A still from the Iranian version of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” music video / YouTube
It’s a weird aftereffect of a Jewish day school education that, when I see a headline like “Iran Court Sentences ‘Happy’ Dancers to 6 Months and 91 Lashes,” I immediately ask myself: WWTDD? Or: what would the Talmud do?
You might remember that back in May, seven young men and women were arrested in Iran for recreating Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” music video and posting it on YouTube. Now a Tehran court has sentenced the dancers to six months in prison plus 91 lashes each. Luckily, the sentence was suspended, meaning that the verdict won’t actually be carried out unless the dancers repeat their “crime” in the next three years.
Still, it’s a harsh verdict, and everyone from Pharrell Williams to Iran’s own President Hassan Rouhani seems unhappy with how these kids have been treated. “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness,” Williams wrote on his Facebook page. “Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy,” Rouhani wrote in a May tweet widely seen as expressing support for the dancers.
Likewise, my initial response was: Ouch! 91 lashes? Even the ancient rabbinic texts I studied in school didn’t recommended meting out that many! Then, to make sure my impulse was correct, I did a bit more digging into the wide world of rabbinic whipping.
Despite rain and traffic jams, the mood was jubilant at MetLife stadium on August 1, as some 90,000 Orthodox Jews gathered to celebrate the completion of the study of the Talmud, or Siyum HaShas.
A massive crowd of mostly ultra-Orthodox men in dark suits and hats packed the East Rutherford, N.J., football stadium, spilling out onto concourses, escalators and parking lots. Several thousand women also attended, seated on the upper level behind a specially constructed, $250,000 divider made of green plastic that remained open for much of the evening.
“It was inspiring,” said Yossi Gelber, an accountant from Queens who has participated off and on in the page-a-day Talmud regimen, or Daf Yomi, since 1990. “How often do you get to [pray] with 90,000 people?”
“I came to have an imprint in my mind and to be part of something wonderful,” added Pnina Fenig, a speech therapist and Toronto native now living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The event, which began at 7:30 pm and lasted until after midnight, marked the 12th completion of the 2,711-page cycle that begins anew every seven-and-a-half years. The daily study system was initiated in 1923 in Vienna, at the first congress of Agudath Israel, by Rabbi Meir Shapiro.
While this year’s event marked the largest such gathering to date, celebrations were held in previous years at venues such as Madison Square Garden, Continental Airlines Arena and Nassau Coliseum.