On the afternoon of Jan. 1, 2020, Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will be filled to capacity. Although the site is home to two National Football League franchises (the Giants and the Jets), there isn’t a sporting event planned for that day. Nor is there a concert. Instead, more than 90,000 people are coming to attend the 13th Siyum ha-Shas of Daf Yomi.
To the uninitiated, this event is a celebration of the completion of a seven-and-a-half-year cycle of studying the entire Babylonian Talmud, one daf per day. A daf is the Hebrew term for both sides of a page. The English translation, folio, is not a commonly used word. You’ll also find people using the Yiddish expression, blatt gemara.
The program was initiated in 1923 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the head of the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva in Poland. The idea was simple, yet profound: Jews all around the world would study the same passage of the Talmud. Be it a weekday, Shabbat, a holiday or a fast, there is a daf assigned to every day. At the end of seven and a half years, everyone would complete the entire Talmud at the same time.
The concept caught on fairly rapidly and over the past few cycles, it has grown exponentially. It is safe to say that the vast majority of Orthodox shuls today have daily Daf Yomi classes – some even more than one. Many Passover resort programs advertise Daf Yomi as an enticement, right up there with a 24-hour tea room.
Although many people attend a class, there are other ways to “do the daf,” as the expression goes. Some study it on their own. The scholars will use the traditional Hebrew and Aramaic edition, while the less erudite will work with an English translation, the ArtScroll series being the most popular. There are also those who will read or listen to one of the many online Daf Yomi classes.
Others study with a partner. This traditional method of learning Gemara allows for each partner to question and challenge the other, in order to come up with a proper understanding of that day’s text. It’s a spiritual sparring match with a common goal.
Personally, I’ve had a couple of false starts in previous cycles of Daf Yomi. This round, I’ve persevered and hope to complete all 2,711 folios in time for the siyum. Your prayers and positive thoughts are appreciated.
Siyumim (completion celebrations) will be taking place around the globe, including in Toronto. There are sizable assemblies planned for both Hebrew and English-speaking people in Israel.
The gathering at Met Life Stadium will be the largest. The climax of the program is, of course, the actual completion of the Talmud by all those who participated. However, there are other very moving moments. Imagine the sound of 90,000-plus voices reciting the Shema in unison. Or the awesome silence when everyone prays the Amidah at the same time.
It is difficult to describe the excitement at a Siyum ha-Shas. Think of the thrill you get when a player on the football team you’re cheering for runs the ball into the end zone, scores a touchdown and spikes the ball. Then, multiply that by tens of thousand of times for all the individuals who have reached the lofty goal they worked very hard to achieve and you may get a sense of the exhilaration of the moment.