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Siyum HaShas: Response to the Monsey Attack
By Rabbi Benjy Silverman
In early January, Synagogues (including ours) increased security, politicians condemned hatred, and Jewish organizations organized a solidarity march on January 5, under the banner “No Hate. No Fear. - it’s time for us to come together and demonstrate our collective resolve.” All of this was in response to the recent anti-Semitic attacks in Monsey and New York City.
While these are necessary and important responses, the most powerful response to anti-Semitism this first week in January, was the one that wasn’t even intended as a response.
On Wednesday, January 1st, 90,000 Jews filled MetLife stadium. They united to celebrate the completion of a seven-year cycle of studying the 2,711 pages of the Talmud. While it had nothing to do with anti-Semitism, this event was the greatest possible response to anti-Semitism.
In the January 4 Parsha, Vayigash, we read about Jacob and his family relocating to Egypt. The Torah begins this new episode in Jewish history by saying “And he sent Judah ahead”. The Sages explain that Judah was sent ahead to establish and prepare a Yeshiva, a house of study.
Jacob knew that the Jewish people would encounter horrible anti-Semitism while in Egypt and he prepared by opening a house of Torah study.
What does Torah study have to do with anti-Semitism?
Absolutely nothing! And this is precisely why Jacob opened a Yeshiva first; Jacob didn’t want anti-Semitism to define the Jew or the Jewish agenda. If being Jewish is about living Jewishly through the study of Torah and performance of Mitzvot, then this must remain our focus even in Egypt and even with Anti-Semitism, otherwise we grant the anti-Semite success.
This is why the Talmud celebration was such a powerful response to anti-Semitism. It had nothing to do with anti-Semitism, it was about being Jewish!
Participating in the celebration at MetLife were a number of Holocaust survivors. Hitler tried to destroy them along with all of Judaism. Yet, here they were, seventy-five years later, participating in what was probably the largest celebration of the Talmud EVER!
Thousands of Jews marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to “demonstrate our collective resolve” is great and sends a message to our haters, but the Talmud celebration sends a far more important message. Despite all the attacks and hatred, Jewish life and Judaism are more vibrant and alive than ever. We are not going away and we are not backing down. On the contrary, with every attack, we redouble our effort to build an even more thriving Jewish future.
With their interpretation on the January 4 Parsha, the Sages are reminding us that we should not allow anti-Semitism to define us and that the most important and powerful response to anti-Semitism is to become a “stronger” Jew by increasing our Jewish knowledge and Jewish involvement.