What is a Siyum?
Upon finishing the learning of a masechet, it is customary to have a gathering celebrating this learning achievement. The Gemara (Shabbat 118b) records that Abaye would make a “feast for the Sages” whenever a student of his finished a masechet. The Hagahot Ashri quotes Midrash Shir HaShirim Raba (1:9), which sources the custom of the siyum in the feast King Solomon hosted for his servants upon receiving infinite wisdom. Hence, the siyum is both a public recognition of the learner’s extensive efforts in covering this particular Torah text as well as an expression of gratitude towards God for the ability to reach this milestone.
The Rema (YD 246:26) rules that the meal following a siyum is considered a seudat mitzva, the halakhic implications of which are the permissibility of mourners to partake in the meal despite its festive nature.
When Should I Schedule My Siyum?
Ideally the siyum should be done immediately upon finishing the masechet. However, the Arukh HaShulchan (YD 246:44) points to the Gemara in Moed Katan 9a– which debates whether King Solomon should have delayed the final stages of the Temple’s construction such that the culmination of the building, and its ensuing consecration, be on the nearest holiday– as proof that one can delay the end of a masechet to the day on which it is convenient.
The Maharam Mintz (brought by the Shach, YD 246:27) similarly says that one should leave a piece of text for the siyum day such that the true joy of finishing the tractate can be experienced at the ceremony itself. As such, one may choose to “hold off” on finishing a masechet until a date when one’s friends and family can gather to celebrate, or on a particularly meaningful date, such as an engagement party, wedding, or a yahrzeit.
What Do You Do at a Siyum?
It is customary to start the siyum by reading the final lines of the masechet.
Depending on who has gathered for the siyum, Kaddish D’Itchadeta is recited. (Typically, following Kaddish, cheering, singing, and dancing ensue)
It is customary to recite a Dvar Torah about the text learned, either at this point or preceding Step 1.
The learner begins her next learning project.
Seudat Mitzva: It is customary to have cookies, cakes, or even a festive meal following the siyum. Any food items requiring the brakhot of Hamotzi or Mezonot allow the meal to be technically considered a seudat mitzva.
The Hadran Text
The Hadran is composed of several passages:
This phrase is typically recited three times and is a pledge that we will return to the masechet yet again, as it, too, will return to us. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik compared this sentiment to a parent who drops their child off at school for the day and promises to return; while they might not be acutely aware of their child throughout the day, they have a latent awareness that their child is awaiting them and they truly intend to return. Similarly, we tell the masechet that while we no longer be actively toiling in its pages, we will carry its wisdom with us as we study other matters, until we possibly return to this very masechet once again.
This section is perhaps the most perplexing part of the siyum, though it may also be the oldest passage (referred to already by Rav Hai Gaon). Some believe the list is an incantation of sorts which prevents the learner from forgetting what she learned. The Rema (Shut HaRema) claims that Rav Pappa was a wealthy man and as such would throw lavish celebrations for his sons upon their finishing a masechet. Other suggestions include a parallel to the Ten Commandments or that the gematria of their names is equivalent to the number of pages in Shas.
This prayer, from Brakhot 11b, is also found in Birkhot HaTorah every morning. The prayer is a request that the words of Torah remain for us and our descendants forever sweet.
This prayer, brought in Berakhot 28b, was said when Rabbi Nechunya HaKaneh left the Beit Midrash. It is a declaration of gratitude for the opportunity to toil in the words of Torah and use our time for such holy endeavors. Some choose to omit this section as the gratitude rests on a contrast between the Torah learner and others who waste their time.
A prayer asking God to grant the learner the merit of finishing other works of Torah and upholding its laws and principles. The text comes full circle, as it reinforces once more that this “siyum” is in fact not a final culmination of one’s learning, rather a point in a continuing journey.
In Yemenite tradition, this special version of Kaddish is said after public Torah study and while Ashkenazi communities have replaced that with Kaddish Derabanan, the original practice has been preserved at a siyum. The text speaks of the merits the world will receive because of those who study Torah, among them revival of the dead, which is why this is the same Kaddish recited at a funeral.
The Dvar Torah at a siyum is a way to share with those gathered something learned from the masechet. Most commonly, the Dvar Torah will either be in-depth insight into a particular sugya or a general overview of what the masechet spoke about. Learners may choose to connect their learning to an event in their lives or bring to light a passage that particularly spoke to them.
Beginning the Next Project
The Tur writes that upon finishing the Torah, we begin straight from “Bereishit” once more, as not to permit the Satan to claim that we’ve finished the Torah and are disinterested in beginning anew. Similarly, upon finishing a masechet, especially when learning towards the ultimate completion of a seder or all of Shas, it is customary to begin the following tractate already at the siyum. This conveys that the siyum, contrary to its literal meaning, is not the end. Commencing a new unit of Torah conveys the devotion one has to perpetually continuing her Torah study.
Women's Siyum HaShas 2020
Upon completing 7.5 years of Daf Yomi study, 2,711 dapim, a Siyum Shas is celebrated. On January 5, 2020, Hadran hosted the first international Siyum HaShas for Women in Jerusalem, with over 3,300 women in attendance.