Lithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Century

BookLithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Century

Lithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Century

Creating a Tradition of Learning

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


February 28th, 2012

Access Token


Other Formats



One of the key ways in which the traditional Jewish world of eastern Europe responded to the challenges of modernity in the nineteenth century was to change the system for educating young men so as to reinforce time-honoured, conservative values. The yeshivas established at that time in Lithuania became models for an educational system that has persisted to this day, transmitting the talmudic underpinnings of the traditional Jewish way of life. To understand how that system works, one needs to go back to the institutions they are patterned on: why they were established, how they were organized, and how they operated. This is the first properly documented, systematic study of the Lithuanian yeshiva as it existed from 1802 to 1914. It is based on the judicious use of contemporary sources—documents, articles in the press, and memoirs—with a view to presenting the yeshiva in its social and cultural context. Three key institutions are considered. Pride of place in the first part of the book is given to the yeshiva of Volozhin, which was founded in 1802 according to an entirely new concept—total independence from the local community—and was in that sense the model for everything that followed. Chapters in the second part focus on the yeshiva of Slobodka, famed for introducing the study of musar (ethics); the yeshiva of Telz, with its structural and organizational innovations; and the kollel system, introduced so that married men could continue their yeshiva education. Topics covered include the leadership and changes in leadership; management and administration; the yeshiva as a place of study; and daily life. This English edition is based on the second Hebrew edition, which was revised to include information that became available with the opening of archives in eastern Europe after the fall of communism.

'Stampfer sifts through mountains of documentation, searching for versions that ring true and painting an extraordinarily detailed account of every aspect of life in the famous yeshivot. His book is vital to the students of Orthodox Jewish history and of Jewish culture in eastern Europe.'
Pinchas Roth, Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews

'One of the foremost experts on eastern European Jewry... He has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the nicest people in Israeli academia; but he seems to revel in challenging common assumptions, tweaking conventional wisdom, and making eastern European Jewry look very different from what everyone seems to think. He does all of these things in [this book], an expanded translation of his masterful 1995 Hebrew book on the subject. Its publication should change the way English-speaking Jews think about what a yeshiva is and ought to be.'
Yoel Finkelman, Jewish Ideas Daily

'Those with an interest in modern Talmudic study will find the book, as I did, a spellbinding overview of the development of the modern yeshiva. Stampfer’s impeccable research changes the way one will look at the reasons for the creation of and the development of these yeshivas in Lithuania. The book is like a riveting documentary, full of fascinating insights.'
Ben Rothke, The Times of Israel

Author Information

Shaul Stampfer is Rabbi Edward Sandrow Professor of Soviet and East European Jewry and chairman of the Department of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has also taught at Harvard University and elsewhere, including in Moscow (1989–91), where he helped establish the Jewish University. Through his many published articles he has made a seminal contribution to the Jewish social history of eastern Europe, opening up new areas of research in the history of Jewish education, Jewish demography and family life, community organization and leadership, and related topics.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
List of Tables14
Note on Transliteration and Conventions Used in the Text16
1. Origins and Early Years of the Volozhin Yeshiva32
1. R. Hayim of Volozhin32
2. R. Hayim’s Motives for Founding the Volozhin Yeshiva38
3. The Choice of Location47
4. Funding the Yeshiva: Methods and Consequences48
5. The Framework of Study53
6. The Students56
7. The Curriculum59
8. The Role of the Rosh Yeshivah60
9. Volozhin as a Model for Other Yeshivas62
2. The Volozhin Yeshiva in the Second Generation65
1. R. Yitshak as Rosh Yeshivah65
2. Change and Continuity in the Yeshiva under R. Yitshak70
3. The Role of the Volozhin Yeshiva in Lithuanian Jewish Society74
4. R. Yitshak’s Successor: R. Eliezer Yitshak Fried76
5. R. Naftali Berlin and the Question of Leadership83
6. The Dispute between R. Naftali Berlin and R. Yehoshua Heshel Levin over the Leadership of the Yeshiva85
7. The Dispute between R. Naftali Berlin and R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik over the Leadership of the Yeshiva92
8. The Restoration of Tranquillity95
3. Study at Volozhin in the Time of R. Naftali Berlin101
1. The Yeshiva as a Place of Study102
2. Lessons and the Framework of Studies103
3. The Staff of the Yeshiva and their Functions106
4. The Perceived Functions of the Yeshiva and their Consequences109
4. The Organization and Operation of the Yeshiva114
1. Supervision and the Assessment of Progress114
2. The Shiur117
3. The Importance of the New Study Method122
4. Staff–Student Relationships: Financial Support and Discipline126
5. The Student Body133
1. The Decision to Study at Volozhin133
2. The Admission Procedure134
3. Adapting to Yeshiva Life138
4. Students’ Geographical Origins140
5. Finding One’s Place at the Yeshiva: Integration and Differentiation144
6. Student Activities, Student Solidarity, and Staff Reactions147
7. The Individual Student and the Teaching Staff153
8. The Relationship between the Students and the Local Community157
6. Life at the Volozhin Yeshiva160
1. The Daily Routine160
2. Study Routine161
3. The Annual Cycle164
4. Sabbaths and Festivals165
5. Extra-Curricular Activities172
6. The Haskalah at the Yeshiva173
7. The Yeshiva’s Stand on Secular Knowledge177
8. Prohibited Leisure Pursuits182
7. The Last Years of the Volozhin Yeshiva184
1. Welfare and Aid Societies184
2. Zionist Societies186
3. Other Societies194
4. Student Newspapers195
5. Involvement in Political Issues197
6. The Financial Situation of the Yeshiva197
8. The Closure of the Volozhin Yeshiva207
1. The Yeshiva and the Authorities208
2. Secular Studies at the Yeshiva216
3. The Choice of R. Berlin’s Successor226
4. The Dispute Over the Succession233
5. Student Involvement in the Dispute238
6. The Authorities’ Reaction to R. Hayim Berlin’s Appointment241
7. The Decision to Close the Yeshiva244
8. The Closure of the Yeshiva247
APPENDIX TO PART I Documents from the Tsarist Archives about the Volozhin Yeshiva252
9. The Slobodka Yeshiva272
1. The Musar Movement273
2. R. Yisra’el Salanter278
3. The Founding and Character of the Slobodka Yeshiva281
4. The Students287
5. Talmud Study in the Musar Yeshiva291
6. Institutional Growth295
7. Disputes and Conflicts296
10. The Telz Yeshiva303
1. The Establishment of the Telz Yeshiva303
2. R. Eliezer Gordon307
3. The Aims of the Yeshiva311
4. Study Arrangements320
5. The Admission Procedure324
6. Living Arrangements326
7. Sources of Conflict328
8. Factors Leading to the Disturbances at the Yeshiva340
9. R. Gordon’s Attitude to the Haskalah and to Zionism345
10. R. Gordon’s Confrontation with the Social Crisis349
11. The Kolel Perushim of Kovno and the Institution of the Kolel354
1. The Founding and Early History of the Kolel Perushim354
2. How the Kolel Operated363
3. Opposition and Conflict370
4. The Brodsky Kolel375
Gazetteer of Place Names in Central and Eastern Europe388