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Siyum HaShas in the Meadowlands

Nearly 100,000 Jews expected to attend celebration marking end of 7 1/2 year Talmud study cycle

 
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As nearly 100,000 Jews prepare to travel to the Meadowlands on Wednesday to celebrate the completion of a 7 ½-year cycle of daily cover-to-cover Talmud study, Jody Eisenman has advice for anyone thinking of jumping on board.

“The hardest thing is beginning,” he said. “Once you survive for a certain period of time — one month, two months — it becomes like second nature, like anything else you do every day.”

Eisenman, who lives in Teaneck, started about 20 years ago. This will be his third time at the Siyum HaShas celebration. (Siyum HaShas means “completion of the Talmud.” The study cycle is called Daf Yomi, which means daily page.)

While the final composition of the Talmud took place at least 1,300 years ago, the Daf Yomi cycle is a 20th-century innovation, dreamed up by Agudath Israel, an organization originally formed to unite strictly Orthodox Jews against the breakdown of tradition sweeping European Jewish communities as a result of religious reform, secularism, socialism, and Zionism. It was at Agudath Israel’s 1923 convention that Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapira, a Talmud scholar and teacher who also represented Agudath Israel in the Polish parliament, proposed the cycle of daily Talmud study, which would start with the first page of the Talmud at the upcoming Jewish new year.

A page a day is a large commitment — particularly because a “page” of Talmud consists of two sides of a closely typeset print. Translated and explicated into English, it can become seven or eight pages.

Even with help from English, it’s a time commitment of about an hour a day.

Eisenman recalled that when he took up Daf Yomi, “I was looking to take on something additional in my life spiritually and this sort of came into my hands.”

Will he do it again?

“You never want to go down spiritually. I never want to give it up. So long as I’m able to do it, I’m going to continue, God willing,” he said.

When he first started, he attended classes and listened to tapes. Now, he relies more on the ArtScroll translation and commentary. And continued study makes a difference. “It’s a good feeling when you remember something from before,” he said.

For Leon Miller, also of Teaneck, this is the second time through the cycle. The first time, he studied mostly on his own. Now, he takes part in an informal small study group that meets at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck every evening.

A larger class draws between 30 and 40 people at 5:30 every morning at the synagogue. Other classes meet daily at several other Teaneck Orthodox synagogues, as well as in Englewood and Fair Lawn.

“You’re learning some Torah every day,” Miller said, explaining the attraction. “It advances your knowledge of Talmud and you’re studying topics you probably never learned in yeshivah. After seven and half years, it’s nice to know you’ve done something for seven and half years straight.”

He won’t single out one of the 2,711 pages in the Talmud as a favorite. “Every day you learn something new. Just going through the daf is challenging enough and rewarding,” he said.

Like many participants, he is looking forward to attending the Siyum HaShas celebration. “It is an event that brings together people from all walks of life, and shows a tremendous achdus, unity,” he said.

Not all of the attendees on Wednesday night will be Daf Yomi students. Nearly a quarter of the seats have been set aside for women, who are barred from studying Talmud in Agudath Israel’s interpretation of Jewish law. A barrier separating the women’s section from the men’s is being installed in the stadium, at a reported cost of $250,000. Seats in the women’s section are available at all levels on the stadium, though not on the field itself.

Susan Choueka, whose husband leads a congregation and teaches a Daf Yomi class in Long Branch, told the Sephardi monthly Community that she was anticipating attending the Siyum with excitement.

“We receive olam haba” — a reward in the world to come — “through the Torah learning of our husbands,” she said. “We must remember that we are the ones who enable and empower the men to learn.”

While the stadium celebration reportedly is sold out, as of press time a handful of tickets still are available on ebay.com. On the TeaneckShuls mailing list, there has been a stream of messages offering and seeking spare tickets. Ticket prices range from $18, for the highest levels behind the dais, to $1,000. According to Agudath Israel, the tickets are tax deductible, just as high holy day synagogue tickets are.

Despite the talk of unity, even the Orthodox world isn’t coming together. In Israel, Ashkenazic and Sephardic Orthodox political parties are sponsoring separate celebrations.

At the Agudath Israel celebrations at the 80,000-seat MetLife Stadium, the Vishnitzer Rebbe of Monsey reportedly has withdrawn his participation, protesting the inclusion of former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who is a Zionist.

And in New York the following Monday night, a coalition of liberal Orthodox groups are sponsoring their own celebration at Congregation Shearith Israel, featuring a roster of Modern Orthodox — and co-ed — speakers. Among the sponsors are Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, whose Rabbi Nethaniel Helfgot will speak at the event.

For those considering taking the plunge and interested in studying the Talmud from cover to cover, Miller offers encouragement.

“They should try it. They should do it. It takes hold of you and the more you put into it the more you’ll get out of it.”

 
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Pruzansky vs. Matanky

Rabbi’s Nazi analogy draws fire

The president of the Rabbinical Council of American, Rabbi Leonard Matanky, has weighed in on the ongoing dispute between Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck and Gary Rosenblatt of Teaneck, editor and publisher of New York’s Jewish Week.

“I am pained that I have to distance myself from a colleague, but the kind of language that Rabbi Pruzansky used is unacceptable and crosses the line of decency and discourse,” Rabbi Matanky is quoted in the Jewish Week as having written. (Rabbi Matanky lives in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood — which is more or less the Teaneck of the Midwest — where he is rabbi of Congregations K.I.N.S. and dean of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy.)

 

Reality check

Author to discuss intergenerational ‘experiment’

Katie Hafner began her professional career writing for a small newspaper in Lake Tahoe.

That didn’t last for long, though. “I worked my way up,” said Ms. Hafner, who now writes on health care for the New York Times.

A seasoned journalist, Ms. Hafner was exceptionally well prepared to chronicle an experience in her own life that she calls both an “experiment in intergenerational living” and a “disaster.” Inviting her 77-year-old mother to live with her and her teenage daughter, Zoe, in San Francisco, Ms. Hafner learned that fairy-tale imaginings are no match for emotional truths.

(In her book, Ms. Hafner calls her mother Helen. That is not her real name; her mother requested anonymity, and Ms. Hafner honored the request.)

 

Self-defense or unnecessary danger?

Armed self-defense is a value strongly supported in Jewish law, according to a statement issued last week by a local Jewish gun club, which is urging two of the largest Orthodox organizations in the country to reconsider their positions on gun control.

On July 16, the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization representing Orthodox rabbis in the United States, issued a statement recognizing the rights of private citizens to own weapons and engage in violence for self-defense, but also calling for the restriction of “easy and unregulated access to weapons and ammunition,” and denounced “recreational activities that desensitize participants … or glorify war, killing, physical violence, and weapons….”

The RCA resolution came just over a year after the Orthodox Union issued a similar resolution citing its longtime commitment to “common sense gun safety legislation” and calling on U.S. senators to pass legislation to ensure “a safer and more secure American society.”

 

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Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would launch an international campaign to cancel the Goldstone Report after its author, ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone, wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the report.

Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.

 

Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”

 

Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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