Monday, February 07, 2011

The Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas - A Suggestion

Guest Post by D. Lichtenstein

Mr. Lichtenstein studied in Mir Jerusalem for 5 years under Reb Nuchim Perzovitz. For many years he had a night Kollel in Lakewood in which he gave Halacha as well as Chumash Chaburos. He currently gives weekly Shiurim in Halacha in his Shul in Wesley Hills, New York. He also currently serves on the Board of Directors of Touro College.

He is perhaps more famously known for his business acumen having founded and currently running a multimillion dollar real estate empire. I am pleased to present a Guest Post. Although I do not agree with his ‘remedy’ - I fully agree with his perspective on the intolerable state of intolerance in the world of the right wing. What follows are his words.

The Daf Yomi was a life-changing idea for many Jews. The thought of finishing the majestic vistas of Shas at a digestible pace, inspires thousands of people to study the daily portion. Men from all walks of Yiddeshkeit burn midnight oil or wake with the rooster's crow, sacrificing personal, business, and family time in pursuit of this goal.

Sadly, many of us feel locked out of the climactic event that concludes it. The high point is the Siyum HaShas; a once every seven-and-a-half-year celebration commemorating the completion of this splendid journey.

I come from a large group of Orthodox Jews who are non‑Haradi. By non‑Haradi I mean the orthodox elements who believe "Yafa Torah Im Derech Eretz" (Torah and industriousness/employment complement each other). While our lifestyle may be different, we do stand on the shoulders of great men like Reb Shamshon Refoel Hirsch. We were taught to believe that the greatest expression of Torah is living in this world with the 613 commandments. We believe that the Torah was not given to angels, but to men of flesh and blood (Brachot 25). We believe that there is no greater expression of God's will than the man who has to struggle with all the temptations, vicissitudes, and stresses of daily life and yet lives in a manner that adheres to the Torah's ideals.

We were taught that the laws of Gezel, Genevah and Mazik as well as all of Choshen Mishpat and Yoreh Daiah were not primarily given for scholarly exegesis, but that they were given first and foremost to guide us in our daily lives. The Torah was given so that a working person in the marketplace can use all 427 chapters of Choshen Mishpat to learn how to treat other people with integrity, kindness and respect.

Other maamarey Chazal speak to us. We harp on the saying of Reb Yehudah: that one of the obligations of a father to his child is to teach him a trade (Kidushin 29a), and that a father who doesn't accept this responsibility is committing a grave transgression: directing his child towards a future where his only option may be to rob and plunder (ibid).

While we may be unlike you, we ask you to consider the path of Hillel the woodchopper and Reb Yochanan the shoemaker. Consider the path of Rambam and Ramban, both physicians. The principal commentator on all of shas, Rashi, was a winemaker. Rabbainu Tam was a moneylender and vintner. They all daily engaged the 613 commandments to elevate the mundane and to make their lives testimonial of Hashem's will.

Unfortunately we feel excluded from the Siyum HaShas. The dais of the Siyum as run by Agudah blacklists all Rabbanim who are non‑Haradi. All our Rabbanim are precluded from sitting on the dais, let alone speaking. (Ironically, the majority of the Haradi Rabbonim who speak don't even learn the Daf Yomi. One speaker in the last Siyum commented during his speech "Daf Yomi is not real learning").

Any Rav/Rosh Yeshivah who believes in higher education, Torah, and Derech Eretz or *gasp* Zionism is blackballed. Banishing all Rabbanim who do not fit this very narrow spectrum of belief that the Agudah advocates is a hurtful act of disrespect and an attempt to delegitimize our values as well as our Rabbanim. Despite all the Agudah's claims of inclusivity, at the end of the day everybody on the dais looks and speaks with one narrow voice. It seems that the Agudah will accept all colors – so long as they are black and white.

I recognize that all Jews have a requirement to serve Hashem as they see fit and fully respect their rights to follow their own path. Indeed, the Mishkan was covered with the multicolored fur of the Tachash, a symbol that Yidden of all stripes were beloved in its holy confines. That feeling is sadly, not reciprocated here.

To rectify this problem I suggest that there be two Siyum celebrations; one for Haradim only, and a second one for all Jews, with Rabbonim representing all of those who complete the seven-and-a-half year odyssey known as the Siyum HaShas, Rabbonim who speak English, Hebrew and Yiddish and Ladino too; a Siyum for all of Klal Yisrael.