Thursday, October 06, 2005

Book on Yeshivot

Shaul Stampfer has republished a revised and expanded edition of his HaYeshiva haLita'ot b'Hitavato. The book which is devoted to three yeshivot, Volozhin, Slobodka, and Telz, as well as the Kovno kollel. The book tracks the Volozhin yeshiva from its inception to its closure and the Slobodka and Telz yeshivot until the turn of the twenteenth century.

This book was originally Stampfer's dissertation, Shlosh Yeshivot Litayot b'Meah haTisha Asarah (1981) and was published in book format in 1995. This edition includes numerous updates as well as much new information, especially regarding the closure of Volozhin. Stampfer now argues, based upon new Russian governmental documents, which he includes Hebrew translation of, that the Yeshiva was closed due to the its own internal upheaval. This internal strife was caused by R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv) attempting to install his son as Rosh haYeshiva. At Telz a similar fight broke out also regarding succession, as well as in Volozhin itself, on two separate occasion. However, the last fight caused such a rapid decline in the internal going ons of the Yeshiva, the government had it shut. The closure did not have to do with the haskala, the Russian government wanting to meddle into Jewish education or any of the other reasons offered. Instead, as has been borne out throughout Jewish history, the Jews brought it upon themselves. For example, the burning of the Talmud in France after the controversy regarding Rambam's writings as well as the banning of the Talmud in the 16th century were caused or at least the catalyst was internal fighting amongst the Jews.

The book also debunks other theories regarding the opening of Volozhin. Some claim the R. Hayyim Volozhin ask R. Eliyahu of Vilna (Gra) and received his blessing to open the what was the first Yeshiva. Stampfer, however, questions this and notes that in the initial Kol Koreh R. Hayyim Volozhin makes no mention of this, something that would have bolstered his fundraising efforts. Second, Stampfer also proves that the opening of Volozhin was not in response to the Hassidic movement.

Aside from the above, the book is full of first hand accounts of the Yeshivot. These include, Volozhin started praying in the morning at 9 am and the prayers only ran 15-20 minutes. Stampfer qualifies this by noting haNetz haHama in Vilna (just north west of Volozhin) during the winter is 9:17 and also notes the 15-20 minutes is probably slightly exaggerated. Telz yeshiva was the first to institute grade levels in a yeshiva. Also, according to Simcha Assaf's account, R. Lazer Gorden encouraged him to learn Russian and had his son teach Assaf in his own home. Stampfer includes much about the influence of Zionism and the haskalah on the yeshivot. All you ever wanted to know about all the infighting in the Yeshivot. The first to move to establish a kollel was R. Yitzhak Ya'akov Reines, who was highly controversial with the establishment of his yeshiva in Lida - arguably a precursor to Yeshiva University. These are only a tiny portion of the terrrific nuggets that can be found in this book.

I purchased this book at Beigeleisen in Boro Park (718-436-1165)

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