April 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Finding My Place at the Siyum HaShas As a Modern Orthodox Teenager

The Siyum HaShas was a moment in time that we can all be profoundly proud of. I do not think it’s hyperbolic to point out that close to 100,000 people filling a sports arena on New Year’s Day to celebrate the Torah is, if not the fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy, then certainly reminiscent of one. No matter your religious affiliation, level of observance or Torah scholarship we should be grateful to those who organized the siyum and hopeful for the future of Judaism in the United States of America.

In addition to everything else it represented, the siyum was also perhaps a fitting metaphor for the life of a Modern Orthodox teenager, or, at least, life as they see it. Please allow me to paint a hypothetical picture of what may have been going through the mind of a typical Modern Orthodox teenager attending the siyum:

“Just because I am a teenager, please don’t assume I am being cynical for sharing my observations with you; I’m just telling you what’s going through my mind as I sit here amidst tens of thousands of my fellow Jews. Being here and taking it all in gives me an opportunity to think about my own place amongst klal Yisrael.

“The expanse before me appears as a sea of black and white; however, if I take a closer look, I notice specks of color sprinkled throughout the coliseum. What draws my attention, though, are those on the large platform sitting in the middle. I assume these men have earned this right to be up there. I am told that they are men of distinction; many of them enjoy the adulation of thousands of admirers, students and devotees. Some of them I have never heard of before, others are names I am more familiar with. I wonder if with hard work and dedication I could one day join them. Part of me thinks I can, but a piece of me is not sure I want to.

“Surrounding these men, on the pitch before them, sit hundreds of others—those who have earned a seat on the ground floor; many of them are men of distinction in their own right. They represent diverse communities and may even have students and followers of their own.

“Rising up, in the stadium around me, are 90,000+ more people sitting in stratified layers, in sections distinguished as much by price as by proximity. Though I realize a seat does not necessarily connote a social status, the price of the seat and the proximity for the view do mean something to me.

“High above us all are the fortunate ones, those sitting in climate control boxes. I am told that they are the corporate sponsors or those who may travel in those circles. I find myself alternating my gaze between those in the skyboxes and those sitting on the dais, unsure which I want more. Is it possible to achieve both? I wonder which group of people is more valued by the people I respect.

“There are women in the arena also. They too are sitting in a wide range of seats. Though there aren’t as many of them here, their presence is noticeable and is noted. They aren’t the speakers or the emcees, nor are they sitting on the ground floor or called out by name. But they are here, some of the speakers even thank and recognize them. Like everyone else here, they too are looking on— many with pride, others in awe, quite a few with a yearning desire, I am sure. Far be it for me or anyone to speculate what they were thinking or what was in their heart; you would have to ask them if you wanted to know for sure.

“Every once in a while I scan the crowd, counting the number of people I can spot who are dressed like me, with whom I can identify. Are any of them sitting on the ground floor? Are any of them sitting on the dais? Aside from what we are all wearing, I hardly notice a significant difference between those who are present. As a matter of fact, during the tefilla and while learning here, our differences seem almost non-existent. Perhaps that is the point.

“As the program winds down, I open up the program on my lap and notice the first daf of Masechet Brachot. The cycle will soon begin again. The page is in monochrome. Though to the uninitiated eye the page of Gemara appears as solid blocks of text forming quadrilateral shapes of various sizes, I know that the Gemara is anything but uniform. The Mishnah was written by the Tannaim in Israel, the Gemara was edited hundreds of years later in Bavel, Rashi’s important words were written half a millennia later in France, and the helpful footnotes of Rav Yoel Sirkis (the Ba”ch) of Poland were penned in the 1600s.

“My eyes must be the millionth (10 millionth? more?) pair of eyes to learn this same page of Gemara. Maybe my unique background will even allow me to think of a novel interpretation of the Gemara never thought of before. Though my perspective and appreciation are certainly different from others who have/will learn it, the words laid out in front of me remain basically unchanged.”

As the 14th cycle of Daf Yomi begins, a new opportunity lies before us. Some of us will rise early in the morning to join the ranks of the lomdei hadaf (Daf Yomi learners), others will carve out time later at night, amidst numerous work and family responsibilities. But let us not forget the most precious opportunity of all, the chance to express to our children why the daf is still studied in the year 2020. They should hear from us why the Torah and its values are worth making time and space for in our lives. Let us allow them to find their own voice, but let us also help them locate their seats in the ulam haTorah (great hall of Torah).


Zev Prince teaches Gemara and Halacha at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and is assistant principal for co-curricular life.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles