"I told Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to start building a larger stadium right now", said Rabbi Yakov Shapira, Dean of the flagship Zionist Yeshiva, Merkaz HaRav, member of the Chief Rabbinate Council and son of the late Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, speaking to Arutz Sheva.
"That is because, at the next Siyum HaShas, in little over seven years, please G-d, I hope that in Israel, the center of Torah learning, we are going to have one unifying and massive event like they had in New Jersey."
Rav Yaakov Shapira
"Imagine the joy of hearing 95,000 people shout 'Amen, May the Almighty's Name be blessed forever' during the afternoon Minha service," he continued, visibly moved by the experience. "The echo of that 'amen' is still resounding in my ears. Imagine it in Israel."
The Rosh Yeshiva spoke to Arutz Sheva upon his return from a whirlwind two days in the United States where he flew to join the massive celebration held at Met Life Stadium in honor of the worldwide completion of the Daf Yomi cycle.
Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, the Torah luminary who initiated the program at the 1923 Agudath Israel Convention, could not have envisaged how his idea would take off – the Daf Yomi project of learning of both sides of one page of Talmud every day so that participants go through the entire, monumental 2,711 page work in seven and a half years – albeit, not with the depth of the ongoing traditional painstaking study of each tractate, but with the goal of engaging in daily Torah study and obtaining familiarity with Talmudic content .
The tens of thousands at various worldwide Siyum HaShas events to celebrate last week's completion of the learning cycle are the proof of the revolutionary idea's success. But the largest of them all was when 95,000 Jews packed Met Life stadium in New Jersey to celebrate on Wednesday.
"Everyone was together, all Torah-loving Jews," said Rav Shapira, "that 'amen', said in unison by all kinds of Jews – Ashkenazic, Sephardic, the hareidi Litvak, Hassidic and Zionist-religious – together affirming their faith and love of Torah, simply rose to the heavens . Every speaker talked about unity; every speaker talked about how all of us are united in Torah, whether our kippa is black cloth or knitted. That is how it should be."
Asked what brought him to attend the New Jersey celebration, he answered "I had heard that a massive Siyum was planned, and when I received the invitation to the event, I hoped to be able to see firsthand how our brothers across the ocean display our shared love of Torah study. A benefactor, who wishes to remain anonymous, heard about it and arranged the trip."
Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, head of the hesder yeshiva, at Maale Adumim and several other Israeli rabbinic figures were also at the U.S. Siyum, representing the Israeli rabbinate along with Rabbi Shapira, who said "It was heartwarming to see how Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and Rabbi of Tel Aviv, received a rousing round of applause at the end of his speech."
There was even a miraculous start to the event. "It rained solidly all day, and there was talk of putting the event off for a day, which meant that I would have missed it, but in the end it was decided to leave the date as is. Miraculously, the rain let up at 6:45 p.m., the event began at 7:00 p.m. as scheduled and – only in America, I think, could this be organized so quickly – every person received a paper towel as he entered the stadium so that he could make sure he occupied a dry seat."
The event took place as Israelis continued week-long celebrations sponsored by Dirshu, the Daf Yomi organization that gives examinations on each Tractate and offers stipends to those that do well - and Rav Shapira, having left for the US after attending the Siyum at Teddy Stadium in the capital city on Monday, returned to Israel immediately to speak at the religious Zionist fete at the Jerusalem Conference Center on Thursday night, to be followed by the English-speaking Young Israel-RCA celebration this coming Thursday.