The big story over the past 24 hours in the New York City metropolitan area traffic reports has been the gathering of over 90,000 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, more popularly known as the home of the NFL Giants and Jets. It was a Siyum, a celebration on the completion of the study of the entire Talmud. For various reasons other than the traffic delays it caused, it was really, really a huge thing.
I shall not now get into the political issues of how the Agudath Israel of America put the whole thing together, nor shall I dwell upon the missteps that were made, but if I had to give it an overall grade it would be borderline B-plus / A-minus. Understand that just two weeks before the event, it looked as though it would play out in the C-minus or D range.
Understand that there were other Siyums in other cities and countries, so the total numbers of participants worldwide are in the hundreds of thousands.
No, I was not there personally, what with other things on my schedule. But for the past 7+ years, I, too, have been studying a page of the Talmud each day, and I, too, have now completed the cycle. More often than not, my schedule is not conducive to learning with a partner or in a group, so I read my page of the Talmud alone, each morning, usually before my physical workout. Some days the reading is more superficial than others, and some days it is almost entirely in English (I usually look at the Hebrew/Aramaic if possible). And sometimes I get ahead or behind a page or two, especially when traveling.
What is so big about this Siyum? For one thing, there were many comments from the MetLife Stadium personnel about how well-behaved and orderly the crowd was. The typical football game has less persons in attendance, and there are usually a number of incidents of rowdiness. Not at the Siyum, though. Remember the Occu-shmucks in Zuccotti Park? Remember how unruly they were? The Siyum was the antithesis of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
More importantly, however, is that the Agudath Israel of America, which has in the very very recent past sponsored and put together events which have been divisive to the Jewish people, pulled off an event which, with a few minor sad exceptions, was a unifier. Stock in the Agudah's reputation has risen.
And, as Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel who survived the Nazi concentration camps, observed in his speech, hundreds of thousands of Jews united in studying Talmud is a clear defeat for Hitler.
Tomorrow, I, along with thousands of other Jewish people throughout the world, will once again start at the beginning of the Talmud.