There’s a funny picture making its way around social media from the Siyyum HaShas that took place at MetLife Stadium. Last week, 90,000 Jews gathered to celebrate the completion of Daf Yomi, the 7.5 year cycle of reading the entire Talmud.
From an aerial view, you’d think that all the participants were wearing black and white. However, among this otherwise homogeneous collective was one participant cleverly donning a red and white striped ski cap and shirt: literally, Waldo from the Where’s Waldo books of my childhood.
Seven and a half years ago, I remember what it felt like to stick out, and not because I was wearing khaki pants. When I attended that same Siyyum at MetLife Stadium, my gut-wrenching moment came when one of the rabbis speaking welcomed “all Jews united,” from “black hats, to streimels, to velvet yarmulkes, to kippot srugot (crocheted), and even baseball caps.”
Undoubtedly, I left that event inspired to study. Who wouldn’t? But I also remember feeling frustrated about the limited sense of imagination about who had ownership over these sacred texts. Did the Talmud only belong to Jews wearing black and white? Or, was the Talmud also a yerushah, a precious inheritance for the Waldos of the world as well?
Last Shabbat, my shul came together to celebrate one remarkable person—Jeffrey Brown—who completed the newest cycle of Daf Yomi. Using podcasts, chevruta-learning, and self-study, Jeff spent the last seven and a half years learning 2,711 pages of Talmud. Inspired by a family trip to Israel, Jeff told our community that he decided to challenge himself spiritually. With the same grit with which he has run dozens of marathons, he completed the herculean task of reading the entire Talmud.
Hundreds of us came to celebrate. We participated in a siyyum and learned the beginning of the Talmud to inspire folks to begin the next cycle. Almost one week later, I can tell you that it is already working: I’ve received nearly a dozen phone calls, emails and messages from people interested in starting to learn Talmud together.
All of which is to say that seven and a half years later, I now know to whom the Talmud belongs: It belongs to Jews who don’t wear head coverings, as well as to those of us who do. And it especially belongs to the Waldos of the world, who no longer have to consider themselves lost at a siyyum.