May 23, 2014

The Yeshiva Myth

According to the "yeshiva world," the "Yeshiva Movement," as they call it, is attributed to the Gra because his talmid, R' Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821) started a yeshiva. His yeshiva is considered the " Mother of All Yeshivos," as though yeshivos didn't exist before he started his own. This is untrue of course, as anybody who has read any historical accounts knows, and I'm not talking about the yeshivos in Sura and Pumbedisa in Gemara times or the yeshiva of Shem and Ayver ...

But this is part of the Litvish worldview, that they invented yeshivos and modern day learning, with the proper "derech," and all.

The Maharal (1520-1609) had a yeshiva.

Pinsk had a yeshiva. R' Shimon, a colleague of the renowned Maharshal (1510-1574), headed this yeshiva. After his passing, his son R' Refael succeeded him. When R' Moshe Yaffe became rav of Pinsk, he was also appointed head of the yeshiva."

There were yeshivos in Ostrohe, Brisk, Slutzk, Minsk, Vilna, Cracow, and Prague. [yes, I know some of these are Lithuanian towns. The point is they existed before the Volozhiner yeshiva.]
There were renowned yeshivos in Lublin in the time of the Maharsha (1555-1631) and the Maharam (1558-1616). The latter headed yeshivos in Lublin, Cracow, and Lvov, and had hundreds of talmidim.

The Maharshal (1510-1573) headed a great yeshiva in Lublin.
Likewise, later on, around the time of W.W. II, there were dozens of yeshivos in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Romania that had nothing to do with the Lithuanian yeshivos.
I found it very interesting that outside the yeshiva in Pressburg, the yeshiva of Pupa was the most organized and biggest yeshiva in all of Europe.

When the Nazis closed the yeshivos in Czechoslovakia, there was an overflow of boys on a waiting list for this yeshiva. In 1942 the yeshiva was already severely overcrowded; about 350 students were occupying rooms intended for 250. These were students 18 and older. (taken from an account of someone who learned there in 1942)

I grew up hearing about the Mir, Slobodka, Kelm, Baranovitch, and Radin but Pupa? Don't recall that it was even mentioned ...

I don't see how the structure and curriculum of the yeshiva of Volozhin, were unique. How did it differ from any of the yeshivos mentioned above? Why does it deserve the title "Mother of All Yeshivos?"

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