With great fanfare and aggressive advertising, the Agudah has recently begun the process of making seats to this summer's siyum hashas at Metlife stadium available. Selling out that ennormous venue would be a monumental feat. After much thought, however, I decided that I won't be among those in attendance at what promises to be a memorable event. This will be the first siyum I will miss since I was old enough to appreciate what the event represents. If I had to explain why, I'd do so with 6 words: "the previous one and the convention."
Seven years ago, I headed to Madison Square Garden just as I had done twice before in the previous 15 years, to bask on the glory of Torah and those who learn it with great commitment and sacrifice. I was excited as I recalled feeling like I had tasted gan eden on my previous trips and assumed this time would be no different. But different it was.
The last siyum brought us a collection of uninspiring speeches from people who had no business speaking at a celebration of the daf hayomi. Roshei Yeshiva, notorious for using the term "daf yomi" as an insult (anyone that ever learned in yeshiva knows exactly what I mean) were honored with addressing the very people they spend years degrading. One such individual launched into what seemed like a never-ending pilpul. Another yeshiva leader went on a tirade against Rabbi Slifkin, calling him and those who supported him "midgets". Word quickly spread that he travelled to Philadelphia the following day to ask mechilla from Reb Shmuel Kaminetzky, who had written a haskama for one of the Slifkin books. Whatever you may think of the Slifkin controversy, the siyum hashas was not the place to address it.
Political considerations and concern for fragile egos led Agudah to put too many speakers on the program, very few of whom had any connection to the daf. The program was too long, uninspiring and, frankly, flat out offensive. Other than a magestic performance by Chazzan Helfgott, the evening was a disappointment beyond words. When it finally and mercifully ended well into the night, I left the arena with feelings of anger. I felt as if someone had deprived me of the inspiration I came eagerly anticipating.
Sadly, I have no reason to believe this siyum will be any better than the previous one was. In the seven years since the previous siyum, egos have not shrunk, politics have not given way to yiras shamayim, and respect for ballabatim and lomdei daf yomi has not exactly increased within the yeshiva world. As the Agudah convention demonstrated, the leaders of the yeshiva world who share Agudah's pholosophy have only become emboldened in their fight against the outside world (you know, the one we all live in) and sharper in their personal attacks against people - and gadgets - they deem outside of their worldview. The speeches were angry, personal (Slifkin again) and at times flat out bizarre (remember the Internet cafe idea?). I fear that the siyum will be the embarrassing spectacle that the convention was and nothing has been said or done to indicate otherwise.
I wish Agudah would release the program for the siyum in advance of (or concurrent with) ticket sales, like it does with the convention. If I knew who the scheduled speakers were and what topics they will be asked to address, I could better evaluate whether it appeals to me. But at this stage, given the recent convention and the regrettable debacle of the previous siyum, I can't afford to take my chances.
At the last siyum, I walked in looking to be inspired and walked out feeling cheated and insulted. I won't risk that happening again.