This week we had heavy rain and flooded streets.
But after the rain, the air and sky were so clean and clear, from a building in downtown Jerusalem you could see the mountain ranges in Jordan in the distance past the Old City walls.
In a week of international antisemitic attacks, the Jewish Agency building on King George Street was prepared for hundreds to attend a rally coinciding with the NO HATE, NO FEAR rally in New York.
There were Israeli political and religious issues, election dramas and more. But as antisemitic incidents were ongoing and being reported in New York City, a major event at MetLife Stadium also caught media attention. There were Israelis who traveled to New York to join the 90,000 celebrants of Siyum HaShas on January 1, 2020, in the cold open-roof sports stadium.
For those who do not know, the Siyum HaShas, was a celebration at the end of learning all the volumes of Talmud, one page a day, which takes over 7 1/2 years.
In Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, there were multiple celebrations, large and small, held for more than a week.
At the Jerusalem International Conference Center – ICC, thousands attended a Siyum HaShas program held in English.
The Keynote address was given by Rabbi Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University.
The Religious Zionists gathering heard from multiple speakers, male and female, all Torah scholars and popular teachers.
One was Rav Yosef Rimon who in his short allotted time connected the Torah to not only science but AI – artificial intelligence in our daily lives. I do not think he has a robot loading a dishwasher in his kitchen, certainly not in my old Jerusalem stone dwelling.
After the opening sessions, everyone, including the hundreds of overflow room participants who had watched a live-streamed video of the speakers, went upstairs to the main auditorium.
On the main floor were men, with senior rabbis in the front in reserved seats with their names.
The moderator was Yedidya Meir, whose wife Sivan Rahav Meir had spoken earlier downstairs.
Chazan Shai Abramson sang accompanied by a male choir and band as the audience was finding assigned seats.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau spoke in Hebrew about the significance of the event.
Men and boys filled the main auditorium, while some women were seated upstairs in the balcony.
The musical interludes were popular Israeli male performers. At the end of the evening, the audience was up and dancing to the lively Hebrew songs.
I left early but had the pleasure of helping Rabbi Lau find his way out to a taxi.
The construction near the ICC is ongoing, and each visit is a challenge to find where to enter and exit with the constant changes. But that topic will wait for next time.
Three days later I was back at ICC for another Siyum HaShas. Same venue, very different crowd.
This Siyum HaShas was for Women, organized by an organization called Hadran.
For 7 1/2 years, women also were opening the pages of their Talmud’s daily to study every day, in small groups, in study halls of seminaries, with online courses led by female scholars.
Rabbi Steven Riskin was one rabbi featured in the video presentation.
Rabbi Chaim Brovender, with a white page in his hand, was also one of the first rabbis to teach Talmud to women.
For this Siyum HaShas, Rabbi Benny Lau introduced himself as Noa’s husband. He started 929, which studies a portion of the Bible each day. He is the nephew of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.
The names were reversed for two prominent female teachers of Torah and Talmud for women. Esti Rosenberg mentioned her grandfather Rav Soloveitchik z”l who was one of the early leading rabbis to teach Talmud to girls. Most of the impressive female educators on stage spoke in Hebrew, with English surtitles projected above.
All-day before the evening event was a day of learning for women at the ICC, with female scholars presenting in English and Hebrew.
One of the only things, other than the venue, the programs had in common was a video greeting in English by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
The founder of Hadran, Michelle Cohen Farber, has led an online study group for the past 7 1/2 years and propelled this unique first-time event.
Rachelle Fraenkel, an expert educator, was an impressive moderator. She called representative women of various organized learning groups on stage for the concluding ceremony.
Women who completed the study cycle of learning a page of Talmud a day were asked to stand.
They were cheered and applauded for their accomplishments by the mostly female audience.
There were men in attendance, even the man doing the video was impressed enough to take some video on his phone.
Oh, there were other Siyum HaShas events, even at the ICC on another night. This sign was left up pointing to the Men’s Entrance. I did not go looking for the Women’s Entrance. The Pais Arena also held one of the largest gatherings.
In a week of troubles and protests, and more happening in Jerusalem, we also had a week where the study of Jewish law was valued and celebrated.
A week where women stood proudly on the ICC stage to celebrate learning Talmud.
And as Rachelle Fraenkel said at the end of the evening, this event had to conclude with Hatikvah.
Please note as one study cycle ends, the new one begins the next day. For some of the women, it was their first, others have started learning Talmud again and again, while others are just beginning on their journey.
More photographs of the National Mizrachi Siyum HaShas HERE
More photographs of the Hadran, Siyum HaShas for Women HERE