EAST RUTHERFORD ““ As a light drizzle tapered off over MetLife Stadium, more than 90,000 Jews packed into the home of the NFL’s Jets and Giants for an event quite unlike any the popular sports and concert venue had ever seen.
They came dressed in black and white, but not for any sports team. Instead of a raucous kickoff, there was a hushed mincha prayer. And in place of hot dogs, cheesesteaks and beer there was babka, danish and mineral water from a company based in Lakewood, N.J., a center of yeshiva study.
But as at the football games and rock concerts, there was exhilaration at the stadium Wednesday night for the Siyum HaShas ““ the completion of the 2,711-page Shas, or Talmud, in the page-a-day study cycle known as the Daf Yomi, literally “Daily Page.”
The excitement was evident in the furrowed brows of concentration on congregants’ faces during the prayer services, in the impassioned speeches onstage, and during the heady singing and dancing that followed the end of the special Kaddish marking the completion of the Talmud.
"Fortunate is the person who sees, who experiences, this great gathering," declared Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, the emcee of the Siyum HaShas. "Try to visualize the singing and dancing that’s going on right now in shamayim [heaven] watching tens of thousands celebrating the masechtos [tractates] they worked on so diligently!"
For the organizers of the siyum, the event was an opportunity to showcase the strength of so-called Torah Judaism and its resurgence in America following the Holocaust. Indeed, the Holocaust was the first subject that the chairman of the event, Elly Kleinman of Agudath Israel of America, talked about in the night’s opening speech, and the Jews’ survival and religious resurrection since the Nazis was a recurrent theme throughout the evening.
But the night’s official theme was Jewish unity, something one speaker tried to hammer home with a remark about the lure of the Daf Yomi for all Jews: those with black hats, shtreimels, knit yarmulkes and even baseball caps, he said.
That description, of course, left out a few slices of the Jewish community, even if it covered pretty much everyone at Wednesday’s celebration (except the few thousand women relegated to an upper tier).