The heaviest person in the world may have weighed in at some 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms), but that’s nothing compared to the collective weight of the 2,000 people who are hoping to make history and set the Guinness world record for largest-ever Shabbat dinner this Friday night in Tel Aviv.
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Although bigger Jewish gatherings, from Hasidic dynasty weddings to Passover seders in Nepal, have been held in the past, this is the first time such a Guinness title is at stake.
Only 1,000 people are needed to be present for the full meal in order to qualify, but twice that number have already registered and another 2,000 are on the waiting list.
The regulations for a Guinness World Record are strict and the laws of traditional Sabbath observance, according to the most Orthodox of standards, are even stricter. Nevertheless, the White City Shabbat collective organizing the event is convinced it has all bases covered to meet both criteria and secure the title. The event has the backing of Tel Aviv’s chief rabbinate, which is providing a special mashgiach (supervisor) to confirm that the dinner will be not only a huge gathering, but one within the bounds of Orthodox Jewish law.
The numbers will be recorded by an official Guinness adjudicator flown in especially from London – a verifiable non-Jew, who will time the event and oversee registration, so that no Jew will have to violate the Sabbath in any way. Dozens of (Jewish) volunteer stewards from the collective will monitor the sections after every participant is seated to ensure that each remains in place for the official counts necessary for the record. Once the meal has concluded, the adjudicator will provide on-the-spot verification and the title will be declared.
The timing itself will begin after the blessing over the bread. The first course must be served within five minutes to meet Guinness regulations and only those who have a plate of food in front of them within that five-minute period will be counted. The dinner must last at least a full hour – any guest who leaves before will be disregarded from the final count.
To qualify for the title, according to Guinness, the dinner “must take place at an appropriate meal time that follows the rules of the Sabbath within Judaism” and “must consist of a traditional meal that is eaten on the Sabbath that ties in and follows the rules of all food remaining kosher.” The traditional Israeli meal, with caterers from the Hasidic town of Kfar Chabad, will open with a spread of Israeli salads, followed by a fish course, then roast chicken and beef dishes, and a round of non-dairy desserts.
Registration opened a month ago and filled to capacity within two weeks. Participation was cut off only due to lack of space, organizer Jay Shultz told Haaretz. “We maxed out, based not on Guinness but on the venue,” he said. “We couldn’t stuff another chair in there. And that’s a beautiful thing.”
The gathering will be held at the Hangar 11 events warehouse at the Tel Aviv port, and will begin promptly at 6:30 P.M., an hour before sunset, with a concert by a live band, prayers and singing to welcome the Sabbath, candle-lighting and a speech from Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Meir Lau. The Tel Aviv municipality is among the sponsors of the event and Mayor Ron Huldai plans to attend the dinner.
In addition to private sponsorship, the organizers raised $26,000 dollars to cover the costs of the dinner in a crowd-funding campaign. Registered participants were asked for donations on a pay-as-you-can basis, a scale ranging from free to upwards of 80 or 100 shekels per head.
White City Shabbat, which organizes regular Sabbath meals and community events along with its partner collective TLV Internationals, primarily for young immigrants, hopes that the world record will solidify a trend it believes is already well in the works – the idea that “Tel Aviv is the most exciting Jewish thing happening on the planet, and the young olim [immigrants] are a big part of that,” Shultz told Haaretz.
The gathering is intended to be as pluralistically Jewish as possible, with groups ranging from Chabad to LGBT organizations in town for gay pride week having signed up for the event.
White City Shabbat’s goal is not just to host a mass Friday night dinner, but to set in motion similar and bigger Jewish gatherings, Shultz said. “The same way that you can have a restaurant that’s kosher style or a restaurant with a teudah [certificate], that’s what we’re getting. We’re getting the certificate. I actually hope to lose the record a week after we set it,” he said. “[But] we will be the first and no one can ever take that away.”
The only comparable religious event on record in the Guinness book is a mass Iftar dinner marking the end of Ramadan held in Turkey in 2012, with 20,715 participants – but that event, unlike this Shabbat dinner, took place in multiple cities across the country. The largest single service dinner on record was set by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in 2008, with 16,206 gathered at a Washington, D.C. convention center.
Other Jewish record-holders in Guinness books past and present include the most dreidels spinning simultaneously for at least 10 seconds (734, by a Philadelphia chapter of the United Synagogue Youth in 2011), largest falafel ball (23.95 kg at a California Jewish festival in 2011) and world's oldest man (Polish-born Alexander Imich, who died this week at age 111).
Another historic record set by Jews was the greatest number of passengers ever carried by a commercial airliner, during Operation Solomon in 1991, when an El Al Boeing 747 evacuated 1,088 Ethiopian Jews from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Two babies, included in that record, were born on the flight.