Message from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Take a Step Ahead”

A siyyum, when one finishes a tractate of Talmud, is considered to be a holiday. The hadran kaddish that is recited at the siyyum is not very old, only about 700 years; its text is not terribly rigid.

It begins with the notion that “we are coming back to you.” That is what we are saying to the tractate. We have finished you for now, but we will return to you again. The second section is a mystery, the third is about learning itself, the fourth is our thanksgiving and the last is the actual kaddish.

Kaddish has nothing to do with the dead. The word itself is best translated as a “Gloria.” The hadran is unlike other forms of kaddish and also slightly longer. This is the version that Maimonides approved and that the Yemenites use every day. Most other Jews recite this version of the kaddish only on two occasions: at a siyyum, or immediately after someone is buried (and never again during the mourning period.)

The word “hadran” means “encore.” In essence, in the hadran, we are saying: We are going to come back to you Tractate NAME and you will return to us. We will be mindful of you…and you will be mindful of us. We won’t forget you…and you won’t forget us, not in this world and not in the next.

I suppose that my work on the Talmud opened a new era: taking the books out of the hands of the experts and making them available to everyone – and able to be mastered by everyone.

It is a huge change of culture when knowledge is no longer the sole property of a special group.

Knowledge belongs to everyone. We are not “spreading” knowledge. Instead, we are giving it back to its owners. The saying, “Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha kehillat Yaakov,” means that Torah is an inheritance for all of us.

The root meaning of the Hebrew verb “to know” – yud, daled, ayin – is not purely intellectual or remote. As Adam “knew” Eve in the Biblical sense, knowledge signifies involvement.

It is for that reason that I don’t like the term, “Jewish education.” That implies that education is for others, for the generation below. Education is for each of us, no matter how old we are. It is for parents to teach the Hebrew letters to their children, on their own, without delegating it to others. It is very difficult to succeed in sending your child to do things, to go and study, when you won’t do those things yourself.

By connecting the siyyum to a drive for Jewish learning, we are not saying “adieu,” a final good-bye. Instead, we are saying, “au revoir,” we will see you again. You use the siyyum to begin a move, because knowledge is the Jewish patrimony. It is important that this day of Jewish learning be a collective experience.

It is a sad fact when someone does not know his Jewish patrimony. But if we allow that fact to exist – that is a shame.

For this kind of move, my watchword is “One Step Ahead.” Wherever you stand, take a step ahead. The beauty of this is that it applies to all and doesn’t define where you stand, or how far you go.

--From Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s Remarks to the American Joint Distribution Committee regarding the Siyyum and the Global Day of Jewish Learning