This coming Wednesday evening, August 1, will see the largest convergence ever of American Jewry at a daf yomi Siyum HaShas celebration. The event, the Twelfth Siyum HaShas, to be held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford in the New Jersey Meadowlands, is sponsored by the Daf Yomi Commission of Agudath Israel of America.
The concept of daf yomi, a daily daf study of each of the 2,711 folios of the Babylonian Talmud, was the brainchild of the Lubliner Rav, Rabbi Meir Schapiro, zt”l, and was both unique and historic when it was first proposed at the Knessia of Agudath Israel in Vienna, August 16, 1923. It meant to unite Jews worldwide in a daily study regimen that would reach its completion every seven years and five months. Needless to say, the project received the overwhelming support of the delegates, who saw this as an opportunity not only to unite world Jewry in one study program but also to assure that all tractates of the Babylonian Talmud would be studied.
While previous siyumim were held on a somewhat grand scale in Eretz Yisrael, in America it would only be in June of 1975 that the first large gathering, the Seventh Siyum, was held in New York’s Manhattan Center with an attendance of 5,000. Realizing that daf yomi was fast taking hold, the Daf Yomi Commission began planning for a larger venue that would accommodate the expected larger crowd at the next scheduled Siyum event.
In reporting on the subsequent siyumim, we cull from archives of The Jewish Press. The Eighth Siyum HaShas was held Sunday, November 14, 1982, in New York’s Felt Forum, where 10,000 people assembled in the presence, and with the participation of, gedolei haTorah, to complete Shas, studying the last folio of Tractate Niddah and then starting the next daf yomi cycle by studying the first mishnah in Tractate Berachos.
The Torah personalities participating in the program were the late Bluzhever Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Spira, zt”l, who said that limud daf yomi serves as a link to the nearly decimated Polish Jewry; Rabbi Shimon Schwab, zt”l, rav of K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Washington Heights, NY; Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, Rosh Hayeshiva Telshe (Wickliffe, Ohio), who referred to daf yomi as the hatzalah of Klal Yisrael; the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, zt”l, who delivered the hadran (completion) of Shas; and Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky, the patriarchal rosh yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, who began the ninth cycle of daf yomi by reading the first mishnah in Berachos.
The program concluded with Cantor David Wedyger’s recitation of Kel Malei for all the kedoshim brutally murdered by the Nazi beasts during the Holocaust. He then led the singing of “Ani Ma’amin.”
The Jewish Press also reported on the new innovation by Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum, zt”l, the Dial-a-Daf program, a telephone subscription service that became a very popular aid for daf yomi learners.
In 1990, with an even larger crowd anticipated, the venue was changed to the Madison Square Garden Arena in Manhattan. Indeed, on April 26, 1990, 20,000 people gathered for an event that Rabbi Chazkel Besser, zt”l, described as reminiscent of ma’amad Har Sinai.
Torah personalities participating in this program were the rav of New Square, Rabbi Moshe Neuschloss; the Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow; Rabbi Shimon Schwab, one of the few to speak in English; Rabbi Yosef Harari-Raful, Rosh Yeshivat Ateret Torah (representing the ever-growing Sephardic community); the Phladelphia rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Elyah Svei, zt”l; Rabbi Osher Greenfeld, rav and rosh kollel, Imrei Chaim Vizhnitz in Montreal; Rabbi Aharon D. Dunner, dayan of Hisachdus Ha’kehillos in London; Rabbi Elyah Fischer, rosh kollel of Gur; and Rabbi Zvi Spira, Bluzhever Rebbe.
The Tenth Siyum HaShas, Sunday, September 28, 1997, saw a large assemblage re-converge not only at Madison Square Garden but at a second location as well, the Nassau Coliseum, with 25,000 people at the former location and 20,000 at the latter.
The two events, which were connected via large screens in live hookup, featured the following Torah personalities; Rabbi Chazkel Besser; Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, the evening’s chairman; Rabbi Yosef Frankel, Violepolla Rebbe; Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the late president of Agudath Israel; the Novominsker Rebbe; Rabbi Mechel Silber, rosh yeshiva, Zhvil in Eretz Yisrael, who was honored with the hadran; Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, rav of the Telzer Minyan in Boro Park; Rabbi Portugal; the Skulener Rebbe; Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Rosh Yeshivas Tifereth Jerusalem; Rabbi Herschel Schachter, rosh kollel, Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan; Rabbi Kassin, chief rabbi of the Syrian Sefardic community; Rabbi Simcha Bunim Ehrenfeld, the Matersdorfer Rav; Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh Yeshivas Ner Yisroel; Rabbi Elyah Svei; Rabbi Nosson Scherman, general editor of the ArtScroll Talmud, which has proven to be quite instrumental in the learning of daf yomi; Rabbi Avrohom Pam, Rosh Yeshivas Mesivta Torah Vodaath, who began the 11th cycle; Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe; Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, mashgiach, Beis Medrash Govoha, Lakewood; Rabbi Yissachar Frand of Yeshiva Ner Yisroel in Baltimore; and Rabbi Eliezer Ginsberg, rosh kollel Mirrer Yeshiva and rav of Agudas Yisrael Zichron Shmuel in Flatbush. Cantors BenZion Miller and Yisroel Wulliger also graced the session with their heartfelt renditions.