Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas and Achdus

The Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas of Agudath Israel is one of their most spectacular events. It happens once every seven and a half years upon the completion of cycle for those who learn Talmud Bavli one Daf (leaf - or two sided page) per day.

Agudah spends a lot of time and effort preparing and promoting the event. With each passing cycle it seems the newest Siyum outdoes the last – at least in sheer numbers of those who participate. New York is always the center and requires two ‘professional sports’ size stadiums to house the attendees. There are simultaneous satellite venues all over the US and Canada. Rabbinic personalities galore participate in both of the New York venues and many travel to all parts of the country to participate in one of the satellite locations. Speaking of satellites - there are satellite feeds from New York broadcast to all the locations across the country and vice versa. In short, it is quite a spectacle.

I attended the 10th Siyum HaShas at New York’s Madison Square Garden and the 11th Siyum in Chicago. But unlike most people of all stripes who had nothing but praise about them, I came away with a feeling both times that there was something missing.

Yesterday’s guest post reflects those feelings. I strongly objected to the lack of any modern Orthodox participation. There was not a single Centrist speaker. Nor was there any Centrist presence on the main dais in New York.

There was a lot of talk about Achdus from the podium. If I recall there was even mention of participation by religious Jews of all stripes that have completed Shas Bavli. There was not a single negative word about modern Orthodoxy. But the fact that not a single Centrist Rav spoke or sat on the main dais spoke much louder to me than any implied claim of Achdus.

The dais was full of diverse segments of Orthodoxy. But the diversity was limited to members of the right. Chasidic Rebbes, right wing Lithuanian Roshei Yeshiva, and right wing Sephardi Rabbanim. Their claim that all the diverse segments of Torah Jewry were represented on the dais shows what they really think. At least some of them: Modern Orthodoxy is not legitimate. And no one having anything to do with it would be allowed to speak or sit on the main dais.

I recall that at the 10th Siyum there was an attempt by one prominent Rosh Yeshiva to boycott the entire Siyum if Dr. Norman Lamm – then president of Yeshiva University - would attend. Apparently he was over-ruled and attended anyway. But both Rav Hershel Shachter and Dr. Lamm were seated in a secondary dais – buried among hundreds of other Rabbis. They went unrecognized and ignored by any of the speakers. Unless one was looking for them (kind of like trying to find needles in a haystack) no one would even know they were there.

It upset me greatly at the time. Many of my friends who attended disagreed with me. They saw a lot of Kipot Serugot sprinkled among the massive crowd and interpreted it as a moment of Achdus. But was it? I think not. I don’t think there has been any improvement between these two segments of Orthodoxy since the 10th Siyum HaShas. We are as far apart as ever. Paying lip-service to Achdus while in truth continuing to reject us is not Achdus. It was just a cynical attempt to portray themselves as all inclusive by taking advantage of many of us who attended.

That said, I think Agudah is justified in their contention that it was under their aegis that the very concept of Daf Yomi was created. Rav Meyer Shapiro founded it at one of their early conventions in Europe. It has been in existence ever since. But it really didn’t take off as a national phenomenon until the 80s when Lakewood’s satellite Kollelim started giving daily Shiurim in it.

That coincided with ArtScroll’s monumental project - the translation of Shas. They tried to publish each volume just prior to its starting date during that 10th cycle. By the 11th cycle the project was complete. This made learning the Daf much easier for those of us who worked. Today there are more people learning Daf Yomi than ever - many of us are modern Orthodox. And no organization does more to promote and facilate Daf Yomi than Agudah. So they make their claim to Daf Yomi justifiably. But they cannot claim responsibility for all of those who learn it.

Mr. Lichtenstein articulated the problem very well in yesterday’s post. But I part company with him on his idea of creating a specifically non Charedi Daf Yomi. Not that there is anything wrong with making our own Siyum per se. But I am opposed to doing it as a response to Agudah. Doing that is the opposite of Achdus. It is divisive. Just because Agudah does something that is divisive does not justify modern Orthodoxy doing the same in reverse.

Many people have said that my attempts at promoting Achdus are quixotic. That I am a hopeless dreamer. Maybe so. But I refuse to give up on the dream and will continue to promote the idea. I will also oppose ‘going our own way’. As I constantly say, there is only one Torah, not two Torahs – one for Charedim and one for modern Orthodoxy. We are all one people. We all believe the same thing and practice the same Mitzvos. Our approaches in doing so should not separate us. That is what the Charedi world wants. That is not what I want.

I respect most right wing rabbinic leaders. I do not want to sever my relationship with them even though I sometimes disagree with them – even strongly. I see disagreement between Charedim and modern Orthodox Jews as disagreement between brothers. Not between enemies. And no matter how much they try and marginalize us, I will continue to counter that where-ever and whenever I can although I will never cease to criticize when I feel it is justified.

The Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas has great potential for Achdus. I will continue to fight for equal representation on the Agudah Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas. Both in speakers and in those sitting on the dais. It behooves Agudah to take heed of their current divise policy and change it.

I have been told that there are some rabbinic leaders in the Agudah Moetzes who would accede to my request in the spirit of Achdus but will not do so because of their wish to remain united with fellow members. I have also been told that one of the reasons they will never agree with a requestto be more inclusive is because a certain element will ‘walk’ – which will destroy Achdus from the right.

I say – let them walk! Not because I don’t want them there. I would never tell Agudah to boycott their right wing any more than would tell them to boycott us. But Neither would I capitulate to threats of the right wing to leave. Agudah claims to be an umbrella organization of Torah Jewry. They can never do that unless they open up their doors to all segments of it – including modern Orthtodxy. I continue to urge them to do it. And I urge all of us to put pressure on them as well.

If Centrists set up their own Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas , it will never compete with what Agudah does. Besides -‘Our Gedolim versus their Gedolim’? Is that what we want? Are we going to truly have two Torahs now? The only way I would support ‘our own’ Siyum is if it included as many Charedi rabbinic leaders as possible along with our own. If we could attract the Roshei Yeshiva of major Charedi Yeshivos away from Agudah to address our Siyum along with our own Roshei Yeshiva – I would embrace it. I don’t see that happening and short of that – I am opposed.