by Shmuel Natanowitz
Translated by Selwyn Rose
The glory and genius of the town of Telšiai lay in its Yeshiva. Thanks to its Yeshiva the town was wellknown among the entire Diaspora of the Jewish world. Hundreds of Rabbis and political figures in Europe, America and South Africa received their training and subsequent ordination in Telšiai's Yeshiva. For the sixtysix years of its existence thousands of young Lithuanians who were among the elite and respected members of their respective towns received their education, in which they excelled, in the Telšiai Yeshiva.
The Yeshiva was founded in 1875. The Yeshiva's first group was established by Rabbi NatanTzvi Finkel. It was by his efforts that a donation of six hundred Rubles was received from the wellknown benefactor Ovadia Lechtmann of Berlin, for the creation of a Yeshiva in Telšiai. The sole idea of the founders, from its inception, was the establishment of a Torahoriented educational foundation for the young people from the local community.
The development of the Yeshiva received a significant boost with the installation in 1882 of Rabbi Eliezer Gordon (18401910) as ‘Head of Yeshiva’. In 1882 Rabbi A. Gordon was installed as the town Rabbi and in 1884 as ‘Head of Yeshiva’ in Telšiai by Rabbi Yisroel Salanter. From then on the Yeshiva expanded and prospered. Rabbi E. Gordon was born in the village of Chernyany (Čarniany) in the county of Vilna, ordained in Kovno and was one of the brightest students of Rabbi the Gaon Yisroel Salanter in his Kovno Yeshiva. Rabbi E. Gordon was the possessor of an extremely sharpwitted mind, with straightforward common sense and remarkably rapid perception and broadlybased comprehension. While he was still a young man, around twentyfour, he was already giving lessons in Gemara to scholars in the Neviazher Kloiz in Kovno. Rabbi the Gaon, Yisroel Salanter, had a high regard for his talents and appointed him ‘Head of Yeshiva’.
The activities of Rabbi Eliezer Gordon began in earnest during the period of the Enlightenment in Eastern Europe. The Enlightenment movement that had its birth in Germany and Austria, arrived at the end of the 19th Century in Russia and particularly Lithuania. Almost all the great Hebrew writers of the time in the Enlightenment stream, like Adam HaCohen, Michael Joseph Levinson, (Avraham) Mapu, Yehuda Leib Gordon, Smolenskin and Lillienblum were active in Lithuania. It was through their influence that the Jewish youth in the Yeshivot were caught up in a thirsting for the Enlightenment movement. The fiery attacks on the religious establishment by the likes of Yehuda Leib Gordon, Lillienblum and Smolenskin and the scorn poured on the Yeshiva students shamed the Yeshiva establishment in the eyes of the younger generation. The situation deteriorated to the point that the soubriquet Yeshiva Bocher became an embarrassment. As a result of the ridicule some of the best brains of the young generation began to leave the Yeshivot.
Rabbi, the Gaon, Yisroel Salanter, who saw the danger facing Torahstudy early, sought advice and searched for ways of stopping the process. He decided that the best thing to do was to establish new Yeshivot led by fresh young and gifted scholars with Torah knowledge and an awareness of the wider world, capable of introducing changes in the system of study in the Yeshivot and with their vigor to attract anew young people to the study of Torah.
Rabbi, the Gaon, Eliezer Gordon was numbered among the generation's great ardent and knowledgeable; his devotion to the Torah was so great that his studies continued day and night. His introduction of fresh nuances to the Torah astounded his listeners. His entire sermon was effervescent and aflame with his defence of Torah, to the extent that he would lose himself in his ecstasy. It was as if the entire universe ceased to exist for him and all thought of self and soul became as one with his interpretations. (Extract of a monograph on Rabbi Eliezer Gordon by Rabbi Ze'ev Arieh Rabiner). He was remarkable in his love for his students; he was not only their guide and educator but also a compassionate fatherfigure. His personality was most attractive. His appearance and mien were noble, his dress more that of an aristocrat than a Rabbi, his manners and courtesy extraordinary. With his people in the Yeshiva his attitude and relationship was fatherly. He was concerned that his students were adequately clothed and shod and was ready to walk through fire and water when one of his Yeshiva students was ill. (From Wołożyn to Jerusalem by Rabbi M. Berlin).
Rabbi Eliezer introduced many changes in the organization of the Yeshiva: He divided his students into five classes depending on their knowledge and progress. For the students of the fifth grade he was himself the expounder of Torah and religion. For the other classes he delegated heads of Yeshivot from among the most illustrious of the generation. In 1884 he installed his soninlaw Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch as ‘Head of Yeshiva’ (18491930) and in 1885 Rabbi Shimon Shkop (18431940). Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch was born in 1849 to a famous family of Rabbis in the town of Raseiniai (Rassein) and studied in Kelmė and Wołożyn.
With the appointment of Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch as ‘Head of Yeshiva’ many changes took place. He was not only a Torah great but also a talented educator and organizer. Apart from his lecturessermons he assisted Rabbi Eliezer in administrating the Yeshiva. As a student of ShitatHaMussar since the days of his youth, he tried assiduously to instill into the minds of the students an ambition for spiritual completion in addition to the traditional sophisticated debate. Rabbi Yosef Leib was by nature assertive in his views and once formed his opinions were unshakable. Clearly a great Torah scholar he was innovative in all his ways, in Jewish law and also folklore and legend. Every word from his mouth was carefully considered and measured. In all ways he was exact and consistent; they said of him that one could set one's watch by his comings and goings. He always behaved with the utmost respect even with members of his household; always elegantly dressed, even his family never saw him improperly attired; his family addressed him in the third person; he traveled only accompanied by members of his family or the Yeshiva and used only FirstClass on the railroad. (From an article on Lithuanian Jewry by Rabbi Dov Katz). In his behavior he demonstrated in practice his respect for the Torah thus inspiring a feeling of selfrespect in his Yeshiva students.
His students respected him for his personality, his courageous manner and his and stunning analytical reasoning.
Rabbi Shimon Shkop was born in Turets (Turetz) in 1843, Minsk County. He was famous for his novel ways and established his own school of thought regarding understanding of the Talmud. He analyzed every precept to find the reasoning behind it and from that, extracted the entire explanation. His way of lecturing was artistically and thoughtfully crafted, his precise acuity gently stepped and constructed; the happiest day of my life was the day I had the right and privilege to sit with Rabbi Shimon. (BenZion Dinur A Vanished World). He officiated in the Yeshiva for eighteen years. In 1903 he left and was installed as the Rabbi of Malech (Maltsh, Moltsh), in place of his father.
In 1904 his place was taken by Rabbi Haim Rabinowitz (18601931). He was born in Luknik and officiated in the Telz Yeshiva for twentyseven years until his death in Kovno in 1931.
He acquired a name for his perceptiveness and simplicity. He created a new style of study called Rabbi Haim's Way. He excelled in his wonderful sermons on Jewish Law. In every debate and investigation he would place before his students both sides of the problem thus compelling them to analyze the question by reasoning and in depth. He was among the great builders of the spiritual structure known to the world as ‘The Telz Yeshiva’ (Rabbi M. Gifter: Torah Institutions in Europe). He was modest in manner and much liked by his students.
At first the accommodation for the Yeshiva was the large StudyHouse. In 1895 a building was erected for the Yeshiva. In 1909 a fire broke out and most of the homes in the town were consumed among them the Yeshiva. In that selfsame year it fell to Rabbi, the Gaon Eliezer, after much effort, to have another building erected that equaled its predecessor in size and in splendor. The building is located on Iźdo Street. A second building was erected in the courtyard of the Yeshiva as living quarters for the Rabbi. A tall fence surrounded the entire lot.
After the Wołożyn Yeshiva was closed in 1891 the Telz Yeshiva was considered one of the great Yeshivot and many students made their way there from Poland and Russia. In 1895 there were three hundred men (according to the registry of Rabbi S. Shkop).
As stated above, during Rabbi Eliezer's time the students were divided into five classes. The lecturers of the first three classes were heads of Yeshivot. Depending on the topic they were: Lectures on Torah and ShiureiDa'at. The ‘Head of Yeshiva’ would also prepare general lectures for all the students. In all the lectures on the Torah the students had full academic freedom: they would debate and argue with the lecturer. Generally in every lecture on the Torah arguments would erupt between the lecturer and the students and between the students and themselves. The arguments would continue after the lecture had ended.
During the lectures on ShiureiDa'at there were no arguments or debates. During these lectures they would analyze the principles of the Torah, the faith and the ethics.
The Yeshiva conducted a style of examination called Conversations on Torah. For such a purpose the student would be invited to the home of the Head of the Yeshiva and there the conversation would take place.
The year's study was divided into two semesters: from Rosh Hashanah to Pesach and from Pesach to Rosh Hashanah. Each time the Yeshiva students would learn one of the Tractates from the Mishnah. From their final lectures the senior students would pick further Tractates of their own choosing. The lecture would always relate to the topic being studied at that time.
Apart from studying Gemara the students also studied the Rishonim and Acharonim ‘First and Latter’ leading exponents of Jewish law, Kzot Hachoshen and other learned works.
It was said that in the Telz Yeshiva they knew the Gemara from A to Z.
The daily agenda was:
08:00 Shachrit the Morning Prayer until 10:00 Break for breakfast.
10:30 14:00 First ‘order’ Mincha the afternoon prayer midday for lunch
16:00 21:30 Second ‘order’, break.
During the study hours of Mussar (see above and footnote 11), each student chooses a book on Mussar and studies it and there are some students who become emotionally involved and study vocally. The acceptable books on Mussar were: The Gates of Repentance by Rabbi Yonah Gerundi, Orchot Tzadikim Anonymous and others.
Outside of the fixed hours there were those students who chose to continue studying until late in the night and even all night long. In the morning with sunrise they would also learn. One could say the voice of the Torah was never stilled, day or night.
The style of management of the study of Mussar in the Yeshiva provoked severe and argumentative debate between the student body and the management. The Mussar movement was created by Rabbi Yisroel Salanter (18831910). Rabbi Yisroel studied in the Vilna Yeshiva and moved to Kovno and there he founded a Yeshiva (1849) that became the center of the Mussar Movement. He saw in the Movement a shield against the Enlightenment. In his perception, a man had to devote his time not only to studying Torah but also studying the literature on Mussar as obligatory to Gd and Man. In addition to obeying all the Commandments, it was given to Man to understand and improve himself Tikkun Midot. He traveled much and his sermons would cause spiritual exhilaration and improvement. He confronted his students with his philosophy and did much to return assimilated youth in Germany. He used to say that it was beholden of a man to concern himself with his own spiritual needs and with the material needs and the fear of Heaven of all of us. They tell of him, that during the preparation of the Pesach matzoth he became sick and was unable to take part in the baking; he sent his students. His students asked him what, in particular, must they take notice of and he replied: Don't place under pressure the woman kneading the dough; she is a widow and in need of sympathy and understanding.
Mussar under him, in time became a principle although the students of the Yeshiva of Telz tended not to agree with it and the obligation to study it met with much resistance. Their anger aroused the administration into inviting fifteen senior students from the Słobódka Yeshiva with the idea of influencing the students both by their superior knowledge of Mussar and also by their general behavior and attitude. The disruption had its beginning with the publication of a pamphlet against the visitors from Słobódka and disturbances during lessons. Intimation that a revolt was starting was the throwing of a stone that smashed one of the windows. The uproar didn't cease even in the presence of the Gaon Rabbi Eliezer, who twice fainted from the stress. Eventually the Yeshiva was closed, the students moved to the StudyHouse (1899). From among the leading instigators of the revolt were Yosef Kahaneman, later the founder of the Ponevezh Yeshiva and Avraham Herzfeld.
According to the evidence of Professor BenZion Dinur (in his book A Vanished World), when the two, Yosef Kahaneman and Avraham Herzfeld appeared before the ‘Head of Yeshiva’, Rabbi Eliezer Gordon in his home in the matter of the revolt, he asked them: What's news? and they replied; We are studying nonstop and hungry for bread. The Rabbi paled and going into the adjoining room returned with twentyfive Rubles that he handed to them.
A few days later the Yeshiva reopened. The leaders of the rebellion were expelled from the Yeshiva. Regarding compulsory studies of the Mussar there were a few changes (the students were no longer under compulsion). Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch left the Yeshiva and was installed as Rabbi of Varniai (Vorne) and later Šeduva (Shadeve). He was, in his time the main supporter of Mussar study and in favor of rigorous discipline. The disturbances were directed against the somewhat extremist disciplinary measures. For every late arrival at prayers there were punishments even fines, when money was deducted from distributions. Every morning the Yeshiva beadle, Rabbi Meir Kantor would go to the rooms of the students, rap on the windows to wake them for morning prayers warning them they would get a zero grade if they were late. He would circle the names of the latecomers.
The Yeshiva occupied one large onestoried building (about 800 square meters). There was a tall fence surrounding the building and its yard and in the yard was built the home of the Rabbi (Rabbi Eliezer). In the entrance to the building on one side was the lecturehall and on the other the library. Facing was the main study hall of the Yeshiva, an expansive room with three rows of benches with stands positioned to hold the books of each student. Along the eastern wall was the Holy Ark and in the center the dais for reading the Torah.
All the students learned together in the hall either alone or together with a friend or colleague. Study was carried out vocally. During the studies the students argued among themselves regarding any particular topic under discussion. For an outsider the noise was deafening but the youngsters studying were undisturbed by it. The presence of about threehundred young people in the Yeshiva in one place presented an atmosphere of brotherhood, exultation and gaiety. They learned in happiness and enjoyed the fierce debates and exploration of the Gemara. Many who left the Yeshiva would recall nostalgically and with reverence their years of study in the Yeshiva.
Acceptance into the Yeshiva was difficult, especially because of the financial constraints of the Yeshiva but also because of the great flow of candidates after the closure of the Wołożyn Yeshiva (1891). It was therefore essential for a candidate to acquire a recommendatory letter from a town's rabbi together with detailed personal explanatory curriculum vitae. Only after a written invitation from the Yeshiva management was a candidate accepted into the Yeshiva. The number of candidates accepted depended in part on the participation of the municipality in the upkeep of the Yeshiva. The conditions of acceptance into the Telz Yeshiva were published in the newspapers ‘HaMelitz’ and ‘HaTzfira’.
The Telz Yeshiva during the Tsarist regime was illegal because the teaching staff was not of sufficiently high academic standard to meet the demands of the authorities, neither were the required general academic subjects being taught. The danger of closure was constant. Apart from that there was the constant threat of induction into the military hovering over the students (six years).
That situation was a constant headache for the Yeshiva administration. Because of an informer to the government in Kovno, a high ranking official arrived to examine the situation. Studies at that time were taking place in the StudyHouse and it was during the afternoon prayer. The students explained to the official that the Rabbi was in the middle of his prayers and it was absolutely impossible for him to be disturbed and that the inspector must wait. In the meantime the students dispersed and the matter collapsed.
During Rabbi Eliezer Gordon's time a monograph written about him by the Rabbi Ze'ev Dinur that comments on another event, when a high County official by the name of Popov a known antiSemite arrived to visit the Yeshiva and demanded that the ‘Head of Yeshiva’ dismiss the students and if he didn't obey he will banish the Rabbi from the town as well. Rabbi Eliezer Gordon stood his ground and answered aggressively that he was convinced that the official himself would be transferred out of town before he, the Rabbi, would. And so it was. The incident made a great impression on the authorities.
Rabbi Eliezer knew the State language and its laws better than most lawyers and was accepted in many government circles and it was by his influence that all the Yeshiva students were released from the obligation of military service.
In 1910 Rabbi Eliezer Gordon traveled to England to raise money for the Yeshiva that had not yet recovered from the fire and was in a difficult financial situation. He was met with cruel disappointments there. He fell ill and died from a heart attack and was laid to his eternal rest there in London.
After his death his soninlaw Rabbi Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch, presently serving as Rabbi of Šeduva was called to fill his place as Rabbi and ‘Head of Yeshiva’.
As time passed there was a change in the type of student attending the Telz Yeshiva. First of all, the new type of student was one who was aware of his own worth and believed in the rightness of his opinions. The students were no longer …sad souls living without aim and without aging…and here the light in his eyes died and his face paled…. (‘The Talmud Student' H.N. Bialik).
The Yeshiva students were young and full of energy and the zest of life. Their teachers knew how to instill within them feelings of selfrespect. They demanded not just Torah study and obedience to the Commandments but also to pay attention to their attire and appearance outside the walls of the Yeshiva. In order not to be shamed in the eyes of their fellows the students were forbidden to eat regularly (except on Shabbos). The poet Shimon Frug called it: Don't eat and swallow tears.
Professor BenZion Dinur comments in his memoirs that Rabbi Shimon Shkop, when he saw he had a button missing from his coat, said to him that it is not nice that a Yeshiva student allows his clothing to become dilapidated and asked his wife to sew a button on.
The Yeshiva students were fully aware of all the new winds that were blowing around them. The Zionist Movement and the first Zionist Congress in 1897 awakened much interest in Yeshiva circles. When the news of Herzl's death arrived, gloom and mourning fell upon the Yeshiva and when a year passed since his death the student body requested that the prayer of remembrance El Maleh Rahamim be recited to his memory. The books of the Maskilim also found their devious way to the Yeshiva students. Rabbi Eliezer Gordon's son, Rabbi Shmuel Gordon was himself a Maskil and active Zionist and would occasionally supply reading material to the students. The newspapers ‘HaTzfira’ and ‘HaMelitz’ were popular among the students.
The 1905 Revolution in Tsarist Russia together with the pogroms in Kishinev and other towns also caused ferment among the students. The Socialist Movement, the political freedom and the political territorial solution to the Jewish Question awakened arguments from the student body. Some of them were caught up in the new ideas; there were also those who took part in illegal socialist organizations and left the Yeshiva.
The Yeshiva administration kept a close eye on the students, increasing the studies on Mussar and Shiurei Da'at and expelling all suspicious elements from the Yeshiva. In addition to all that, mobilization to the army increased considerably after the failure of the Revolution and influenced the numbers of dropouts in the last years before the First World War.
The Yeshiva after the First World War
With the outbreak of war in 1914 nearly all the student body dispersed. Only a few local veterans remained. The Telz Yeshiva was the only one that remained in its place. In spite of all the difficulties the Yeshiva managed to hold on.
After Lithuania's Declaration of Independence in 1918 the Yeshiva quickly resurrected itself. The stream of candidates increased. Within a very few years the Yeshiva had fully recovered its previous standard of excellence both in quantity and quality. From all the Heads of Yeshiva there remained just Rabbi Bloch and Haim Rabinowitz.
The Yeshiva was recognized officially in the State of Lithuania as an institution of advanced Talmudic studies, the authorities first demanding that the curriculum include normal academic subjects. Rabbi Josef Leib Bloch was not deterred by that and the Mechina was founded in 1920. The Yeshiva students were excused from military service like the students of all advanced academic institutions and received all the benefits due to students of recognized higher institutions. As stated, the Mechina was founded in 1920. There were four classes. All pupils who completed four years of elementary school entered the Mechina and after four years of study were admitted into the Yeshiva. Thus was created in Telšiai a fixed traditional educational program that influenced the spiritual life of the town. The first head teacher was Rabbi Mordecai Rabinowitz and after him Rabbi Pinchas Halpern. Until 1933 the pupils in the Mechina learned in the Yeshiva building when a new building was constructed for it.
In 1929 a separate building was added as residence and study quarters for the Rabbis (a Kollel) in which dwelt twelve young men ordained for the Rabbanut. The manager was Rabbi M. Katz.
In 1926 the son of Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch, Rabbi Zalman Bloch (18861941) was installed as Controller and afterwards as spiritual manager. In 1929 Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch (18941955) the son of Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch was installed as ‘Head of Yeshiva’. The selection didn't meet with the approval of the student body and brought about protests, mainly because of his youth. Rabbi A.M. Bloch was a gentle mannered soul with much energy. He was active in the administration of the Yeshiva and other educational establishments. He was among the founders of the school at the time of the German conquest in 1918.
After the First World War the curriculum of the Yeshiva remained as it was under the leadership of Rabbi Eliezer. After his death the personal involvement of the ‘Head of Yeshiva’ in the daily needs of the students was reduced.
During the leadership of Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch the administration of the Yeshiva divided the various tasks of the Yeshiva and the responsibility of dealing with the needs of the students was passed to various committees formed from the students themselves.
In 1930 (7th Heshvan 5690), Rabbi the Gaon Yosef Leib Bloch passed away at the age of eightyone. While being called to the reading of the Torah he collapsed and took to his bed not rising from it again. He was replaced by his son Rabbi AvrahamYitzhak (18911941), as ‘Head of Yeshiva’ at the age of thirtynine.
Rabbi AvrahamYitzhak was known already in his youth as a prodigy. He was known for his excellence and staunch support of the Torah. He was gifted by nature with a good, sensitive heart. His appearance and manner were always noble and loving. He was noted for his courteous manner to, and his love for all his fellowmen. He had the esteem of his students for his devotion to them.
During his period in office the number of students rose to above fourhundred (including the Mechina). The Yeshiva was famous throughout the world and students hurried there from all the countries of Europe Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and England.
Among the wellknown students from abroad who learned and studied at the Telz
Yeshiva were Dr. Borer, Dr. Eliezer Bloch, Ezriel Carlebach (the wellknown journalist), Wohlgemoth, Dr. Shershefski and others.
During the thirties, under Hitler, the Yeshiva absorbed many refugees from Germany.
In 1931 Rabbi Haim Rabinowitz passed away. He died in the hospital in Kovno. He was replaced by his son Rabbi Ezriel Rabinowitz (19041941). He was a child prodigy. He was known for his strong interpretations of the Torah and his pronouncements on problems brought before him.
During the two world wars the activities of the Yeshiva students outside the walls increased. The students took part in the activities of the Haredi parties ‘Agudat Yisroel’, ‘Young Agudat Yisroel’ and ‘Mizrahi’. They assisted much in distributing local Haredi newspapers: the weekly Yiddish ‘Der Yiddischer Lebben’ and the monthly ‘HaNe'eman’ (both of which were published in Telšiai.
The students of the Yeshiva took part in public arguments and debates that occurred between the different Zionist factions in town. They were especially active during election periods, reading newspapers and investigative journals that came into their hands from the municipal library.
Through all of this there was also undoubtedly an educational influence on the families because of increased visits to one another's homes.
In their spare time they would make excursions and hikes outside of town in the local forests; in the summer they enjoyed swimming in the lake or boating in the evening.
Students from the surrounding villages received some financial support for sustenance, twice during study periods, from the coffers of the Yeshiva. The amount barely helped them to survive because in any case they were severely restricted in their resources. Most of the students receive some help from their parents. In 1928 a kitchen was opened for the students, managed by Rabbi Moshe Aharon Patt. They received a free lunch at the expense of the Yeshiva. The kitchen was operated entirely by the students.
As stated above the needs of the students were managed and organized by selfappointed committees of the students themselves. The student committee was the intermediary negotiating body between the students and the administration. The committee fixed the rate of distribution among the students and was involved in the setting of examinations and was also directly involved in housekeeping matters concerning the Yeshiva. The accommodation committee was involved in setting rentals for the students.
The Health Committee was concerned with the health and health facilities of the students and also with the charity funding; they were connected with doctors and pharmacists who gave free service and attention; the aid committee gave loans without interest.
The Editorial Committee: the Torah lessons of the Rabbi Josef Leib Bloch and Rabbi Haim Rabinowitz were printed on a type of ‘Spirograph’ and distributed to the students. The sermons and lectures were recorded by memory by the editors who prepared them for printing.
The Committee for distributing and spreading Torah: during the latter years the students of the Yeshiva organized small Yeshivot in the surrounding villages of Lithuania for youngsters who had completed elementary school.
The TorahAid Committee managed the library of tens of thousands of volumes.
The Economics and Sustenance of the Yeshiva
The only source of income of the Yeshiva for its maintenance, upkeep and running expenses came from the donations of Jews and Jewish centers all over.
In the period before the First World War the main support came from the Jewish communities of Russia. During the latter years of his life Rabbi, the Gaon Eliezer Gordon tried to obtain donations from outside Russia. In order to send delegates on these journeys to collect money for the Yeshiva it was necessary to obtain the agreement of three of the greatest Rabbis whose names would be publicized and they, in their turn would come to the Yeshiva and examine the situation.
After the First World War the situation changed. The economic depression after the war and the Russian Revolution drastically reduced the donations from Europe. Most of the donations began to arrive from the United States. The delegates of the Yeshivot went to America to collect the donations. The first delegates to go there from the Telz Yeshiva in 1926 were Rabbi Mordecai Katz, Rabbi A.M. Bloch, Rabbi Avner Okliansky, Rabbi Avraham Mordecai Wessler(?) and others. The Jews of Lithuania also contributed to the maintenance of the Yeshiva. In 1940 a delegation once more set out for America: Rabbi Mordecai Katz and Rabbi EliyahuMeir Bloch. They reached America by way of Siberia and Japan. It was the last delegation.
Isolated from their families and loved ones towards the end of the war, they bore ‘Job's evil tidings’ of the loss of their families with fortitude, but their agony failed to break their spirit and they overcame their grief and the great tragedy and founded the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland, U.S.A.
On the 23rd August 1939 the Soviets signed an agreement with Nazi Germany (the RibbentropMolotov Agreement) on the division of Poland and the conquest of the Baltic States, Bukowina and Bessarabia by Russia. In the summer of 1940 Russia conquered the three Baltic states among them Lithuania.
The Russians did nothing about the Yeshiva in the first few months, the lessons and studies in the Mechina and Yeshiva continued as usual. At the time there were altogether threehundred and eighty students in the Yeshiva, the Mechina and the Kollel.
After three months the local authorities demanded that the Yeshiva be evacuated and it was converted into a hospital. The students moved their activities to the Mechina building and then, it too was taken and converted into a school for training artisans. The students then moved to the Great StudyHouse and after that they dispersed into groups in four surrounding towns: Tryškiai (Trishik), Šiluva (Shidleve), Tauragė (Tovrik) and Vilkija (Vilki). All the branches were still under the control of the ‘Head of Yeshiva’ Rabbi Yitzhak Bloch.
From innocence and a misplaced sense of security, the management believed it was still possible for the Yeshiva to continue to exist in Soviet Russia and sought temporary solutions instead of taking the fateful decision: to encourage the students to save themselves each according to his wishes until the rage passes: It is time for thee, O, Lord, to work. At the outbreak of war only sixteen of the students managed to escape from the town and get to Russia. They established themselves in a settlement near Kirov in Russia.
They studied at night and worked during the day. Eight of them died from hunger and illness. The remainder survived and two of them arrived in Palestine.
This was the unfolding history of the Telz Yeshiva that is no more.
On 20th Tammuz 1941 all our dearest ones among them ‘Head of Yeshiva’ Rabbi AvrahamYitzhak Bloch and all the students of the Yeshiva were taken to the forest and all of them cruelly murdered by their Lithuanian executioners.
Thus ends the unfolding of the scroll of the Holy Telz Yeshiva of all its geniuses and students.
May it be His will that these lines will be added to the memorial of the Telz Yeshiva martyrs, my teachers and my friends among whom I shared ten years of my life.
The Yeshiva in Cleveland Ohio, U.S.A.
In 1940, on 1st Elul Rabbi Mordecai Katz (18941965) and Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch (18941955) left their home town of Telz in order to collect donations and discuss the possibilities of transferring the Yeshiva to another country. On 8th of Heshvan they arrived in America. Together with them was a group of ten students, survivors who had arrived by way of Siberia, Japan and Australia.
On the annual memorial day of the passing of Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch on 10th October 1941 the Yeshiva was reopened in Cleveland Ohio. The Rabbis A.M. Bloch and M. Katz invested all their strength in founding and establishing the Yeshiva. In 1944 the Yeshiva moved to a new building and students arrived not only from America but also from Europe. Adjoining the Yeshiva a Mechina of three departments was founded.
In 1963 a Hebrew school and a crêche were opened. On 8th Elul a men's Kollel was opened and in 1969 a teachers college.
Rabbi Haim Mordecai Katz who was Head of Yeshiva passed away in 1965. Rabbi EliyahuMeir Bloch passed away in 1955.
By ADMOR HaGaon
Maran Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch (may his righteousness be remembered for a blessing)
Father of the Rabbinical Court and Head of Yeshiva
Published by NETZACH TelAviv
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