Amid the surge of assaults on Jews — the latest with a machete on a Chanukah celebration at Monsey, New York — we find ourselves thinking of the gathering of fervently orthodox Jews that will take place Wednesday at New Jersey. Tens of thousands will fill the MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands for the reading of the final page of a page-a-day regimen of study of the biblical commentaries known as the Talmud.
What an inspiring testament. The regimen of reading — known as the daf yomi, or page of the day — was launched after World War I by the movement known as Agudath Israel. It prospered over what, for Jews, stands as one of the most tumultuous centuries in the three and a half millennia since Sinai. Through that blood-soaked span, it turns out that Jewish learning spread like wildfire.
And what a heroic answer, if only one answer, to those who would exterminate the Jews and their learning. The haters may be able to mount an occasional attack. Community defense organizations, law enforcement, and even, in our view, our military may be needed in this struggle. The most inspiring answer, though, is what the world will see at the daf yomi Wednesday, attention to the holy texts.
This has been happening in unison since World War I, when the daf yomi was conceived by rabbis in Poland. It took off immediately. First the daily regimen of reading involved a few hundreds of individuals, then a few thousand, then tens of thousands. In America, the Agudah eventually had to rent Madison Square Garden to accommodate all those who wanted to be together for the final reading of the daf yomi cycle.
It is always a memorable event; Torah sages, in black robes, gray beards, and elegant hats, are seated on a vast dais. The bleachers are filled with thousands who follow along in the Hebrew and Aramaic. By 2012, the event had grown so enormous that Madison Square Garden was too small. So it was moved to the Meadowlands, where attendance this year could come close to 100,000.
The event in New Jersey, moreover, will be just one gathering among many taking place, on the same page and day, around the world. What an answer to the anti-Semitism that is sputtering in America, Europe, and the Middle East. The haters may strike from the left and right. It turns out, though, that they have not been able to force a retreat from Judaism and the study of its texts.
That is the glory of what will take place at Wednesday’s daf yomi. Coincidentally, the end of the seven and a half year cycle concludes this time just after Chanukah, when Jews celebrate the victory of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil and when many Jews sing a hymn called “Maoz Tsur,” also known as “Rock of Ages.” Its lyrics recall how furiously our foes assailed us until their sword was broken — by God’s word.
Image: The final reading of the12th cycle of the daf yomi on August 1, 2012, at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photograph by the Agudath Israel of America, via Wikipedia.