NJ's MetLife Stadium site of Talmud celebration

AP News
Posted: Aug 01, 2012 3:40 PM
NJ's MetLife Stadium site of Talmud celebration

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — For the past two years, Rabbi Yosef C. Golding has worked toward figuring out one question: How do you turn a football stadium into a synagogue for 90,000 worshippers?

The answer, it turns out, requires years of meetings, miles of fabric and millions of pieces of paper.

"No question about it, it's complicated," said Golding, the executive director of the Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Golding is in charge of logistics for what organizers are calling the "largest celebration of Jewish learning in the last 2,000 years." More than 90,000 people are expected to gather at MetLife Stadium to celebrate the completion of the reading of the Talmud, the book of Jewish laws and traditions.

The event signals the end of the daily reading and study of one page of the 2,711-page book. The cycle takes about 7½ years to finish.

Wednesday's celebration is the 12th put on my Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization based in New York. Organizers say this year's will be, by far, the largest one yet. More than 90,000 tickets have been sold, and faithful will gather at about 100 locations worldwide to watch the celebration.

"The program of study has grown. People are hooked into it. It's become like the to-do thing in the Jewish community," said Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin, the event's chief operating officer and a vice president with Agudath Israel. "It puts regularity into study. It gives people something to look forward to every day."

The celebration to mark the end of the cycle will cost approximately $4 million, said Golding. Most of it is raised by ticket sales; prices range from $18 to $1,000.

"No expense is spared," he said. "It's safe to say this is the largest celebration of the study of the Talmud since the days of the Talmud."

The result is a wholesale transformation of MetLife Stadium from a football field to a massive synagogue. Organizers have placed flooring and thousands of chairs over the field, along with a dais for 500 rabbis.

Outside sound and video systems were brought in to ensure people in the top tiers of the stadium and in the satellite locations can hear and see the program.

Because it is an Orthodox Jewish celebration, organizers erected a massive mechitzah, or divider that separates men and women during prayers. The partition, which cost $250,000 and took 60 people to construct, consists of 2½ miles of pipe and drape that was run around four different levels of the stadium, Gertzulin said. Women will be seated in the upper deck of the stadium; a curtain will be drawn during prayers, organizers said.

"Women, we feel very much, are full partners in the full program and we have made every effort to accommodate them," Gertzulin said.

The organization has printed 90,000 programs, each of which is 216 pages long, Golding said, in addition to 50,000 programs for children. Being summer in the northeast there are scattered thunderstorms forecast, and the organization has ordered 50,000 ponchos and 35,000 towels so participants can cover up and wipe off their seats if necessary.

Security at the event will be incredibly tight. Golding said about 660 police officers will be patrolling the stadium and its environs, and everyone who attends must go through a security screening.

"I had a meeting with New Jersey Homeland Security, and once we discussed the immensity of the event," Golding said, "They decided to pull out all the stops."

The four-hour program will consist of speeches, singing, dancing, video of study groups from around the world and a somber ending dedicated to victims of the Holocaust, Golding said.

The event is important because it helps unite thousands of men worldwide who are studying the same page each day, said Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, chairman of the Daf Yomi Commission at Agudath Israel. The 13th cycle of Talmud study begins Friday.

"In a certain sense, it helps unite everyone, because you have these many thousands of people, tens of thousands of people, who are each studying the same page at any given day," Rabbi Weinberger said. "Someone could be from a different city, a different school, a different country. They have a lot to talk about. That was part of the original intent."