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Sources for the History
of the Etz Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin

Writings on the Etz Hayim Yeshiva and its Heads

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Ovsi, Yehoshua. Rabbi Rafael Shapira: From an anthology of his works “Mamarim Vereshimot”, New York, Published by Ohel, 5706 [1946], p. 136.

Ish-Horowitz, Menachem Mendel HaLevi. Derech Ets Hayim: A portrait from the lives of the students of the Holy Yeshiva Ets Hayim of Volozhin, Krakow, Published by Shmuel Horowitz, 5655 [1895].

The book contains a very wonderful description of the building of the Yeshiva and its students. “This is the gate of G-d – to the great school – Yeshivat Etz Hayim. Even from afar, this splendid building will attract the eye of its viewers with its difference from all the other houses of the city, which are small, wooden houses. It stands alone, and it is like a cedar planted between rows of bushes and brambles, as a rose amongst the thistles. However, when the viewer approaches this sanctuary of G-d, all such simple feelings already dissipate and disappear, and he becomes entwined in a network of other more serious and lofty feelings. His heart is taken captive by the enchantment that overtakes him. A voice is heard from on high. The voice is the voice of Jacob – both a mighty and pleasant voice attracting hearts and capturing souls. The voice of the rejoicing of a crowd blended together – these are the dear sons of Zion, knowledgeable of G-d, who study with great emotion, reading pleasantly and learning with a melody. – – –

“I will also mention the enjoyment and pleasure, the enjoyment of the soul and pleasure of the spirit, that also satiated me at that time as my soul was overcome with emotion, such as during the long winter nights when the Yeshiva students would study for about six consecutive hours, from 4:00 p.m. right after mincha until 10:00 p.m. Many candelabras cast precious light upon the many desks and benches. The Yeshiva hall was filled to the brim with Yeshiva students studying and toiling with their bodies and souls, with might and mind, with the G-dly voices ascending and descending. Many were sitting, many others were standing, and a few were pacing back and forth. No sound could be heard there other than the powerful sound of G-d. The faces and clothing of the students varied, each in accordance with their birthplace.

Volozhin, o! I will remember you once more, and I will also remember your dear children, sons who were learned of G-d, and all their ways of life in holiness and regular life, all the toil of their spirit, efforts of their souls, and their joys. Their work filled them with pleasure, happiness, joy, and gladness, so that they could forget all their tribulations in the present and worries for the future, and life in goodness.”

Asaf, Simcha. Sources for the History of Education in Israel, Tel Aviv, Dvir Publishing, 5705 [1945], volume IV, pp. 167, 169, 172, 173, 174, 176, 177, 180, 244.

Berlin [Bar-Ilan], Meir. From Volozhin to Jerusalem, Yalkut Publishing, 5699 [1939].

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Berlin [Bar-Ilan], Meir. The Rabbi of Israel. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netzi'v), his history, events, and outlook. New York, 5703 [1943].

Dubnow, Shimon, History of the Jewish People. Tel Aviv. Dvir Publishng, 5708 [1948], volume IX (fourth edition), section 23, chapter “Education According to the Government” (1840-1944), pp 123-128.

David of Novhorodok. Galia Masechet. Vilna, Published by Reb Menachem the son of Reb Baruch of blessed memory, and Rabbi Simcha Zisel the son of Reb Nachum of blessed memory, 5644 [1884], section II, pp. 65-66.

And these are the name of the Jews of Volozhin who were pre-subscribers to the book “Galia Masechet.”:

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda the son of Rabbi Yaakov Berlin (the Netzi'v)
Reb Shmuel the son of Rabbi Yaakov Avraham Landau
Reb David Teitelbaum the son of Reb Nachum from Z'r
Reb Yisrael Shmuel the son of Reb Avraham
Reb Yisrael Shilem the son of Reb Eliahu HaLevi
Reb Shmuel the son of Reb Yehuda Leib Freinkel from Hlybokaye
Reb Tzvi Hirsch Yaakov the son of Reb M. Ch'r Yitzchak Chr'f
Reb Eliezer the son of Rabbi Sh. Zalman
Reb Yehuda Meir the son of Reb Shlomo from Denberg.

Hakohen, Asher. Orchot Chaim. Known as Keter Rosh, through the words of which, I tied a crown upon my head, so that these words will light up in front of my eyes as a constant memorial, that which I have heard from the Admor and Gaon, the rabbi of the entire Diaspora, etc., our Rabbi Hayim, may the memory of the holy be blessed, may he rest in the Garden of Eden, from Volozhin. Various stories that he heard from the mouth of his rabbi, the angel of the L-rd of Hosts, our rabbi Rabbi Eliahu, may the memory of the holy be blessed, of Vilna, and several things that I knew and saw with my eyes. Also that which I heard said about the Admor Rabbi Hayim, may he rest in the Garden of Eden.

His student, who merited to serve Rabbi Hayim, may the memory of the holy be blessed, for three consecutive years, and who imbued upon me of the splendor of his Torah and righteousness, Asher Hakohen, the author of the book “Birchat Rosh” on Tractates Nazir and Brachot, the head of the rabbinical court of Tyktin and Szarszow. These words were written as a memorial here in the holy community of Volozhin, may it be upheld, in the year 5579 [1819]. Edited by me, Rabbi Eliahu Landau, the grandson of the Gr'a, may he be remembered for eternal life, in the holy city of Jerusalem, where there is Torah and greatness together.

Halevi-Epstein, Baruch. Mekor Baruch. Published in four volumes. “Including memories of the author from life in the generation preceding him, of the lives of our rabbis and sages, scribes and preachers, administrators and wealthy people, from the class of Torah and wisdom, and from life of the nation in general.” The fourth volume is dedicated primarily to the Netzi'v. Vilna, 5688 [1928].

Halevi-Lipshitz, Yaakov. Zichron Yaakov. Jewish history from the life of the Jews in Russia and Poland, in three volumes. The first volume was published in Frankfurt am Main in 5684 [1924]. The second volume in Kovno, 5687 [1927]. The third volume in Kovno, 5690 [1930].

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The dispute between Rabbi Yosi Ber Soloveitchik and the Netzi'v is described in the chapter “The Dispute Regarding the Leadership of the Volozhin Yeshiva,” volume II, chapter 13, pp 33-37. In volume III there are chapters dealing with the Yeshiva of Volozhin, with the following titles: “The Yeshiva of Volozhin”; “The Yeshiva of Volozhin after its Closing”; “Musar Haskel”; “General Outlook of the Yeshiva of Volozhin.”

Halevi_Lifschitz, Yaakov. Sefer Toldot Yitzchak; “It is the history of our rabbi, the true great Gaon, the rabbi of the entire Diaspora, the pious and modest, honor to the holiness of the Name and its glory, Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing, for life in the world to come, the head of the rabbinical court of the community of Kovno, may its Rock and Redeemer protect it. Warsaw, published by Reb Meir Yitzchak Halter and Reb Meir Ajzenstat, 5657 [1897].

Zevin, Shlomo Yosef. People and Methodologies; A series of articles about Halachic personalities and their methodologies in Torah. Tel Aviv, Beitan Hasefer Publishers, 5712 [1952]. See pp. 23-37, and about Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik, see pp. 43-70.

Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. Nefesh Hachaim. Vilna, Rabbi Yehuda Leib the son of Eliezer Lipman, 5634 [1874].

Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. Ruach Chaim; Commentary on Pirkei Avot, Vilna, 5619 [1859].

Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. Introduction to Sifra Detzniuta of the Gr'a.

Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin (a legend about Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin). Fun Naenten Avar [From the Recent Past], edited by Moshe Shalot. Year 2 (January-March 1938), issue 1 (V), p. 33.

Yaavet'z, Zeev. History of Israel. Tel Aviv, Achiezer Publishing, 5700 [1940], Section 14, p. 69.

The Yaavet'z writes the following about the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin (page 69): “It seems to be that it was the intention of the Gr'a toward his choicest students – to turn his students away from the hidden aspects [i.e. mystical aspects] of Torah study, and to turn their hearts toward the straightforward explanation only, to study scriptures in a straightforward fashion according to its grammar, without any intermingling of innuendoes and mystery. The Talmud and everything dependent upon it [is also to be studied] in its straightforward fashion according to definitive grammar, without any type of didactics and divisions, and to investigate the sources of all laws in the books of the decisors only in accordance with the sources in the Talmud.

The Yeshiva of Volozhin was prepared to be such a center of refined Torah.

Yashar, Moshe Meir. The Chofetz Chaim. Tel Aviv, Netzach Publishers, 5718 [1958], volume I, p. 223.

Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov. Hakdama Letaklin Chadatin [Introduction to Sharp Shekels]. Commentary on Tractate Shekalim. Minsk, 5572 [1812].

Levin, Yehoshua Heshel. Aliyat Eliahu (Biography of the Gr'a).

Lachover, Fishel. Bialik, his Life and Works. Tel Aviv, 5697 [1937]. First publication, Volume I, chapters: “To Volozhin”, “The Masmid”, “In the Yeshiva”, Between Torah and Haskalah” “The First Poems

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and the First Article”, “To the Bird”, “Upon his Leaving of Volozhin”, pp. 32-58.

Mikikovski-Samonov, Eliahu Aharon. Oholei Aharon. Tel Aviv, 5696 [1936], volume II, pp. 213-221.

Mirsky, Sh. K. Torah Institutions in Europe as they Existed and in their Destruction. New York, 5617 [1957].

Mandelstam, Binyamin (Binyamin the son of Yosef of Mateh Hashkeidim), Chazon Lamoed: “The burden that he bore during his travels in his native country. Includes a report on the state of the Jews of Russia before the light of science and knowledge shone upon them, and they sat as Nazirites below them, very distant from a lofty person.” Vienna, Georg Breg and his partner P. Smolniskin Publishers, 5637 [1877], ovlume II, letters from the city of Vilna (most of that volume describes the journey of Dr. Max Lilienthal in Russia).

Nisenbaum, Yitzchak. Alei Cheldi. Wrsaw, Grafit Publishers, 5689 [1929], pp. 14-21.

Frumkin, Aryeh Leib. History of the Sages of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, 5688-5690 [1928-1930].

Fried, Chaim Hillel. Chut Hameshulash: Questions and responsa from Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, his son-in-law Rabbi Hillel of Horodna, and his grandson Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Fried. Vilna 5640 [1880].

Klausner, Yisrael. History of the Nes Ziona Organization of Volozhin. Jerusalem, published by Mossad Harav Kook, 5714 [1954].

Katzenelbogen, Avraham Tzvi Hirsch. Shaarei Rachamim. The book is “an anthology of pure articles, several laws and modes of behavior, pleasant things regarding Divine service and the topic of blessings and prayers. By our rabbi, Rabbi Eliahu, may the memory of the holy be blessed, of Vilna, and from his students, the pious Gaon the light of the Exile, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, may the memory of the holy be blessed.”

Keshet, Yeshurun. Micha Yosef Berdichevski (Ben-Gurion), his Life and Activities. Jerusalem, 5718 [1958], Chapter II “In the Yeshiva of Volozhin” pp 53-56.

Rabinowitz, Michel. Kobetz Al-Yad. Jerusalem, 5711 [1951], new edition, Book V (15), documents on the history of the Yeshiva of Volozhin, pp. 221-233.

Scharfstein, Tzvi. History of Jewish Education During the Latter Years. New York, Ogen Publishers, 5705 [1945], pp. 324-337.

Schneurson, Fishel. Chaim Growitzer. Tel Aviv, Avraham Tzioni Publishers, 5615 [1955], second edition, Volume IV.

Shapira, Moshe Shmuel. Biography of our rabbi, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. Vilna, 5669 [1909].

Shapira, Moshe Shmuel. Rabbi Moshe Shmuel and his Generation. An anthology of essays and letters (from his estate). New York, 5624 [1964].

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Daily Newspapers

(Edited by Erez – Alexander Cederbaum)

I'sh Yemi'ni. Hamelitz, 5 Tammuz 5639 (June 12, 1879), issue 25.

In the section “Everyday Deeds” the writer tells about the search conducted in the Ets Hayim Yeshiva.

Erez. Hacherev Hamithpechet: Hamelitz, 24 Tammuz 5639 (June 3, 1879), issue 28.

In his article, Erez deals with slanders against the Netzi'v and the search conducted in the Yeshiva. Among other things, he states: “It was too much for us to see that a Jew was so brazen as to forge a letter from a rabbi, who was great among the Jewish people, elderly and occupied in Torah, and to ascribe to him libels that shake up the heart, which could easily have had an effect on such a refined soul as the rabbi who distances himself from worldly affairs, and to cut off the strand of his life, Heaven forbid. The accuser himself informed the ministers of the state to pay attention to that letter. There are not sufficient words to express all the feelings of our spirit regarding such a terrible travesty. In our opinion, it would be appropriate for the rabbi and Gaon to ask the government to tell him the name of this evil person, so that he could be put on trial.”

Erez. The Supernal Yeshiva: Hamelitz 19 Tevet 5641 (December 9, 1880), issue 36.

In this article, Erez deals with the methodology of secular studies in the Yeshiva, and expresses his opinion that this will be to the benefit of the Yeshiva.

Fridenstein, Shimon. Aleh Nidaf: Hamelitz, 23 Adar 5641 (February 10, 1881), issue 6.

The writer gives over memories of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin.

Krupnik, A. And the third statement comes to decide between them: Hamelitz, 23 Adar 5641 (February 10, 1881), issue 6.

The writer proposes a compromise in the matter of the conduct of secular studies in the Yeshiva, and states: “In my opinion, it is right and proper that the G-dly studiers in the Yeshiva – who are excellent, and dedicate their days to the Torah and the law, to become rabbis and teachers of Jewish law in the communities of Israel – shall dedicate at least an hour or two during the study day to the proper study of the vernacular (if they cannot grab more), so that when they conclude their course of studies and go out with their ordination to become leaders of communities and teachers of law among the Jewish people, they will, at least, not be embarrassed to speak in official capacity to our judges and ministers when necessary. Perhaps in days to come, they will be able to wear on their heads two

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crowns together, the crown of a rabbinical teacher and the crown of a government rabbi, so that our enlightened sons do not look upon us as tongue challenged and lacking in personality, and the Divine name will be desecrated by them. In particular, these are among the things that a Torah scholar is obligated to know.”

Erez. Yeshiva Shel Maalah [Supernal Yeshiva]: Hamelitz, 28 Shvat, 5645 (February 1, 1885), issue 9.

Erez takes issue with the Netzi'v in the matter of secular studies in the Yeshiva, and states: “A rabbi such as this, to whom the pathways of Haskala are clear and who knows how to speak and write in the vernacular, will function more effectively in his community in general, and with respect to the youth in particular, to stop them from abandoning their paths. If the up-and-coming rabbis do not learn what is necessary while they are still in Yeshiva, they will no longer be able to devote time to this after they finish their curriculum of study there, when they go out to seek a source of livelihood through a position in one of the cities of Judah.

“We hope that our words that emanate from the heart will go before the rabbi and Gaon, the Yeshiva head, and inspire his heart to fill this lacuna, and to ensure that this rabbinical seminary blend the necessities of faith and life together. Such students will be a blessing for Israel.”

Bunimovich, Menachem Mendel. Masa Volozhin: Hamelitz, 12 Tishrei, 5646 (September 9, 1885), issue 68.

The writer devotes his column to the Yeshiva of Volozhin and opens with the following words: “The city of Volozhin is small, but is known in a lofty manner through its rabbis and sages who have been disseminating Torah in public already for many generations. It has organizations for charitable deeds, and now the members of our community are attempting to found an organization for the settlement of the Land of Israel. However, the primary charity, equal to them all, in which all the communities of Jacob participate – is the Yeshiva that is known throughout our country as “The Great School” and the Etz Hayim Yeshiva, which was founded by the great Gaon, the rabbi of the entire Diaspora, the chief of pastors, our rabbi, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin of blessed memory, the author of the book “Nefesh HaHayim.”

Dinkin, Shlomo David: Hamelitz, 2 Iyar 5646 (April 25, 1886), issue 32.

The writer, who in his time was the Masgiach [religious supervisor of a Yeshiva] for the Netzi'v, announced that lads who do not know how to study a page of Gemara with Tosafot and the halachic decisors will not be accepted to the Yeshiva.

The Netzi'v: Hamelitz, 16 Tammuz 5646 (July 6, 1886), issue 55.

The Netzi'v writes: “Volozhin, Sunday of the Torah portion of Pinchas, 5646 [1886]. On the eve of the Torah portion of Balak, G-d judged our city with fire, which consumed more than half of the city, including the large building in which Torah has been raised up for more than 80 years, the name of which extends from one end of the Jewish world to the other. Due to our great sins, it has been burnt from its foundations to the top, as has the Beis Midrash built

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in splendor at its side, in which the holy flock also crouch – for the holy Yeshiva did not have enough room for them. Also, more than 300 scholars, who lived in Volozhin were swallowed up by G-d on the day of his wrath, when he had no mercy.

Regarding this, I asked those who preserve the faith of Israel in the name of our holy Torah: arise, gird yourselves to restore the holy Yeshiva upon its foundations. Go from city to city wherever the Children of Israel live to ask them to help, for we have no other remnant of our precious things other than this Torah, and there is no limit to discussing this. I have faith in the love of Torah burning in the hearts of the Israelite people, that our words will bear fruit, and the righteousness of the will shine upon them in this world and the World To Come. Here I am, burdened with a great task, crouched under the burden of the Yeshiva.”

Dinkin, Shlomo David: Hamelitz, 12 Tishrei 5647 (September 29, 1886), issue 125.

Dinkin announces that the “Wealthy Israelite Brodski from Kyiv gave 25,000 rubles of his wealth and purchased 60 shares that pay a dividend of 2,000 rubles annually in order to support ten prominent scholars to learn in the Yeshiva of Volozhin and prepare themselves to be rabbis, for no less than three years and no more than five years. Following that, their places will be taken by ten other prominent students.”

Bar-Bei-Rav (Micha Yosef Berdichevski). A Bundle of Letters from Volozhin: Hamelitz, 23 Shvat 5648 (January 24, 1888), issue 19.

In this letter, Berdichevski writes that there are many Yeshiva students who are expert in secular knowledge and various languages, people who strive for that which is above and that which is below, that which is in front and that which is behind. He describes one student for whom philosophy did not remove him from his faith, and he is observant about the word of G-d: “In the midst of the Yeshiva, there was a small, poor lad, sitting and occupying himself with Torah. His bones were worn and his cheeks were wrinkled before their time, but in this weak physical frame was hidden a sublime, lofty soul. In his wrinkled forehead dwelt a sharp, deep intellect, penetrating into the depths.

“This young man already attained expertise in all subjects of teaching, and had he wished to make Torah his profession, he would already be partaking of its fruits in this world. However, he fled from leadership positions, for his soul desired Torah, and he dwelt in its doors day and night. However, for him, Torah was only a part of his ways. He also studied the wonders. He delved into the mystical chariot and Sefer Yetzira [Kabalistic concepts] and also entered into Divine secrets.

“All books of philosophy were fluent in his mouth, and the paths of Greek philosophy were as clear to him as the paths of his city. All sublime research that came to his heart he put on paper, and with great expertise, he edited the fruits of his research, with lofty order and awesome, sublime depth;

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to the point where when we read them, it seemed as if we were reading the books of Shlomo Maimon[1]. Philosophy did not lead him to doubt and despair. It was only the food for his soul, for the chain of faith never left him, and he feared the word of G-d, and was careful in both the easy and the difficult commandments.”

Dement, Yosef Ben-Zion: Hamelitz, 28 Sivan 5648 (May 26, 1888), issue 113.

The writer announces that on My 15, the day that the royal crown was placed upon the head of our master, the Kaiser, may his glory be raised (in the year 1883), all the residents of the city gathered in the Beis Midrash to pray for the wellbeing of the Kaiser and his lofty household. The Gaon and Admor, the head of the Yeshiva, the rabbi Netzi'v, may he live long, delivered a speech on the issues of the day, and proved to the audience that it is a Torah commandment for us to be faithful children to our lofty king, and to love our native land.”

Dement, Yosef Ben-Zion: Hamelitz, 17 Tammuz 5648 (June 14, 1888), issue 128.

The writer describes the visit of the district minister to Volozhin.

Av'sr: Hamelitz, 1 Shvat 5659 (December 22, 1888), issue 281.

The writer announces that the students of the Yeshiva gathered in the Yeshiva, wearing their Sabbath clothes, to give praise and accolades to the Creator for saving the life of the Kaiser, his wife and children from the danger of death.

Bron, Eliezer (from Minsk): Hamelitz, 26 Adar I, 5651 (February 22, 1891), issue 45.

The writer announces: “During recent times, our city has become a fortress, a hill toward which everyone turns, for rabis and high level Gaonim have gathered there for a consultation meeting to improve the material and moral state of the Yeshiva of Volozhin – the sole university in our country set up to raise rabbis. They are also appointing a Yeshiva head, for the elderly rabbi, the Gaon of our generation, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin, may G-d protect and save him, a true lover of Zion who demonstrates his love for Zion through his action, has left his honorable post, his holy guard, and is preparing to set his steps toward our Holy Land, to spend his remaining years there (may G-d prolong them), in Torah, Divine Service, and fear of G-d. He will also be moving his family to the Holy Land. As he leaves his post, the Yeshiva is left as a ship without a captain, and its students are abandoned as sheep without a shepherd.

“Books and letters were sent to all the rabbis of the region to come to our town to deliberate with our rabbi, the Gaon, the rabbi of the city. Thus, the convention was convened. After an extensive deliberation, his son, the Gaon Rabbi Hayim, may he live long, who had been the rabbi and preacher in the capital city of Moscow, was unanimously appointed by all those gathered as the head of the Yeshiva of Volozhin. They will be collecting money from the philanthropists of our nation to sustain the Yeshiva, from which Torah and light emanate, and to fill its empty coffers and discharge its debts from bygone days. It is appropriate that

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the philanthropists of our people in all their places of residence will now arise with a generous heart and an open hand to become a support of this praiseworthy Yeshiva, that disseminates rays of light to our entire region, to support it, help it, and set up its foundations on a firm basis, so that it can stand forever in the honor and glory of our nation.”

Gamzu, Mordecha Ber. Who is at the Head? Hamelitz, 7 Adar II, 5651 (March 5, 1891), issue 54.

The writer deals with the issue of the appointment of Rabbi Hayim Berlin, the son of the Netzi'v, as head of the Yeshiva. He opposed the choice of this rabbi, and said, “According to my small opinion, the appointment of the head of the Yeshiva is not the type of thing made in haste, behind the oven and stove, within a single night. It is clear and known that everything goes after the head, and the honor of the entire Yeshiva is dependent upon his honor. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to appoint a Yeshiva head about whom the entire people would say, this is he; and regarding whom our brethren in the Diaspora, myriads of thousands of Israelites, will know and recognize that he is the select one of all the sages of the time, that they searched and found nobody better than he.”

Ravkash, Yitzchak (from Vilna): Hamelitz, 25 Iyar, 5651 (May 25, 1891), issue 112.

The writer complains that, in his old age, it is as if the Netzi'v had been forgotten, and nobody is helping him ease the burden of debts hovering over the Yeshiva. He writes: “The great rabbi and Gaon, the Netzi'v, the head of the Yeshiva and principal of the Yeshiva of Volozhin in our region, due to old age (may G-d lengthen his years), has stopped presenting his class before the students who cleave to the dust of his feet, and has given his place over to his son, the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Hayim, and to his grandson, the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik. It is the custom of the world that when great people descend from the stage, the people extend a pleasant face and tokens of honors to him, to fulfil their desires and to ease their mindset, so that they will know that their deeds are accepted, and the people follow after them. Since that aforementioned Gaon, who was the right pillar in the leadership of the Yeshiva, and the living spirit in its character for more than 30 years, and he never rested or become silent until he raised to a high and lofty structure, and if we take into account his students and students of his students who drew from his wellsprings, perhaps they will approach the number of students that Rabbi Akiva had – then the hearts of every person will grant honor to this great individual.

“Many rabbis, the Gaonim of our time, poured water upon his hands. Many maskilim learned Torah from his mouth, gaining knowledge and goodness. Also, many wealthy merchants, in whom the Jewish people take pride, cleaved to the dust of his feet. Who is it that has not seen the toil of the rabbi and Gaon, the Netzi'v in his Torah and supervision of his students – for in one glance, he surveyed them and his eyes discerned who was diligent in his studies.

“And behold, after all this, have we recompensed him for all the goodness he gave to us? Aside from his private situation which is poor, and his lot is not fat, his heart and soul will yet weep and lament in silence over him, for the accumulated debts are large, and have burdened the neck of he who extended assistance and distributed

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money to the poor people, from whom Torah emanates.”

Greier, Moshe Hayim: Hamelitz, 7 Tevet, 5652 (February 3, 1892), issue 28.

The writer, who was one of the students of the Yeshiva, includes the announcement of the closing of the Yeshiva in his article: “The Yeshiva of Volozhin has been closed and locked by the government this past Wednesday, January 22. We, the students of the Yeshiva, have been sent back to our native cities. On the morning of January 22, minister of the city of Oshmana [Ashmyany] (the regional capital) and the vice prosecutor from that city came to the Yeshiva along with many policemen. Farmers from the villages were also called on order of the regional minister. The officer of the region demanded of the Netzi'v that he prepare all passports for the Yeshiva students which were guarded by him as of that day. After that, he asked the Yeshiva head whether all the students were currently present in the Yeshiva. When the Yeshiva head responded that nobody was missing, he issued a command that nobody dare to exit until he finished his words. The regional minister read from a book the government order regarding the Yeshiva and its students, as follows: 'From this day and henceforth, the Yeshiva shall be closed in accordance with the laws of the state, because it does not observe the law regarding schools. The students must leave the city within three days. Documents of the Yeshiva students, such as passports and certificates that they have fulfilled their army duty, will not be given to them, but will rather be sent to the offices of the police officials in their places of residence, from where they will be returned to them.'”

Erez. The Yeshiva of Volozhin: Hamelitz, 9 Adar, 5652 (February 25, 1892). Issue 47.

Erez accused the Netzi'v of failing to fulfil the command of the government, and thereby causing the closing of the Yeshiva: “The Netzi'v from the Yeshiva of Volozhin, pardon his honor, did not want to, or due to his conscience, was unable to fulfil these laws. Therefore, the commissioner of the Vilna region ordered to put a stop to the Yeshiva.

Anyone who knows what the times demand realizes that the laws were issued only due to the refusal of the Yeshiva directors to do what was commanded of them from the year 1889 until now. They do not affect at all the foundations of our faith, and are not intermixed with religious studies. They are only to create law and order, and they demand from the Yeshiva head and the students that they be familiar with the language of the state and the subject of arithmetic.”

Regarding the Yeshiva of Volozhin: Hamelitz. 12 Adar 5652 (February 28, 1892), issue 50.

(A continuation of issue 48.)

Regarding the Yeshiva: Hamelitz, 19 Adar 5652 (March 6, 1892). Issue 55

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Berlin, Hayim: Hamelitz, 24 Tammuz 5642 (July 7, 1892), issue 151.

Rabbi Hayim Berlin, who went to Amsterdam to collect donations to ease the burden of debt that hovered over his father the Netzi'v, expressed his hope that the Yeshiva would develop shortly: “And regarding the impossible matter of the closing of the holiness, our hope strengthens us with a strong faith in the merit of the holy Torah, that G-d will help us through the rabbis, the Gaonim of the generation, may G-d protect and keep them, and the gates will yet be raised over their heads, and the eternal doors will be raised up, and a great rabbi, a sage, who knows the language of the state and how to deal with government ministers will raise its splendor and return the crown of Torah to its previous state, in ways that will also be acceptable to the ministers of the state, may their honor be raised. The good G-d will complete this on our behalf for the good, and the merits of the holy father and grandfather, the holy Gaon, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing, shall stand for it, that it will be built upon its foundations, for renown and praise, forever, Selah.”

Zgorodski, Y. Ch. Eulogy for the Netzi'v: Hamelitz, 3 Elul 5653 (August 3, 1893), issue 174.

Luria Mordechai Yona: Hamelitz, 10 Tammuz 5659 (June 6, 1899), issue 125.

The writer deals with the appointment of Rabbi Rafael Shapira as the head of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin. Among the rest, he says, “Bobruisk, the local head of the rabbinical court, Rabbi Rafael Shapira, may he live long, has been accept in honor to the city of Volozhin, the host of Torah and the place of its advancement. For the hearts of the philanthropists of Minsk felt a good thing, that is: to reopen the great educational institution there and to return the crown to its former state. They took the aforementioned Gaon to be the teacher and principal of this institution, to make Torah great and mighty.”

Yehudi. Hosts of Torah: Hamelitz, 28 Cheshvan, 5660 (October 20, 1889), issue 229.

The writer expresses his wonder at the opening of the Yeshiva and begins with the following emotional words: “Behold, I close my eyes, and the voices emanating from the mouths of the studiers arouse old memories within me, precious memories, memories of Volozhin. Those days were days of spiritual pleasure in the full sense of the term. The lover of Torah and love of Zion together captured the heart of our elderly rabbi, and his spirit rested upon the best of the students, who also raised up Nes Tziona” [The Banner Toward Zion]. How pleasant were the hours of study in the Yeshiva after hours of speaking in a meeting, and how pleasant were the hours of a meeting that warmed the hearts after hours of study that sharpened the mind! Then, life was wholesome, developing the intellect and the emotions, the mind and the heart, hopes, and imaginations. How great were they and how lofty! We studied with enthusiasm and debated actively. Life bustled, hummed, and flowed around us in the marketplace, whereas we were living a completely different life. The head was in Babylonia, and the heart in Zion!

“O Volozhin, Volozhin, how pleasant you were to me, and how great is my longing for you! Behold, the gates of your Yeshiva have opened. Torah has returned to its host. Behold the voice of Jacob is heard again “between the pillars”…

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The Netzi'v. A Significant Announcement for the Torah: Hatzefira, 15 Elul 5646 (September 3, 1886). Issue 125.

The Netzi'v announces the renovation of the Yeshiva, and wrote among everything else: “Behold, immediately after the fire, blessed be G-d, we have strengthened and begun to rebuild the ruins of the holy Yeshiva upon its foundations. We further paid attention to enlarge its width and height, and to add splendor and glory to the entire plan of the house with additional expenditures, for it is a sanctuary of Torah and also property of all of Israel. Our hearts are certain that it will be desirable to all Israel, to honor the word of G-d regarding Halacha, and to prepare its place in the best possible fashion, so it will be fitting as the dwelling place of the masses in great crowds.”

Sach, Peretz, Shalom: Hatzefira, 20 Adar 5647 (March 4, 1887), issue 53.

The writer tells about the visit to the school of the regional superintendent and Mrs. Steinberg, the superintendent of Hebrew teachers.

Publication of New Regulations Regarding the Yeshiva: Hatzefira, 19 Adar, 5652 (March 6, 1892), issue 56.

The regulations regarding the Yeshiva that were certified on December 22, 1891 by the minister of education Baron Vielanov are announced in this issue.

The Conclusion of the Publication of the Laws Regarding the Yeshiva: Hatzefira, 21 Adar 5652 (March 8, 1892), issue 57.

Necrology About the Death of the Netzi'v: Hatzefira: 28 Av 5653 (July 29, 1893), issue 169.

The following is written in the necrology: “Before the finalization of this edition, the terrible news reached us that at 4:00 a.m. today, the elder of the Gaonim of Israel, the portent of the generation and the right pillar of the sanctuary of Torah in Russia, our rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, who was the head of the Yeshiva of Volozhin, has been summoned to the Yeshiva on high. He worked great things and wonders, and stood at his post for very many years, to make Torah great and mighty through his books, classes, intercession and efforts. Woe, such a great loss the House of Israel has endured, and who will give us a replacement!

The funeral will take place tomorrow, Friday, the eve of the Sabbath, at 12:00 noon.

Sobolski, Yitzchak: Mourning of an Individual (a eulogy for the Netzi'v): Hatzefira, 4 Elul, 5653 (August 4, 1893), issue 174.

Epstein, Zalman: A Forgotten Jubilee: Hatzefira, 28 Av, 5663 (August 8, 1903), issue 184; 30 Av 5663 (August 10, 1903) issue 185; 2 Elul 5663 (August 11, 1903), issue 186; 4 Elul 5663 (August 13, 1903) issue 188.

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Zalman Epstein points out that the year 5663 [1903] marked 100 years since the founding of the Etz Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin (founded in 5563), and asked: “How can we celebrate the 100-year jubilee of our spiritual birthplace in the field of Judaism? We must publish a memorial book for the occasion of the completion of 100 years of the Yeshiva of Volozhin. The history of the Yeshiva since its founding would be included in this anthology, as well as memories and illustrations from the life of the Yeshiva during different eras; the characters of the Yeshiva heads, their history and pictures; lists of students according to their years of study in the Yeshiva. – – – This anthology will present a full, clear picture of the life of 100 years of the Yeshiva both materially and spiritually. We will leave it as a memento for the coming generation. – – – We, the last ones from the era of the greatness of the Yeshiva of Volozhin in its old style, must produce such a memorial book of this period of original life as hastily as possible, so that that their names and memory will not be wiped out from the community of the nation of G-d.”

Eistenstat, M. Revolution in the Yeshiva: Hatzefira, 1 Sivan 5676 (June 2, 1916), issue 124.

The author describes the revolt that broke out in the Yeshiva on the eve of Shavuot 5645 [1886] because the Netzi'v slapped one of the students.

Hatzofeh (Tel Aviv)
(editor: Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin)

Shin. When the Gates were Locked: Hatzofeh, 5 Tevet, 5702 [1942].

On the 50th Anniversary of the Death of the Netzi'v: Hatzofeh: 26 Av, 5703 [1943].

Cinowitz, M. The Yeshiva of Volozhin During the Era of Rabbi Rafael Shapira: Hatzofeh 4 Nisan 5706 [1946].

Yearbooks, Anthologies, Collections, Monthlies, and Weeklies
(Ordered by the Aleph Beit by names of the authors)

Berkman, Yehoshua. On the Netzi'v and Rabbi Rafael Shapiro: Halevanon (edited by Yechiel Beril) 9 Kislev 5635 (November 17, 1874), issue 14.

Bekerman writes: “The large Yeshiva here, from which light emanates to all of Israel, from then until now, will not diminish in the level of brightness (into the future). The sun shall yet shine as in the days of Creation, and its rays will illuminate with the light of the Torah. The Divine flow will still emanate

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filled with wisdom and knowledge to give drink to the young sheep who are thirsty for the word of G-d, who will stream here in their masses. When they come, they will quench their thirst in the pathways and wellsprings of the Torah of the Admor and his son-in-law, the rabbi and Gaon, sharp and deep, pious and modest, the honor of his glorious name, our rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Rafael Shapiro, may his light shine, the son of that Tzadik, the great rabbi and Gaon, our rabbi Aryeh Leib Shapiro, the head of the rabbinical court of Kovno.”

Rabbi Yehoshua Bekerman writes about the Netzi'v: “Our hand is too short to express before you one one-thousandth of the feelings of gratitude and blessing that our heart feels toward you regarding eternal life, and the benefit that you do for us. Now he is a faithful pastor, through the pride of your Torah you lead us, and through your mighty wellsprings of Torah you cause us to drink in abundance. Who is like you who raises the horn of Torah, our dear father, who is like you who dedicates your time night and day. Your hands are full of work, only to raise the horn of Torah and make it mighty.”

Bekerman, Yehoshua: Halevanon, 8 Tevet 5635 (December 16, 1874), issue 18.

The writer announces the death of Yitzchak Eliezer Rabinowitz, who oversaw the Yeshiva coffers.

Bialik, Chaim Nachman. On the Night of the Earthquake (A hidden section from Hamatmid): Kneset, Dvir Publishing, Tel Aviv, 5696 [1836]. Book I, pp 4-7.

Bialik, Chaim Nachman. Autobiographical Sections: Kneset, Tel-Aviv, 5701 [1941], Book VI, page 15.

Blusher, Abba. Bialik in Volozhin: Meoznaim (monthly), Tammuz 5695 [1935], volume IV. Booklet II (20).

Berdichevski, Micha Yosef. The History of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva: Haasif (edited by Nachum Sokolow), Warsaw, Reb Yitzchak Goldman Publisher, third year, 5647 [1887], pp 231-242.

In this article, Berdichevski describes the building of the Yeshiva with the following words: “In the year 5625 [1865], when the Netzi'v saw that the Yeshiva had reached a period of decline, he spared no effort and traveled to many cities to collect money so that a splendid, strong building could be built, which stands in splendor to this day. The Yeshiva is like a wonderful palace built with a lower, second, and third floor. It has a large, wide hall, supported by four large pillars. Its walls are as white as snow and shiny wool. Its ceiling is clean and pure. That hall is the hall of Talmud. It also has a large corridor in which the students read during the summer. It also has a fine room in which the Gema'ch, the

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large charitable fund, functions, from which all the Yeshiva students can borrow during times of difficulty. (Its treasury consists of approximately 500 rubles.) There is also a clean room from which the principal, Rabbi Lipman, distributes the tractates required for study, and a smoking room (for it is forbidden to smoke tobacco in the Yeshiva).

“The Mashgiach and principal are on the lower floor, and the Yeshiva's large library is on the third floor. A person walking by the yard of the Yeshiva, paved with stones, on the long nights of Tevet will witness a wonderful, sublime sight. The lights of many candelabras will cast their shining rays upon the even snow. The voices of 300 individuals studying with serious feeling and deep enthusiasm can be heard as a great noise from one end of the yard to the other. Here, a visionary lad walks in a tapping fashion, with a Gemara under his noble hands, as his feet walk fast, for his soul desires Torah; here sit a few school lads, for sleep has already overtaken them, and their soul mourns that they have interrupted their studies. Here one sees Jewry in its image and form. We can state without exaggeration: Whomever has not seen such a wonderful display – has never seen beauty in his life.”[2]

Berdichevski, Micha Yosef (Yb'm). The World of Nobility: Hakerem (Edited by Elazar Atlas). “A yearly book for the research of Israel and its literature.” Warsaw, Yitzchak Goldman publishing, 5648 [1888].

Berdichevski, Micha Yosef (Yerubaal). The Authority of the Individual for the Many: Otzar Hasafrut, 5652 [1892], page 30.

Gil. In the Yeshivot of Torah: Echoes of the Times (edited and published by P. Margolin), 18 Iyar, 5670 (May 15, 1910), issue 110.

Hatzofeh. In the Yeshivot of Torah: Echoes of the Times. 12 Tammuz, 5670 (July 6, 1910).

Hatzofeh writes about the attempt to carry out the mussar methodology [methodology of stressing moral behavior] in Volozhin.

Zak, Shimon. The Yeshiva of Volozhin: The Book of Lithuanian Jewry, 5620 [1860], Published by Am Hasefer, pp. 206-213.

Zak, Shimon. From the World of the Spirit: : Hatoren (New York), 14 Tishrei, 5679 [1918], issue 27, fifth year, pp. 3-8.

The writer dedicates his words to the character of the studies in the Yeshiva of Volozhin, and the quality of the Yeshiva students. He states: “This Yeshiva, the first in time and quality, was never attracted to acute sharpness in the sense as is known in Yeshivas – or after the fervor of didactics [pilpul] where the leaf “floats on the head of a needle.” In this Yeshiva, a spirit of

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simplicity and naturalness pervaded in the later years, the spirit of its founders, the early ones, the students and spiritual heirs of the Gaon of Vilna, the vast majority of whom inherited the methodology of straightforwardness and direct understanding in the study of Talmud and its commentaries. Even the thread of grace and the splendor of the soul that was stretched over the Yeshiva of Volozhin, and the ancient charm – the charm of the tradition of days of yore and the spirit of generations – that hovered over it, influenced the soul of the youths who came there in a relaxed manner.

A person educated in Volozhin would have a straightforward understanding, and clear knowledge in his spirit. He was calm and deliberate in his knowledge, pleasant with other people and honored and dear to them – – – The Volozhiner was always a desired and dear guest even amongst the regular householders, who related to him as flesh of their flesh and bone of their bones, even though they knew and recognized that he was above them in the talents of his young spirit, the imagination of his intellect, the uprightness of his heart, and his spiritual development in general.

Therefore, they revered him, honored him, and loved him with the love of a parent. His opinion was accepted even in matters of the city and its needs. – – – The heart of the Volozhiner was as broad as the opening of the hall, alert to everything transpiring, sensitive of his environment, and knowing how to enjoy the wonderful, beautiful views of nature of which the town of Volozhin excelled. Anyone who did not see the youth and young men of Volozhin going out on summer evenings to stroll around this town, enjoying the beauty of nature, benefiting from the radiance of the world of the Holy One Blessed Be He between the pure meadows and paths of grain, discussing during their stroll matters that stand at the upper heights of the world and Jewry – has never seen a heart-arousing scene in his days.”

Dr. Shmuel Yona. Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin as a Pedagogue: Pathways of Education (edited by Sh. B. Maksimon), Cheshvan 5689 [1928], (fourth year), booklet VI (21), pp. 209-217.

Yaavetz, Wolf. Migdal Hameah: The Nation of Israel (edited by Shalom Pinchas Rabinowitz), Warsaw, 5646 [1886], pp. 89-151 (about Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, see page 133).

Kahana, David. Lilienthal and the Education of the Jews of Russia: Hashiloach (edited by Dr. Yosef Klausner) Odessa, Av 5672 [1912] – Tevet 5673 [1923], volume 27, pp 314-322; 546-556.

Lifshitz, Yaakov Halevi. A Generation and its Administrators: Hakerem, Warsaw, 5648 [1888], pp. 179-180.

Mandelkorn, Dr. Shlomo. The Distant Drew Close: Otzar Hasafrut, 5648 [1888], pp. 41-44.

Maslianski, Tz. Ch. Memoirs: Haivri (edited by Rabbi Meir Berlin), 6 Elul 5677 (July 24, 1917), issue 32.

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Neria, Moshe Tzvi. Chapters of Volozhin: Heichal Shlomo, 5723 [1963], pp. 525-544.

Neria, Moshe Tzvi. The Netzi'v of Volozhin: The Book of Lithuanian Jewry, pp 365-369.

Pomerantz, Gedalia. The First Strike in the Yeshiva of Volozhin: Hadoar, 14 Shvat, 5723 [1963], year 42, issue 15.

Fin, Sh. Y. Kneset Yisrael (Memories of the history of the Greats of Israel, renown for their Torah, wisdom and deeds from the days of the Mishnaic sages until this generation). Warsaw, Efraim Baumriter and his son-in-law Naftali Gonshar Publishers, 5647 [1887]. For Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, see pp. 347-349; for Rabbi Itzele, see page 610.

Spirno, A. Memories and News: Reshimot (collected from memoirs, ethnography, and folklore in Israel), edited by E. Droyanov, with the participation of Y. Ch. Rabnitzki and Chaim Nachman Bialik. Odessa, published by Moriya, 5678 [1918], volume I, pp. 148-151.

Peker, M. From the Yeshiva of Volozhin: Hator (Mizrachi weekly, edited by Rabbi Y. L. Hakohen Fishman), 30 Sivan 5684 [July 2, 1924], issue 40.

Friedland, Pesach (Chad Min Chevraya). Chibat Tzion in Volozhin: Hator, Jerusalem, 5684. Issues 40, 44, 45, 47.

Cytron, Sh. L. The Dynastic Battle in the Yeshiva of Volozhin: Reshimot, volume I, pp. 123-135.

Cytron, Sh. L. The Old Purim Constitution of the Volozhin Yeshiva: Three literary generations (Literary memoirs, characteristics and personal experiences), Warsaw, “Central” society, fourth section, pages 160-165.

Kook, Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen. Head of Ets Hayim Yeshiva (History of the Netziv). Kneset Yisrael, Warsaw, Yehoshua Yehuda Ish-Horowic Publishing, pp 138-142.

Rabbi Kook writes about the Netzi'v, among other things: “Already during the days of his youth, it seems that this man was created for greatness. His strong eagerness, distance from all pleasantries of life, wonderful diligence, and straightforward inclination to delve deep into the question in all aspects of Torah, to turn away from the path of tortuous didactics and to dig and know the proper truth of Torah – all these bear witness that the future of this scholar was to be a luminary for the paths of Torah, and to clarify the paths of study for many of

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his age cohort. In those days, all those who grasped Torah made efforts to put all their energy to the didactics of Talmudic discussions, to the novellae of the Gemara, decisors, Tosafot, and the Maharsh'ah, to whom all studiers of Talmud turned their attention at that time.

Rivkin, M. The Last Years of the Yeshiva of Volozhin: Waschod (Russian, edited by A. Landau). Peterburg, 5655 [1895], January-February issues.

Rivkind, Yitzchak. Miyalkutei Volozhin: Reshimot, volume V, pp. 362-381.

Rivkind, Yitzchak. A Certain Yeshiva Head of Volozhin (Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Nyasvizh): Sefer Turov (edited by Yitzchak Zylberszlag and Yochanan Twerski). Published by Beit Hamidrash Lamorim, 5698 [1938], pp 232-239.

In this article, Mr. Rivkind writes about a certain Yeshiva head who was not from the Volozhin dynasty, who was not known at all to the writers about the history of the high-level Beis Midrash for Torah during the first, critical years of its existence. The name of this certain Yeshiva head was Rabbi Yechiel Michel the son of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch of Nyasvizh.

The year of his birth is not known. In my estimation, he was born during the 5530s [1770s]. He studied from the rabbi of Kapyla, Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipman, during his youth, and also merited to bask in the radiance of the Gaon of Vilna. Later, he served his [i.e. the Vilna Gaon's] great student Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin. He taught and learned before him. “When his high-level Yeshiva was founded, I studied before him with the students who came to bask under his wings, for approximately seven years.” In another place, he repeats, and writes: “And I learned before him with many students for approximately six years.”

Even some of those who gave approbations to his book noted that “The deeds he does are great, so that Torah is not forgotten in Israel, and he teaches the sons of Judea the bow[3] in the large Yeshiva in the holy community of Volozhin.” They note that “he was the first of the founders of the important Yeshiva in the holy community of Volozhin.” Among those who gave testimony was Rabbi Hillel, the son-in-law of the Gaon Rabbi Hayim, who himself had delivered classes in the Yeshiva for a decade. In his approbation, written three days before his death, he wrote about Rabbi Yechiel Michel: “Through his hand, the Yeshiva of the holy community of Volozhin was founded. He learned and taught many students before the Admor, my father-in-law Rabbi Hayim of blessed memory.”

Rivkind, Yitzchak. An Attempt to Found a Yeshiva in New York in the name of the Netzi'v, Forty Years Ago. Sefer Scharfstein (edited by Yochanan Twerski, Kalman Weitman, and Avraham Epstein). Published by the Committee of Shvilei Hachinuch, pp. 243-249.

Rivkind, Yitzchak. Was there a Purim Rabbi in the Yeshiva of Volozhin? Hadoar, 12 Adar 5620 [1960], issue 19, pp. 337-338.

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Mr. Rivkind expresses his opinion that the custom of a “Purim Rabbi” existed in the Yeshiva. He states: “We attribute the establishment of the custom of a Purim Rabbi in the Volozhin Yeshiva to its first founder, Rabbi Hayim, a student of the Gr'a. He was a talented pedagogue, and he did a great deed in choosing “a rabbi for a day.” He opened a pipeline for the students to criticize the ways of the Yeshiva. He developed their self-awareness, their self-esteem, and their personal value.”

As proof of this, Mr. Rivkind cites the article by M. Eisenstant “Purim Rabbi” (Hatzefira, 5676 [1916], issue 66), which states: “It was in accordance with the tradition of Rabbi Hayim that the custom of a Purim Rabbi was established. He made it into a regulation in the Yeshiva. His reasoning was that he wanted to know the issues regarding the running of the Yeshiva about which he was not aware, and about which no student would dare to point out to him. Therefore, he established one day a year, the day of Purim, where even our sages permitted levity – upon which one of the students would be free to his own accord all day and would be the sole arbiter of matters of the Yeshiva and its running. Of course, the improper deeds of the “all year rabbi” would be clarified that day. He would know and understand later how to fix the issues and to be careful about them for the future.”

Reines, Moshe. Achsaniot Shel Torah: Otzar Hasafrut, Krakow, Shealtiel Grober Publisher, 5649-50 [1889-90].

Shapira, Moshe Shmuel. Rabbi Itzele of Volozhin (on the 120th anniversary of his death): 17 Kislev, 5763 [1963], issue 7.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salomon_Maimon Return
  2. A paraphrase of Mishna Sukka 5:1. Return
  3. Based on II Samuel 1:18 Return

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The Great Etz Hayim School of Volozhin

by Rabbi Shimon Langbort
(the head of the Volozhin Yeshiva of Bnei Brak)

Translated by Jerrold Landau


The community of the city of Volozhin merited to be the host of Torah for a period of close to 150 years. It hosted Torah in the wonderful, praiseworthy Yeshiva called: “Beit Ulpana Rabta Etz Hayim DeVolozhin” [The Great Etz Hayim School of Volozhin], which stood gloriously in the center of the city, and disseminated Torah and light to afar. This Yeshiva registered a splendid chapter in the history of the nation of Israel in the Diaspora of Russia, Poland, and Lithuania for more than 100 years, during the period from before the First World War until the terrible destruction by the enemy.

Writers have written books and articles, and poets have composed songs of praise to the greatness and splendor of this mighty center of Torah, about the Divine presence that dwelt in that miniature sanctuary, and of the great light that illuminated and served as a beacon of light to the entire Diaspora. Booklets and articles about the greatness of the illustrious Yeshiva heads, giants of the spirit, and of their statue and image in Torah and spirituality, of their nobility and the fine traits of their soul with which they have been graced with supernal grace – to steer the ship in the midst of the sea and to infuse an influence of blessing on the knowledge and understanding of both the written and the oral Torah to their thousands of students who streamed in from the ends of the earth to receive Torah and refinement of the soul from their illustrious teachers. In addition, it was also a bastion [Tel Talpiot][1], for all mouths turned to them to resolve their doubts and to answer their questions on all subjects of the written and oral Torah, and in all areas of fundamental Jewish life.

Similarly, feelings of reverence and honor are expressed to the students of the Yeshiva, who came to dwell in the midst of and warm themselves from the light of the mighty ones of Torah in Volozhin, among them studious geniuses with excellent talents, who made their nights like days in their toil of Torah, as they drank with thirst the words of the living G-d. They grew, succeeded, and bore praiseworthy fruit in this great home of Talmud, splendid and infused with holiness. The vast majority of the Yeshiva students later developed into great rabbis, illustrious leaders, talented scribes, and heads of Jewish communities.

The first and foremost of the dynasty of Beit Harav [the rabbinical household] of Volozhin, the founder of the Yeshiva, was the pious Gaon, our rabbi Hayim, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, who was called the Great Rabbi Hayim. He was a prime student of the Gaon of Vilna (the Gr'a, may the memory of the righteous be blessed) who continued with his methodology and ways in holiness, and founded the Yeshiva of Volozhin in accordance with his directives and advice. He placed a cornerstone on the three pillars of the world: Torah, Divine service, and good deeds, and declared that without the study of Torah, the world could not even exist for a moment. Were the study of Torah to stop for a moment throughout the entire world – the world would be destroyed in a moment. If we see that the world exists

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and stands, it is proof that in some far-off place, scholars are sitting and occupying themselves in Torah. They strengthen and uphold the world and keep it from faltering. Therefore, he set up a watch [Mishmar] in his Yeshiva to study Torah without a break. One watch exists and another enters, day and night, at all times and every moment. Wonderful legends spread about Rabbi Hayim, who was a worker of portents, a holy, pure man, their teacher from the nation, both in Torah and in refinement and humility, in the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah. Several details about him are written in the booklet “Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, may his memory be a blessing.” From great modesty and purity of the heart, he would sign his name on his responses to questions on matters of religion and law: “Hayim Bmrhy'tz (the son of our teacher, Rabbi Yitzchak), may the memory of the righteous be blessed, the teacher [melamed] of Volozhin.”

After him, his son, the praiseworthy Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, served. He became known as “Chachima Diyehudai” (the sage of the Jews), and gained renown through the world through his wise and sharp responses that he issued to the Minister of Education of the Kingdom of Russia when he was summoned by him to the capital of Peterburg with other greats and choice people of the nation to take council together and influence them to introduce changes to religion. His wise responses that emanated from his holy mouth were powerful in front of the destroyers and uprooters, and they went forth with a splendorous victory, sanctifying the Divine Name in public, even in the eyes of the gentiles. He directed the Yeshiva in the same direction and methodology forged by his great father. After his death, the leadership of the Yeshiva was given over to his two great sons-in-law, the Gaon Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Fried of blessed memory, and the Gaon the Netzi'v of blessed memory. Both were cedars of Lebanon, mighty in Torah[2]. His first son-in-law did not live long. After Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak died in his prime, the leadership of the Yeshiva was transferred to the faithful hands of the Gaon the Netzi'v of blessed memory, who ran it with great success. In addition to the Netzi'v of blessed memory, classes in the Yeshiva were given by the mighty Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik of blessed memory.

The Netzi'v of blessed memory ran the Yeshiva and raised it to its pinnacle. His era was considered the glorious era in the annals of the existence of the Yeshiva. During his time, the Yeshiva grew in numbers and essence. Up to 500 students basked in its shade, and its influence was great throughout the Diaspora of Israel, to the point where the Russian government became jealous of it, and the ministry of education began to afflict the Netzi'v of blessed memory and limit his steps, demanding that the Yeshiva head introduce a curriculum in the Yeshiva that would be satisfactory to its desires, and under government supervision. Our rabbi, the Netzi'v of blessed memory, arose and strongly pushed off the intermixture of the government in its internal spiritual matters. Thanks to his glorious steadfastness, the Yeshiva did not change its fundamental content and style – however, it led to its exile, as the government closed the Yeshiva for several years and dismissed its students. After a short time, it arose again in its holiness and wholesomeness.

Several stories about his manner and ways spread in Volozhin; however, this is not the place to detail them and dwell upon them. The Netzi'v of blessed memory was also known for his great studiousness, toiling and wearying himself with Torah day and night. He published many books on the written and oral Torah, including books of responsa that he responded to questioners throughout the entire world. He would sign his letters: “Burdened with work.”

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A great deal has been told about the suffering and tribulation of the Yeshiva heads, who were exiled by the government to districts far off from the Yeshiva; about the wanderings of the students who were uprooted from their place of flourishing, and especially about their depressed spirit, on the pain and agony of the people of the city of Volozhin who were bereaved and wept bitterly over the closing of the Yeshiva, similar to the destruction of the Holy Temple, and did not find comfort for their stormy spirits, until the Yeshiva reopened several years later. Then, it was called the Talmudic Beis Midrash and Library, and was headed by the great Gaon in his generation, Rabbi Rafael Shapira, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, the son-in-law of the Netzi'v may the memory of the righteous be blessed. He restored its crown to its former status, albeit not to the same extent and essence as it was during the period of the Netzi'v, may the memory of the righteous be blessed.

The elders of Volozhin would speak with deep wonder about the Seders on Passover nights conducted by the Netzi'v, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, in the presence of hundreds of his students. The Seders were conducted with everyone together, were wondrous to the eye and joyous to the hearts and continued until dawn. After the people of Volozhin concluded the Seders in their houses, they would stream to the House of the Rabbi to look, hear, and enjoy the splendor of the Divine presence that pervaded there. A special, sublime influence was felt when he delivered his novel Torah ideas. The joy of the festival, with the recital of the Haggadah and the songs was wonderful. Fortunate is the eye that witnessed this!

In addition to the books of the Netzi'v that were published during his lifetime and shortly after his passing – his holy manuscripts on the entire Talmud, on the Mechilta, and other works were recently published. His sermons, guarded by his son Rabbi Meir Berlin (Bar-Ilan) of blessed memory, were organized, edited, and published in a splendid fashion by his grandson Rabbi Yisrael Isser Shapira, may he live long, of Tel Aviv, and with the assistance of the grandson of the Netzi'v, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Riff, may he live long, in America, and the president of the Volozhin Yeshiva of Bnei Brak.



The years of the existence of the Yeshiva after the era of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin and his son Rabbi Itzele can be divided into three eras.

  1. The era of the Netzi'v. During his days, the Yeshiva reached its pinnacle, and attained worldwide influence. Its existence continued until the closing of the yeshiva by the government of Russia in the year 5652 [1892].
  2. The era of Rabbi Rafael. When the Yeshiva was reopened through the efforts of the faithful of the Yeshiva and the trustees in Vilna and Minsk, and with the approval of the administrators of Volozhin, Rabbi Rafael Shapira, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, was invited to serve as the head of the rabbinical court and head of the Yeshiva of Volozhin. He opened the Yeshiva in the year 5659 [1899] and stood at its helm until the First World War reached Volozhin, and the aforementioned Gaon was forced to move to Minsk with his household and the Yeshiva. He died there and was buried in honor. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.
  3. The era of Rabbi Yaakov Shapira the son of Rabbi Rafael. He took the place of his father as the head of the rabbinical court and head of the Yeshiva of Volozhin. He opened the gates of the Yeshiva when he returned from Minsk after the war in the year 5681 [1921].
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and stood at its head until close to the Second World War. When he died in the year 5696 [1936], the leadership of the Yeshiva passed to his son-in-law Rabbi Hayim, the son of Rabbi Aharon Wolkin, may G-d avenge his blood, and to Rabbi Yitzchak Moshe, may G-d avenge his blood, and Rabbi Zalman Yosef, may G-d avenge his blood, sons of Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, may the memory of the righteous be blessed. However, destruction quickly overtook them and the entire Beit Harav of Volozhin, as well as all its holy students who basked in the shade of Ets Hayim, along with all the people of Volozhin, may G-d venge their blood. All were murdered with cruel deaths, through great physical and spiritual torture, and gave up their pure souls to Heaven, may G-d avenge their blood. May their souls be bound in the bonds of eternal life. Thus concluded the era of the existence of the Yeshiva in its sanctuary in Volozhin, which disseminated Torah and light to Israel through the years 5567-5699 [1807-1939]. “The enemy cast its hand upon all its precious ones,” the treasury of the preciousness of the House of Israel. The wellsprings of Torah and knowledge of G-d ceased. The world became dark for us. May G-d have mercy!

We must mention two other of the lions of the group who served in splendid fashion as heads of the Yeshiva during the era of the Netzi'v, may the memory of the righteous be blessed. They are the great Gaon Rabbi Hayim Berlin, the son of the Gaon the Netzi'v. He made aliya to the Holy Land at the end of his days and was numbered among the heads of the rabbis of Jerusalem, where he was buried in honor. The second is the mighty Gaon Rabbi Hayim Halevi Soloveitchik, the son of the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi, may the memory of the righteous be blessed. He was considered as one of the unique ones in the world of Torah. He created a new methodology in the understanding of Torah and forged a new path in the sea of Talmud. He lit up a path between the waves of the great sea and illuminated the eyes of the sages in all hidden, concealed matters in the Talmud and halachic decision of the Rambam of blessed memory. His way and methodology were accepted as proper in the great centers of Torah in Israel. In addition to the greatness and loftiness of these Gaonim in Torah, they were also known for their charity, abstinence, pureness of character, and pleasant ways.

When I now come to describe to a small degree the stature of the heads of the Yeshiva during the second and third eras, with the illustrious father and son, princes of Torah, Gaonim and Tzadikim, Rabbi Rafael and his son Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, may the memory of the Holy be blessed – “I am in awe as I open my mouth to speak, I lack knowledge, so how can I hope”[3]. In order to extend proper appreciation, it is necessary to recognize and discuss the fine traits of their high-level souls, their nobility and righteousness. One must understand and delve into the depths of their intellect, the breadth of their hearts, and the purity of their souls. We must give proper expression to the dedication of their souls to learn, teach, observe, perform, and fulfil. Everything that we will write about them will not fulfil our obligation toward our holy rabbis, may they rest in peace, who are beyond our conceptualization. The words of the Nefesh Hahayim portray them as follows: “The flame of the love of our holy Torah burned in their hearts like a fire burning with the love and fear of the pure G-d. Their entire desire was to aggrandize and glorify its honor, and to expand their bounds through many proper students, so that the land will be filled with understanding.”

Who is so great for us as our rabbi, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, may he rest in peace. When he would mention the name of his rabbi, the holy Gaon the Gr'a of Vilna, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing, “my entire body would shake, and my hands would tremble from the holiness of his wonderful Torah and the awe of the sublimity of the Torah on his face.” As for us, what can we answer after him? For our sages have said, “Let the fear of your rabbi be like the fear of Heaven!” But, in order to enter into the tents of the holy ones: during the lives of the martyrs of Volozhin “who were beloved and pleasant during their lives, and not parted in their deaths.” [II Samuel, 1:23] – I hereby write some brief lines about the greatness and activities of these martyrs,

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to the extent that my weak hand and my meager pen can reach, and I pray that I do not, Heaven forbid, damage their high and lofty honor, may they rest in peace.

Our rabbi, Rabbi Rafael of blessed memory, is known and famous in the world of Torah for his classes in halacha that he gave in the Yeshiva, as the architect of the methodology of “in accordance with its methodology [beshitato].” Thanks to his wonderful expertise in all aspects of Torah, and in the hidden vaults, in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, Tosefta, Mechilta, Sifra, Sifrei, and books by the greats of the early decisors, as well as his knowledge of the masters of tradition, his power was good and he had the ability to straighten out the crooked, and to explain difficult matters in the realities of Abayey and Rabba [Talmudic sages], and to resolve Talmudic passages in accordance with Maimonides of blessed memory in “his methodology.” With all his wonderful expertise, he had a depth of diligence all his life. He did he majority of his studying and wrote his responsa during the nights, when the issues of the city and the Yeshiva did not disturb him. His students relate that early in the morning, after a night of study, near sunrise, he would recite the morning Shema with its melody and special enunciation. The students who had studied “Mishmar” [an all-night study session] would gather around the windows to hear the recitation of the Shema from their rabbi. They were moved, and this was more effective than may reproofs, for they had seen a living Torah scroll and a living book of morality.

Rabbi Rafael was also known as taciturn. He would hold back from speaking an extra word. He would even limit his speaking during rabbinical gatherings which took place several times in his presence in his house. When a young Yeshiva man came to him to receive his rabbinical ordination, or a rabbinical author came to receive an approbation for his work, and custom would have it that he would request to present before the rabbi some novel idea or explanation of a difficult Talmudic passage, with the verdict of the decisors, he would not debate or engage in didactics with the speaker. Rather, after hearing his words, he would immediately approach the bookshelf, remove a book, and show him his novel ideas on the debate regarding the issue at hand.

His brilliance covered his charitable and benevolent deeds that he performed quietly and discreetly. Only certain special people and members of his household knew of his activities in the realm of salvation for the individual and the community. When the economic and material situation in the Yeshiva was bad, and the debts began to afflict and oppress, Rabbi Rafael spared no effort or toil. He would gird himself like a lion, and travel to visit our philanthropist brethren, sometimes along with his son-in-law Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik or one of the talented young men of the Yeshiva. In this manner, he would assure the continued existence of the Yeshiva. Through he wrote many holy manuscripts on the entire Talmud, as well as many responsa to his questioners on issues of religion and law (which he would write with a feather pen, due to the commandment, “you shall not lift an iron [tool] upon it.”[4]) – only a small portion were published, on matters related to the Orach Chayim [section of the Code of Jewish Law]. These were published by his great children – the Gaon Rabbi Aryeh Shapira, may the memory of the holy be blessed, and may he be granted good life, the Gaon Rabbi Yisrael Isser Shapira of Tel Aviv. This was called Torat Rafael. He would sign his letters as “He who performs the work of the Torah in Volozhin.”

The son, the Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, was like the father. When he returned to Volozhin from Minsk after the war, having endured all the tribulations of the journey (he was imprisoned by the Yevseka [KGB division responsible for Jews], was given a harsh sentence, and was saved through a miracle) – when he arrived in Volozhin, he found a desolate world, and was forced to create something from nothing.

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Through the mercies of G-d, he opened the gates of the Yeshiva, restoreded the crown to its former status, and disseminated the light of Torah. His classes excelled in clarity and proper explanation, in breadth of expertise, and in understanding. His words were illuminating and brought joy. Through his nobility, refined personality, and splendor of countenance, he would evoke honor and reverence in the eyes of all who saw him and would influence his hundreds of students to dwell at the gates of Torah and fear of Heaven, and to acquire wholesomeness of the soul through toiling in Torah. He also led his community in Volozhin with a pleasant staff. He followed the footsteps of his father and other rabbinical ancestors, of the cream of the crop, in all his ways and actions.


Rabbi Yaakov Shapira


It is appropriate to point out that the gentiles in Volozhin and the area recognized him as a symbol of justice and uprightness and revered him greatly. When they had disputes in matters of business or the like with Jews, they preferred to go to the rabbi, and did not want to rely on their own courts. The words of the rabbi were holy in their eyes, for they knew that he had no tendency to self-interest or to give preference to any side. This was a sanctification of the Divine Name.

The writer of these lines – who is the son-in-law of the Gaon and Tzadik, of blessed memory – sat in his presence and perfumed himself with his perfume. He saw him in various situations during the course of his life – whether standing at the heights of his splendor as a teacher and rabbinical judge, or during his difficult illness and oppressive suffering – and merited to hear his classes in halacha at the Yeshiva, his sermons and statements before his community, and even took note of his care and diligence in the observance of the commandments of the Torah with all details and embellishments. He saw his piety and responsibility as a pastor and a leader, and participated with him in his worries, efforts, and intercessions to strengthen the pillars of Ets Hayim, so it would not falter, Heaven forbid. Afterward, he saw him convulsing with his tribulations. I am the man who saw his suffering[5] as he was lying on the operating table in Vienna and on his sickbed in Warsaw, in his suffering and difficulties. There are no words in my mouth to express the raging of the stormy heart and the feelings of agony to the depths of the soul when, during his suffering and pain, he would read the verses “I will raise up the cup of salvation and call out in the name of G-d”; “I find difficulty and agony – and I will call out in the name of G-d”; “I will sing of graciousness and judgment”; “He tore, and He will heal me – He struck, and will bind me.” During all circumstances and times, his hands were steadfast to guard the Yeshiva, the focus of his splendor, until the sun set. Regarding him, they said, “The life of a sage is a long prayer.” He died at the age of 62 in Warsaw and was brought to the burial canopy of his grandfather, our Rabbi Hayim, in the cemetery of Volozhin. He commanded that it be declared in all the synagogues of the city that he hereby requests forgiveness from anyone who has some complaint against him or feels that their honor or money was damaged. Thus, he ascended to Heaven holy and pure as the splendor of the firmament.

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The minutest amount of his classes that he disseminated among his students were published by the writer of these lines, with the title Gaon Yaakov. A bit about his methodology, his holy ways, and his life story are described in the introduction to that book. The rest of his holy manuscripts that he wrote about the Talmud were destroyed by the murderers.


Rabbi Hayim Wolkin


As had been said above, after his death, the Yeshiva passed to the leadership of his son-in-law, the Gaon Rabbi Hayim Wolkin, may G-d avenge his blood, may his memory be a blessing, and to his two illustrious sons, Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak, may G-d avenge his blood, and Rabbi Zalman Yosef, may G-d avenge his blood, who hoped to continue the dynasty in the rule of Torah in Volozhin. Both were cut off in their prime, as they were sprouting and growing, and did not merit to see their world in their lifetime. Rabbi Hayim Wolkin ran the Yeshiva and concerned himself for its spiritual and physical wellbeing for about two years in Volozhin, and for some time afterwards when it was exiled to Vilna at the beginning of the war. Many details about his prominent personality are not known to the writer of these lines, for I made aliya to the Land of Israel still in the lifetime of my father-in-law the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, may the memory of the righteous be blessed. It is known that Rabbi Hayim Wolkin was educated in the Beis Midrash of the Mussar greats and was a veteran student of the Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Yerucham, of blessed memory, the spiritual director of the Mir Yeshiva, and would travel to him to confer. He also led the Yeshiva in that direction. He was honored by all who knew him. It is known that he gave up his holy soul to the Heavens through terrible torments, in the common grave in the fields of Ponary in Vilna, as he was standing guard for Torah and fear of Heaven, in holiness and purity, along with his wife the Rebbetzin Beila, the daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, and their two young daughters Dreizel and Chaya Leah, may G-d avenge their blood. The words of the liturgical poet apply to him: “Woe regarding the tongue that hastened to instruct with beautiful words – how you lick the dust due to sins.”[6] It is very sorrowful and bitter for us regarding these two beautiful Shapiras [in the original: Shofrei Shapira] whom the ground swallowed up, from the family of “The House of the Rabbi” in Volozhin. The prominent woman of valor, the G-d fearing Rebbetzin Sheina Disha the son of Rabbi Zalman Yosef, may G-d avenge her blood, and her daughters Esther of blessed memory, Rivka, may G-d avenge her blood, and Pesia, may G-d avenge her blood – the righteous daughters, wholesome in all lofty traits – all of them were cut off before their time, holy and pure like the splendor of the firmament, they were murdered in sanctification of the Divine Name. May G-d avenge their blood, may G-d remember them for the good with all the martyrs of this prominent family of Israel. May their memories be holy and blessed forever.

Among the great rabbis who lived and exerted influence during the era of our Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, we should also mention the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor Halevi Derechinski, the honorable son-in-law of the praiseworthy rabbi and Gaon, Rabbi Hillel Fried, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, one of the grandchildren of the “House of the Rabbi” of Volozhin. He served for a time

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as the mashgiach [spiritual overseer] in the Yeshiva and was later appointed as the rabbinical judge and teacher of righteousness in Volozhin. He made aliya with his family to the Land of Israel at the end of his days and is buried in honor in Jerusalem. Two compositions of Torah novellae were published by his wife the Rebbetzin, peace be upon her.

We should also note the elderly, venerable rabbi, Rabbi Yehuda Avraham of blessed memory, who was a shochet in Volozhin also in the era of our rabbi the Netzi'v of blessed memory. He was one of the faithful ones of the House of the Rabbi, and was involved with the Yeshiva students, as he was an expert in the laws of shechita [ritual slaughter] and treifot [slaughtered animals with defects]. He died a few years before the Second World War. [We also note] Rabbi Yosef the son of Rabbi Hayim Tabchowitz, may G-d avenge his blood, and his family. He was one of the veterans of the Yeshiva and city notables.

Thus ends the glorious history of the great, ancient host of Torah in its dwelling place in Volozhin.



The building of the Volozhin Yeshiva in Bnei Brak


The merit of the fathers and the merit of the martyrs, may they rest in peace stand with us to guard the coal, so it won't extinguish, and on the eternal light so its light won't falter. With the manifold mercies of G-d, we have succeeded in setting up a candle, a name and a remnant for the holy, fine Yeshiva to continue the golden chain in the Holy Land. We merited to set up the building of the Yeshiva of Volozhin in Bnei Brak, fluttering in its splendor as a center and fortress of Torah. It includes a Kollel for young men [Kollel Avreichim] with excellent scholars. There is also a Yeshiva for youths. They all immerse themselves in Torah with success, blessed be G-d. It disseminates Torah and light in a praiseworthy and blessed fashion.

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It is run by the writer of these lines, the son-in-law of our rabbi, head of the rabbinical court and final Yeshiva head of Volozhin. Its honorable president is Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Riff, may he live long, the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court in Camden (U.S.A.), a grandson of the Gaon Rabbi Rafael Shapira, may the memory of the holy be blessed. He bears the burden of the Yeshiva and is diligent with maintaining it in a blessed fashion, as the benevolent hand of G-d.

The Yeshiva of Volozhin in the Land of Israel also contains a memorial monument to the Yeshiva Heads, their descendants, as well as to the martyrs of the city of Volozhin, who were their hosts for several generations. May it be His will that they have spiritual contentment and elevation of their souls. We pray that their merit shall stand with us to strengthen the pillars of Ets Hayim, so that they shall not weaken, Heaven forbid, and that they be good intercessors and presenters of merits that we may succeed in expanding its bounds, in firming up its existence, in aggrandizing Torah and disseminating its light.

Here is the place to express appreciation and recognition to our brethren-friends, Volozhin natives in the United States, and to all the members of the Etz Chaim Anshei Volozhin Synagogue in New York, headed by its honorable president, and especially to our honorable friends, active and excellent, who maintain the faith in the holy, ancient Yeshiva, and extend to us a hand of assistance in a generous fashion – that is Rabbi Nachman Rothstein, may he live long, and Mr. Dr. Avraham Jablis, may his light shine, who work faithfully and with dedication to ensure the existence and strengthening of the Yeshiva of Volozhin. May G-d remember them for the good!

Translator's footnotes:

  1. A poetic term for the Temple. There is a play on words here as the word mouth pi is embedded in the word Talpiot. Return
  2. See Kina 20 of Tisha B'av Morning (from Sefaria: https://www.sefaria.org/Kinnot_for_Tisha_B'Av_(Ashkenaz)%2C_Kinot_for_Tisha_B'Av_Day.21.2?lang=bi ) Where the term “Cedars of Lebanon, Mighty in Torah” is used to describe great Torah scholars. Return
  3. From the opening of the chazzan's repetition of the Shacharit Amida on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Return
  4. Deuteronomy 27:5, referring to the sacrificial altar. He obviously considered his Torah writings as a form of offering. Return
  5. Based on Lamentations 3:1. Return
  6. From the hymn of the Ten Martyrs from Musaf of Yom Kippur. Return

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The Yeshiva of Volozhin During the Period
of the Gaon Rabbi Rafael Shapira

by Dr. Hirsh-Leib Gordon, New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

After the Passover holiday of 5670 (1910), I set out on a journey. I set out to the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin. The train was full of travelers, laden with baskets and cases. The tumult was great. However, when the train started to move, a feeling of calm fell upon me, and I was like a daydreamer, enchanted from vision of the past that wove in my imagination. With the eyes of my spirit, I saw Rabbi Hayim, the founder of the Yeshiva. I knew that they go to supplicate at the grave of Rabbi Hayim every Lag B'Omer, and shoot decorated wooden arrows there as a symbolic memorial.

The conductor called aloud “Stacja Mołodeczno” [Mołodeczno Station]. A woke up as if from a deep sleep. I quickly took my straw suitcase and transferred to another train that went to Polłoczany. From there, I traveled to the city of Volozhin itself by wagon, laden with several Yeshiva students with their suitcases. This was the adorned Volozhin to which my father came in the year 1892, 18 years previously, before my birth. It was the same road, the same destination, the same holy awe…

Someone prepared a dwelling for me at the residence of the Yeshiva students. The mistress of the house was a simple woman named Sara, who was married to the stepson of the assistant mail carrier. Ozer was well placed, for he had been one of the Cantonists, a military man who had served Nikolai for 40 years, and remained faithful to his religion and family. Like the rest of the Cantonists, he was prone to anger and unpleasant toward his fellow. The elderly soldier, with a yellow beard that had turned white, already stopped carrying and distributing the mail. His work was done by his yellow-haired granddaughter. Not only did she distribute the mail, but she also opened the letters and gave them over to the Mashgiach [spiritual supervisor] of the Yeshiva. She did the same with the letters that the Yeshiva students were sending from Volozhin to their parents. Due to this stringent supervision, the Yeshiva students were always prepared to take advantage of various contradictions and excuses if something improper was found in their letters.

When I arrived at the residence that they had chosen for me, and before I was able to open the door, a crazy man, grown wildly, stopped me. Later I was informed that this was Antoni, the town fool. He removed his hat and offered me a petition for the Czar. He turned to me in Russian, “Honorable sir, here I have a request to his majesty the Czar, to have mercy upon me and not send me to Siberia as a criminal. In the petition, I outlined all the details of the accusation that they placed upon my head. Now, sir, please save me and copy my petition in clear handwriting, so that his majesty the Czar will see that I am innocent of guilt.” Someone winked at me with one eye that this person is not of sane mind. In any case, I was forced to copy the petition without delay in order to free myself from this evil affliction.

At lunchtime, I got to know the Yeshiva students who lived in my residence.

Among the group of residents was Meir Bogdanovski of Ashmyany, an intelligent, enthusiastic lad.

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He revealed to me the secret that he was intending to travel to the Land of Israel at the end of the term, in order to study at the teachers seminary there. When I came to the Land of Israel in 1914 and was hospitalized in the Shaarei Zion hospital of Jaffa, Bogdanovski came to visit me. When I asked him whether he intended to return to Russia, he answered me in a serious fashion, “Under no circumstances. You see, a Hebrew republic will yet be established, and my fervent desire is that I be part of the government.” A prophecy came forth from his mouth…

After I got to know my neighbors in the inn, I walked together with them to the Yeshiva building, which was close to our residence. We first reached the “House of the Rabbi” [Beit Harav], which was the official dwelling place of the Yeshiva head and his family. On the right of the lane with the Beit Harav, there was a poor bookseller. From there, we went down and reached the Yeshiva itself, which made a strong impression upon me. It was a spacious building with two large gates. Next to the right gate, there was an inscription “Established in the year 5563” (1803). That was the year of the founding of the Yeshiva.

The impression of the inside of the Yeshiva was even greater than that of the outside. As soon as I opened the large door, hundreds of voices echoed in my ears. These were the voices of the lads who were not official students of the Yeshiva, and were studying from the older lads (called “Talmidim” [students]), as well as the voices of the older students. Some were monotonous and others had a pleasant melody. Most of the Yeshiva students did not pay attention to the new people who entered the hall, for they were immersed in their studies. However, some greeted the newcomers.

In the large hall, there were four strong, square pillars. There were long tables and benches along the length of the walls. I was advised to choose a seat. I chose a place next to the left pillar, opposite the place of the Yeshiva head. That is where I sat during my entire time at the Yeshiva. They explained to me that the rabbi, Rabbi Rafael, did not give a class on account of his age, for he was 79 years old. However, it was possible for the Yeshiva students to go to Beit Harav to ask him a question. Rabbi Rafael only entered the Yeshiva during the time of the prayer services. He would elongate his recitation of the Shema, as he pronounced it syllable by syllable, as someone counting gold. He was careful with the enunciation of the words, with the dots and silent vowels, and was careful to pause in places that one is supposed to pause. It was quiet throughout the entire hall when the rabbi recited the Shema, especially when he repeated several times, with emphasis, “And you shall speak about them”[1].

I must mention here Yehuda Avrahamel the shochet, who would serve as the prayer leader in the Yeshiva for decades. He was a tall Jew, and he served as the prayer leader during my entire time in Volozhin. He would raise his long arms before his Creator and pray with enthusiasm. We, the Yeshiva students, would also look into an open Gemara during the times of prayers, for the words of Torah are “eternal life.” We should note that the Yeshiva had a sort of autonomy, and it was forbidden for anyone who was not a student to enter its threshold other than for the Simchat Beit Shoeva [Sukkot night celebrations]. However, this Yehuda Avrahamel was an exception. (Incidentally, he was a relative of Daniel Perski of blessed memory and of Shimon Peres.)

Near the pillar close to the place that I chose as my seat, I met a lad from Novoborisov named Ben-Zion Peker,

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from New York. He now serves as the director of the United Jewish Appeal. He was secretly enlightened, and would constantly read Zionist periodicals in the Russian language, Rozsvyet, Vyshgod, and Yevreiskaya Starina, which he guarded as the apple of his eye. In America, he was the deputy editor of the Haivri weekly, and authored an important article, “The Volozhin Yeshiva” in the Anthology of Lithuania, 1951.

I purchased a new desk from the shamash, which had a special compartment with a yarmulka, and Sav Shmatta, a small book by the author of Ketzot Hachoshen, which was dear to me and the other lads. The author wrote it while he was still a lad below the age of thirteen. This was a good portent for a Yeshiva student to evoke novel ideas during his studies. The jealousy of scribes increases wisdom.

The sounds of Torah in the Yeshiva of Volozhin never ceased from the day of its founding, neither during the day or the night, neither during the winter or the summer. The lads whose turn it was to be on mishmar at night would come at 8:00 p.m. and study with great diligence until the light of the morning. The Rebbetzin or the shamash would bring servings of apples to the students on mishmar. There were lads who studied during the night after the regular evening study session even when it was not their turn. During these quiet hours of the night the students would not study in a methodological fashion or deal with difficulties, but would rather study for breadth expertise [bekiyut]. The tractate that as dear to us, that we studied during the hours of mishmar, was generally Makkot, on account of its brevity.

The freedom in Volozhin to choose any tractate and study it slowly or quickly encouraged us to try several experiments in study methodology. The stress on the straightforward meaning and the distancing from didactics [pilpul] was the way of the Gr'a, and was the regulation in the Yeshiva of Volozhin. The customs of worship were also according to the Gr'a. For example, on the High Holidays, they would minimise the recital of hymns and poetry. Even on Yom Kippur, we would have several free hours, which we dedicated to the study of Gemara. I recall that on Yom Kippur, an elderly, weak Jew stood near the left pillar and worshiped in a low, heartbreaking voice. This was Rabbi Hayim Hillel Fried, the great-grandson of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin.

They would primarily study Gemara in the Yeshiva of Volozhin. We did not study Mishna as a separate subject. We also only heard about Baraita (Tosefta, Mechilta, Sifra, and Sifri) on an incidental basis. I do not recall whether I saw a Yeshiva student dealing with the Sheiltot of Rabbi Achai Gaon, which was published with a commentary by the Netzi'v. Certain special people would study all the tractates of the Talmud, but for the most part, we would focus on the three Bavas, Ketuvot, Nedarim, Gittin, Kiddushin, and then restart that cycle. We would study these seven tractates, and no others. I never saw the Jerusalem Talmud at all.

The Yeshiva students never looked into the Ein Yaakov or the Zohar, but the Yad Chazaka of Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Yosef Caro were often on our desks. More than we occupied ourselves with the Tur and Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], we were diligent with several of their commentators, such as the Ketzot Hachoshen (by Rabbi Aryeh Leib Hakohen), Netivot Hamishpat (by Rabbi Yaakov of Lissa), Turei Zahav (by Rabbi David the son of Rabbi Shmuel Halevi), Siftei Kohen (by Rabbi Shabtai Hakohen), Chatam Sofer (by Rabbi Moshe Sofer), and Shita Mekubetzet (by Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi). Also precious to us

[Page 200]

was Hateshuvot [the responsa] of Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Chidushav [his novellae], and the books of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector (Nachal Yitzchak, Beer Yitzchak, and Ein Yitzchak). However, most precious of them all was Ketzot Hachoshen, due to its sharpness and depth of penetration.

Volozhin was divided into two parts, like uptown and downtown in American cities. The upper area was known as Aroiftzu in Yiddish. That is where the Yeshiva and residences for the Yeshiva students were located. The most important road in this part was Vilna Street. There was also the orchard of Baron Tyskiwiecz, which enchanted the eye with its treasury of colors and tropical fruits. The majority of the town in size and in structure was Aroptzu (the lower part of the city). Most of the shops, workshops, tradespeople and regular householders were there. This was almost a unique community with its own rabbi. I recall that once I heard a sort of concert sound from one of the houses. I surmised that this the melody of a student of the Grodno Courses, which was founded in 1907 under the direction of the well-known pedagogue Aharon the son of Moshe Kahanstam. I knocked on the door and if I was not mistaken, the player was Bunimowicz, a student of the courses.

There was a round hill with an abundance of flowers next to Volozhin. It was called Yarmulka on account of its shape. We would stroll there on Sabbaths, chat, sing, and also do all sorts of physical exercise. The Double Mountain Summit was next to this hill. It was called that because every voice or sound made in the area would be head with a double echo.

My circle of acquaintances slowly grew. Among the first was the son of the rabbi of Pohost (Pinchas Churgin of blessed memory), who was nicknamed “The miniature Jerusalem.” He sat immersed in his Gemara next to the last pillar on the left side, with a goodhearted smile on his lips. He belonged to our narrow circle that met in the cellar after the studies, where we enjoyed youthful games – like actual boys and not like students of the Yeshiva of Volozhin.

After four years, we made a big jump, from Volozhin to the University of Y.Y.L., from which we graduated in 1922. Churgin was highly active in the Mizrachi movement. He led the teachers seminary and later Bar Ilan University until his untimely death. A lad from Rochwalow, David Cohen, the “Grandfather” of Hanaar Haoved [Working Youth] was also part of our group He wore a long Hassidic mantle, and wrote Sipurei Hassidim [Stories of Hassidim] in Tel Aviv.

There was a young Yeshiva student who always searched through books, and always strolled in the large hall among the older Yeshiva students. He was called the Warsawer and the Lodzer (Yitzchak Rivkind of blessed memory). He subscribed to Hashiloach and Haolam, aside from Hatzefira and Hed Hazman. He was an expert in the history of the Volozhin Yeshiva. His interest in the Mizrachi movement brought him close to a great person, who later married the daughter of his wife's brother. I refer to the rabbi of Gombin [Gąbin], Rabbi Y. L. Zlotnick, later Avida. I remember him as a young man, with a long beard, wearing a Hassidic hat on his head and a rabbinical cloak. He was very diligent in his studies, and did not want to spend a moment without learning. He stood near

[Page 201]

his desk, studying without stop. It seemed as if he had nothing in his world other than the four ells of halacha. However, when he left Volozhin, we were surprised to read his articles in Hatzefira, which he signed with the pseudonym “Bar Bei Rav De Chad Yoma” [Rabbi for one day] (winter of 5671 [1911]). He lived in the United States and Canada, and later was the director of Jewish education in South Africa (1938). At the end, he settled in Jerusalem (1940), where he immersed himself in Torah and Divine service. He wrote a great deal about folklore, like an overflowing wellspring. He died a few days ago.

In the diary that I kept while I was studying in Volozhin, there were novel ideas on Torah, technical derivations (such as the theory of instruction for telegraph officials), games of chess, and... a constant toothache. The pain did not stop even though the city doctor extracted an inflamed tooth with simple tongs. Once, when the pain was unbearable, and I could not find any remedy in the middle of the night, I went outside to ask for advice. This was on a summer night when the rays of dawn were lighting up the east. I suddenly remembered that in a small enclosure next to the house there was a chicken coop with one- or two-day old chicks. I took a lovely, tiny chick and placed it on my chest. The tiny creature fell asleep because he trusted me. The image of the tiny, weak chick sleeping on my chest gave me so much pleasure that my toothache stopped. I did that several times, and the ruse was effective.

Translator's footnote:

  1. Deuteronomy 6:7. One of the Biblical sources for the commandment of studying Torah. Return

[Page 202]

About Rabbi Rafael Shapira

Translated by Jerrold Landau

“And I remember that during the days of my youth, when I studied Torah in the Yeshiva of Volozhin for a few years during the time of the Gaon and Tzadik, Rabbi Rafael, may the memory of the righteous be blessed – we had no need for books on fear of G-d or morality in order to merit such traits, for our teacher and rabbi served for us, through his Torah and righteousness, as a sort of living Torah school, a book with everything in it. His straightforwardness and great enthusiasm themselves taught us the ways of awe and morality. – – –

Whomever has not seen the great diligence of the Gaon Rabbi Rafael, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, does not now what diligence in Torah is. The dedication of his soul to Torah, and his true righteousness cannot be described. Every lad or young man of the Yeshiva was beloved and dear to him, somewhat like the love of fathers to their only sons.

Most of the Yeshiva students who were then in the Yeshiva of Volozhin would learn for 18 hours each day. The sounds of Torah never stopped in the Yeshiva for a moment, for every night there were students who studied mishmar throughout the entire night. Even on the night of Passover, the night of the Seder, the mishmar of studiers in the Yeshiva did not stop. After one mishmar round finished conducting their Passover Seder, they immediately came to the Yeshiva to switch with their friends who were learning up to that time, so that they too could conduct the Seder. Even at the conclusion of the Maariv service on the night following Yom Kippur, a number of students remained in the Yeshiva to study rather than going to their dwellings to break their fast, until their friends who had already broken their fast arrived at the Yeshiva to swap places with them. Thus, the Yeshiva students studied Torah day and night, without any interruption in the sounds of Torah even for a minute.”

(Yosef Segal Halevi, Chazon Yosef book, pp. 6, 7)

“When I bring to my memory the era of life in the Yeshiva of Volozhin, an internal joy fills all the crevices of my heart, like a person who feels some important event in his life. Immediately the central, noble image in the Yeshiva stands before me, the great, righteous, pure Gaon, Rabi Rafael Shapira, may he memory of the righteous be blessed. He was the symbol of holiness and pure straightforwardness, which is hard to describe in words. However, to hear his prayers or his recitation of the Shema was sufficient to be influenced deeply by him and attracted to him, to bind oneself with thousands of strands of the soul. He especially left a great impression upon those who studied all night, and were able to be witnesses to his remaining awake all night, by way of the light in his house that was next to the Yeshiva. Someone looking in could see that he was awake and studying for almost the entire night. Sometimes, he would enter the Yeshiva in the middle of the night, and would walk back and forth several times, and then leave, wearing his tallit and tefillin. He would remain for an hour after the services in the morning, and the students would have a good opportunity to discuss their studies with him.”

(Rabbi Aryeh Leib Jochet, Mishnat Aryeh, “With the Yeshivot” page 271.)


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