90,000 Celebrate the TalmudAug 2, 2012 at 12:44:53 AM
We hear a lot of talk these days about "Jewish unity" – the lack of it, and the need for more.
Jewish unity was on glorious display last night at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, New Jersey. The place (more commonly used as home to the NFL Giants and Jets) was hosting the "Siyum HaShas," a celebration of the completion of studying the entire Babylonian Talmud, the compendium of Jewish wisdom and law that was written down in the fifth century.
In addition to the 90,000 men, women and children packed into MetLife Stadium, live feeds went out to more than 100 communities around the world, who held their own similar events. In all, it was the largest celebration of Jewish learning in the past 2,000 years.
At 2,711 pages, the Talmud is a grueling yet invigorating exercise in deciphering the terse Aramaic and Hebrew text with no vowels or punctuation. At a schedule of one page per day ("Daf Yomi"), the Talmud takes seven and a half years to complete.
Various learning tools have been developed to make the Talmud more accessible. One popular system, called Gemara Markings, uses geometric lines and shapes to visually highlight what is unfolding on the page, and to break down the flow of the Talmud into precise points. (Using this system enabled me to complete the Talmud cycle.)
Last night, I attended a Siyum HaShas near my home in Israel. The celebrant was a 20-year-old young man who was completing the cycle (yes, he began even before his bar mitzvah). His father and his grandfather studied with him at various points along the way. In today's world, with the "generation gap" so pronounced (it is said that due to technology, every two years is a "new generation"), the sight of three generations inspired and invigorated by the same material – more of a "generation flow" – was a true anomaly.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried of the Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA) makes an interesting observation about how the Siyum concurs with the Olympic Games:
There's one more aspect of the Siyum HaShas that really impressed me: Immediately after reading the last page to complete the cycle, the participants immediately began again from the beginning. Judaism says that attaining life wisdom is not an endpoint destination, but rather an ongoing, lifelong process of refining one's sensitivity to the world around us and to the spiritual realms.
Why not give it a try?
Read one Aish rabbi's fascinating first-person account of his journey through the Talmud.