original intention was, of course, to include women at the Siyum HaShas.
In January 2020, a whole section of the Pepsi Gate at MetLife Stadium was reserved for and filled with women who came bundled in heavy winter coats and scarves. There was also a large section reserved for women at the Barclays Center, and a m’chitzah erected there, as well. The last Siyum HaShas, in 2012, had approximately one third of the seats at MetLife Stadium filled by women.
This time, in addition to the much larger number of women who came to celebrate, there was even a special magazine, N’shei HaSiyum, distributed to the women, as well.
It was amazing to view on the video screens quick shots of men learning Daf Yomi all over the world. The list of places was heartwarming: Dallas, Mexico City, Bnei Brak, Melbourne, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Meron, Boston, Detroit, Bayit Vegan, Passaic, Edison, Panama, Phoenix, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Rochester, Chicago, Norfolk, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Deerfield Beach, Philadelphia, the Long Island Railroad, and more. Wow!
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel, shared how proud Agudath Israel is to host this event. He shared, “Our only hope in these turbulent times is to hold fast to the blatt of Gemara. It defines our existence as a chosen people. What a privilege it is to celebrate this and to renew our commitment to learning Torah, making it an essential part of our lives.”
A video clip highlighted quotes from various participants about Daf Yomi:
“The Daf Yomi chaburah becomes your family.”
“A man cannot do Daf without the support of his wife.”
“It’s a family endeavor.”
“It’s a life-changer.”
“It becomes the focus of your life.”
One man shared how meaningful it was when his three-year-old asks where Daddy is going, and his wife responds, “Daddy is going to shul to learn.”
Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Senior Lecturer at Yeshivas Ner Yisroel of Baltimore, began with a story of a woman who went to the Brisker Rav for a brachah to have a child. The Rav saw her and told her three times to come back. On the third visit, he gave her a heartfelt brachah. The Rav’s son asked him why she had to come back three times before receiving the brachah, and the Rav explained that he was going to have a siyum on Maseches Z’vachim that night, and the time of a siyum is an eis ratzon for a brachah, so he wanted her to come then.
Rabbi Frand noted that if a siyum on just one masechta was such an eis ratzon, all the more so a siyum like this on so many masechtos with so many participants. He suggested that everyone should daven for their personal needs and for klal Yisrael
He went on to share how the key ingredient in the rebirth of klal Yisrael after the Holocaust is Torah learning and Talmud learning. The Nazis hated the Talmud. They even stated that it had the power to rebuild Judaism in America.
“Torah and Talmud are the oxygen that keeps klal Yisrael alive,” Rabbi Frand taught. He pointed out that wives have shared that learning the Daf Yomi has made husbands better husbands, better fathers, and better Yidden. “All women should keep this in mind.” Rav Chaim Volozhin taught that just as koshering a utensil removes the treif, so Torah purifies the person. Rabbi Frand shared specific ideas to help people to grow even higher in their Torah learning. Write your own plan. For example, write a comment on every daf or look up the Rambam on every daf. Those who haven’t completed Daf Yomi should look around and be inspired by the people who did it here, or in shul, and say to yourself: If he can do it, so can I.
He said that women need to encourage their husbands to go learn and to be there as the support so they can learn in a good state of mind.
Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, Rosh HaYeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha, stated, “Torah is for all of us. This is a tremendous simchah for all of us.” He taught that when a person learns a masechta, it becomes part of his being. It’s written on his heart. “Torah uplifts a person and makes him a better person.”
The Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, imparted that “this is a great yom tov for klal Yisrael!” He shared a teaching of Rav Saadiah Gaon: “Our people is a people only by virtue of its Torah and which is the essence of Jewish nationhood.”
He noted how all the great ancient civilizations of Babylonia, Greece, Rome, etc. have ceased to exist, but klal Yisrael is alive, despite persecution, pain, the Holocaust, and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. “The secret to our survival is the Holy Torah, which we cling to. The Torah is our joy and our ultimate protection, and this is why we are all here today.”
There was so much k’dushah in that stadium that though you left shivering with frozen toes and numb fingers, you left feeling so proud and happy to be part of such a special event. Hashem should bless klal Yisrael with peace and good health and simchah on a personal and communal level always. As one of the rebbeim stated, “Keep shteiging!”
By Susie Garber