100 Years Later History to be Made Again in Same Hall in Vienna Where Rav Meir Shapiro Proposed Daf HaYomi

Gedolei Yisroel to Lead Siyum on Seder Nashim, Tefillos at Kever of Chasam Sofer and Dirshu International European Convention

כ״ח באב תשפ״ג – Aug 15, 2023

By Chaim Gold

Some locations are so historic that they defy the imagination. One such place is the historic Sofiensäle Hall in Vienna, a concert hall where, during the month of Elul one-hundred years ago the groundbreaking, world-changing concept of the Daf HaYomi was proposed by the young Rav of the Polish town of Sonik. This year on motzoei Shabbos Bereishis, history will once again be made in that very hall in Vienna. That same hall will be filled to capacity once more, graced and led by leading Gedolei Yisrael and leading Roshei Yeshiva, Rabbanim, and maggidei shiur, as they celebrate a siyum on Seder Nashim and half of the present Daf HaYomi cycle.

Even more exciting, a new Klal Yisrael learning initiative that promises to have a transformative impact on Yidden and Torah learning the world-over will be proposed in that very location where Rav Meir Shapiro with his booming voice and optimism launched the Daf HaYomi. The event and the new Klal Yisrael initiative with siyatta d’Shmaya, will herald a true manifestation of, “netzach Yisrael lo yeshaker”.

Netzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker!

In the aftermath of World War II and the churban of Europe, we are unaccustomed to actually going back and seeing a historical manifestation of the spiritual grandeur of pre-war Europe. Most of the major Jewish landmarks were destroyed by those who murdered, or aided and abetted the murder of the Six Million. Nevertheless, one of the cities that was occupied by the Nazis at an early stage of the conflict was the city of Vienna, which surrendered to the Germans without a bullet. Thus, all the city’s landmarks remained intact.

On motzoei Shabbos Bereishis, leading Gedolim and Rabbanim from Eretz Yisrael, Europe and North America representing the entire cross-section of Torah Jewry will participate in the siyum and in what is essentially a celebration of the eternity of the am haTorah.

The siyum will be the climax of a Historic Mission spearheaded by Dirshu and led by Gedolei Yisrael that will begin with a visit and special tefillos on behalf of Klal Yisrael at the kever of the Chasam Sofer in Pressburg within three days of his yahrtzeit, and continue with Dirshu’s International Shabbos Convention in Pressburg. The climax will be the celebration, the siyum, will be held at the historic Sofiensäle Hall in Vienna where the first Knessia Gedolah was held in Elul of 1923, when Rav Meir Shapiro proposed the Daf HaYomi.

Among the leading Gedolei Yisrael who will grace the Shabbos and the siyum will be HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron; HaGaon HaRav Yaakov Meir Stern, shlita, talmid muvhak of Rav Shmuel Wosner and one of Eretz Yisrael’s leading poskim and dayanim; HaGaon HaRav Shimon Galei, shlita; HaGaon HaRav Chaim Peretz Berman, shlita, a Rosh Yeshiva at the Ponevezh Yeshiva; HaGaon HaRav Gavriel Knopfler, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Manchester, and numerous other Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva from Eretz Yisrael and abroad. Leading the delegation of Gedolim from America will be HaGaon HaRav Hillel David, shlita, Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Roshei Yeshiva of Torah Umesorah, member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, and Rav of Kehillas Yeshiva Shaarei Torah.

The mission to Pressburg and the high point in Vienna will be laden with symbolism and inspiration, not only from the past, but perhaps even more importantly for the future.

The First Knessiah: Uniting Klal Yisrael

At that first Knessiah Gedolah, exactly one hundred years ago this month, there were over 900 delegates from virtually every country in the world led by the greatest Gedolim of the generation. Without a doubt, however, the presence of the Chofetz Chaim was a watershed that galvanized the entire body of Torah Jewry. At that time, the Chofetz Chaim was approximately 85 years old and the long trip from Radin to Vienna was a difficult undertaking. Nevertheless, the Chofetz Chaim did not hesitate for a minute.

The deep impression made by the Knessiah Gedolah on so many was due not only to the fact that so many Gedolim came together, but also the fact that so many Jews from so many lands who had heretofore little or nothing to do with each other also came together. It was practically the first time that Chassidim, who learned in their shteiblach and those who learned in the Yeshivos of Lithuania came together with Orthodox doctors, lawyers and academics from Germany. All the old battles were forgotten as everyone turned to the dais to hear the words of the Gedolim. They realized that together Torah Jewry had the vitality not only to defend themselves against winds of change, but also to go on the offensive and try to reinstate the crown of Torah and Yiddishkeit to its rightful place.

Different Battles, Similar Solution

Today in 2023, we may have different battles but the solution, to overcome the hurdles facing Klal Yisrael, are not different. Only with the Torah and achdus among all of Klal Yisrael will we prevail. That is why this year’s siyum in Vienna will not only be a commemoration of the past, of the impact that Daf HaYomi has had on Klal Yisrael over the past 100 years but perhaps even more it will be about the future. It will feature new initiatives in addition to Daf HaYomi that will encourage and facilitate limud haTorah with achdus for all of Klal Yisrael in a new, exciting format that will truly be a gamechanger.

At that first Knessiah, the main attraction of the opening session was undoubtedly the opening remarks delivered by the venerated Chofetz Chaim. The following report of the event described his arrival.

            There was a great commotion among the delegates. Everybody rose, craning their necks to try to catch a glimpse of the small, hunched figure of the world renowned Gaon. The ovation simply would not end. Only when the Chofetz Chaim finally began to speak did the hall again quiet down. He spoke very quietly. Those who were sitting close enough to him quickly moved closer to the podium. Still, it was impossible to understand. Nevertheless, despite the fact that his words were practically inaudible, everybody’s face shone from the joy of being able to watch the Gaon of Gaonim speak. As the Chofetz Chaim spoke, the member of the Sejm (Polish Parliament) Rav Meir Shapiro, feverishly takes notes. When the Chofetz Chaim ends there is thunderous applause. Immediately, the crowd gathers around Rav Meir Shapiro, begging him to repeat the words of the Chofetz Chaim. He replies that during his upcoming opening remarks, he will repeat the words of the Chofetz Chaim. During his speech, Rav Meir Shapiro said, “The heilige Chofetz Chaim said…”

            “Dear Brothers, we have gathered together to seek a medicine for the sickly body of Yiddishkeit. Do you want to know where to find that medicine? I will tell you a story: There was once a person who was ill. He suffered from much pain in numerous limbs. When the doctor examined him trying to find the cure to the numerous limbs that hurt, he suddenly realized that the man’s pulse had stopped. Immediately, the doctor concentrated all his efforts on getting back the pulse. The nimshal is: The best remedy to ensure that blood flows properly through the veins of the Jewish People is the Torah. When the Torah is in danger, our entire existence as a nation is endangered. We must rebuild and renew the mosdos of Torah, yeshivos and chadorim. Let Jewish children be educated in the way of our forefathers. This is ‘the thing that Hashem commanded, that His presence may rest upon you’.” The Chofetz Chaim went on to speak about the responsibility of every Jew to achieve their G-dly mission.

Indeed, Dirshu’s upcoming historic trip and European Convention has been dedicated for that very purpose to increase Torah learning and be mechazek Klal Yisrael thought the oxygen that powers our neshamos: limud haTorah.

Tefillah on Behalf of Klal Yisrael at the Kever of the Chasam Sofer

The delegation of Gedolei Yisrael and Rabbanim will arrive in Vienna on erev Shabbos Parshas Bereishis and will visit the kever of the Panim Me’iros followed by davening at the kever of the Ksav Sofer.

The inspirational pinnacle of erev Shabbos will be the special maamad tefillah on behalf of lomdei Daf HaYomi and Klal Yisrael led by Gedolei Yisrael at the kever of the Chasam Sofer. Klal Yisrael is so in need of shemirah, in ruchniyus and in gashmiyus, in yeshuos, refuos and shidduchim, and at the makom Kadosh the burial place of the Chasam Sofer, around the time of his yartzeit is the opportune time to invoke rachamei shomayim.

The delegation will then make their way to the Marriott Hotel in Pressburg where they will spend Shabbos.

Shiur Klali Given by Rav Dovid Cohen

One of the highlights of what promises to be a beautiful and historic Shabbos full of ruchnius, will be a shiur klali given by HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, shlita.

There will be shiurim and divrei chizuk at both the seudos and during the davening given by leading Gedolim and rabbanim. In addition, the Malchus Choir led by Reb Zanvil Weinberger will inspire the attendees with their beautiful zemiros.

On Sunday, the three days of non-stop spiritual inspiration will culminate with a trip to Kerister and a special maamad tefillah at the kever of the great tzaddik and poel yeshuos, Rav Shayele of Kerister, zy”a.

Learning the Same Page Unifies Klal Yisrael

Without a doubt, however, the absolute pinnacle of the entire convention will be the grand dinner melave malka siyum on Seder Nashim, a siyum on half of Shas that will take place in the grand hall of the Vienna Sofiensäle, the very hall where the first Knessiah Gedolah took place in Elul, 5683, 1923, and where the declaration of the establishment of the Daf HaYomi took place.

That announcement actually took place during the historic part of Rav Meir Shapiro’s speech, when he presented the new idea that all frum Jews should learn the same page of Gemara each day. The new project, which he called, “Daf Yomi” was met with great enthusiasm by all the delegates and became one of the first resolutions passed by the Knessiah.

Rav Meir Shapiro said, “Just open a Gemara, take a look at the Daf and see what it represents. The text of the Mishna was written in Eretz Yisrael, the Gemara was written in Bavel, Rashi was written in France, Tosafos in Germany, the Rif in Spain and the Maharsha in Poland. Look at all the different countries they come from! Look at all the different customs they must have had. Look at how differently they must have dressed! What united them? What brought them all together in one volume? Torah!”

Torah: Klal Yisrael’s Unifier

The Daf Yomi, is perhaps the only forum through which Jews the world over, regardless of whether they are Ashkenazim or Sephardim, Chassidim or Yeshiva types, whether they wear one type of hat or another, one style kipa or another, can join together each day and learn in unity. Even the “traveling Jew” whose business takes him to different parts of the world can learn the Daf. Daf Yomi is accessible in virtually any place where a Jewish community exists.

Another aspect that makes the Daf Yomi program totally unique is the fact that through learning it, every Yid has the opportunity to learn the entire Shas – even the “obscure” masechtos that are not generally learned by the wider public.

In fact, many Gedolei Hador envied Rav Meir Shapiro for the zechus he had in redeeming what they called the “orphaned” masechtos and making them part and parcel of daily learning. The Chofetz Chaim would call Harav Meir Shapiro by a title of honor, “Reb Daf Yomi”

When Harav Meir Shapiro came to Radin to visit the Chofetz Chaim, the Chofetz Chaim told him, “Yasher Koach—thank you Rav Meir! Thousands of chairs in Gan Eden are giving thanks to you for rescuing them from eternal loneliness”.

The Chofetz Chaim went on to explain, “What do you think, the chairs in Gan Eden bear names of the people who will sit on them? No, that is not the way it works in Gan Eden. The chairs possess the names of the masechtos in Shas. One chair bears the name of Masechta Shabbos, another Masechta Eruvin. A Jew who arrives in Gan Eden after his years in this world, who has learned Masechta Shabbos will be able to sit on the Masechta Shabbos chair. Of course, all the “popular” masechtos have many people who sit on them, but what of the masechtos that are rarely learned? What about Masechta Zevachim and Menachos and other masechtos from the order of Kodshim – they sit forlorn and alone. Until now, it was rare for anyone to merit sitting on them. Now, however, since you have instituted the Daf Yomi, you have caused that these chairs are also full of people. You have saved thousands of chairs from loneliness!”

At this year’s European International Dirshu Convention there will be a return to history; but perhaps even more importantly new history will be made.

Stay tuned.