‘Achdus Klal Yisroel.” At the recent Siyum HaShas, celebrating the completion of the 7-and-half-year Daf Yomi (page-a-day) Talmud regimen, that phrase — “unity of the Jewish people” — resounded like a mantra. At the ceremony, which took place at the MetLife stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., the idea of unity was affirmed by nearly every speaker. It appeared often in the 209-page event program (and the 83-page children’s program), and was featured again in the laudatory coverage in the Orthodox press. “The promise and premise of the Daf Yomi is achdus Klal Yisroel,” said the evening’s first speaker, Elly Kleinman, in his introductory remarks. “Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Hasidim and thousands of ba’alei teshuva [masters of repentance].”
Unity was not the only theme of the evening — the revival of Orthodoxy after the Holocaust and dedication to Torah study were also stressed — but it was the main emphasis. The event in New Jersey, which was only one of many celebrations around the world, packed the football field with about 90,000 Jews from nearly every branch of Orthodoxy. Groups from religious strongholds like Lakewood and Passaic were bused in, along with teenagers from nearby summer camps. The crowd filled each section of the stadium and spilled out onto concourses, escalators and parking lots. Standing in the middle of the field, which was covered to provide floor-level seating, one could see a complete panorama of black hats and jackets rising level upon level on all sides. Billed as the largest such gathering in history, the Siyum HaShas was a coming together of impressive proportions.
But as my colleague Paul Berger put it last week in these pages, a message of unity begs the question: Unity for whom? Articles such as his, and others in the non-Orthodox press, highlighted the fact that participation by women and non-Orthodox Jewish groups in the study of Daf Yomi was not recognized by the representative body of the ultra-Orthodox world, Agudath Israel, which sponsored the mega Siyum HaShas event. As Berger reported, those wanting a more inclusive siyum had to seek out other, non-Agudah celebrations. How could the Agudah gathering call itself unifying when it was also clearly exclusive?
The question is important, and easily answered. For the Orthodox, achdus Klal Yisroel means unity of the Orthodox. In this, the Siyum HaShas was remarkably successful. Though the crowd leaned toward the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox population that constitutes the base of Agudath Israel, attendees came from nearly every stream of Orthodoxy. As for non-Orthodox groups, if they were present they were not apparent, and they were certainly not mentioned.