In one of the largest gatherings of Jews in history, more than 92,000 people convened in a football stadium in New Jersey to celebrate the 12th annual Siyum HaShas, which marks the conclusion of the seven-and-a-half year cycle of studying a page a day of the Talmud.
Lectures on the Talmud, sometimes entirely in Yiddish, were delivered by rabbis and projected on a gigantic dais at the MetLife Stadium.
There were 2,200 plasma screens set up inside the stadium and four more gigantic screens outside. Since about a fifth of the attendees were female, a 12ft-high mechitzah, furnished at a cost of $250,000, was crafted from 2.5 miles of fabric.
The event was organised by Agudath Israel of America, which sold out the stadium two weeks before the event took place.
Other events took place worldwide this week to celebrate the Siyum, from small synagogue gatherings to other huge events in major cities. On Monday night, Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena hosted 11,000 mostly Charedi Jews at its Siyum, while 3,000 participated in a similar event in London at the Royal Festival Hall.
Rabbi Joey Felsen travelled to the New Jersey Siyum from Palo Alto, California. “The Talmud is like a time capsule in which all of Jewish philosophy, culture and history are embedded,” he said. “Even with so many modern advances, we still turn to it to find out the Jewish approach.”
Since traditional Jews see sports as antithetical to Jewish values, Rabbi Felsen said, it is especially ironic that the Siyum is being held in a sports stadium during the Olympics. But he noted that the event has a prophetic quality, given that the Talmud “predicts that one day all the arenas and circuses in the world will be filled with Torah learning”.