The Golden Age of the Lithuanian Yeshivas
The Golden Age of the Lithuanian Yeshivas tells the story of the last chapter of Jewish rabbinical schools in Eastern Europe, from the eve of World War I to the outbreak of World War II.
The Lithuanian yeshiva established a rigorous standard for religious education in the early 1800s that persisted for over a century and continues to this day. Although dramatically reduced and forced into exile in Russia and Ukraine during World War I, the yeshivas survived the war, with yeshiva heads and older students forming the nucleus of the institutions. These scholars rehabilitated the yeshivas in their original locations and quickly returned to their regular activities. Moreover, they soon began to expand into areas now empty of yeshivas in lands occupied by Hasidic populations in Poland and even into the lands that would soon become Israel.
During the economic depression of the 1930s, students struggled for food and their leaders journeyed abroad in search for funding, but their determination and commitment to the yeshiva system continued. Despite the material difficulties that prevailed in the yeshivas, there was consistently a full occupancy of students, most of them in their twenties. Young men from all over the free world joined these yeshivas, which were considered the best training programs for the religious professions and rabbinical ordination. The outbreak of World War II and the Soviet occupation of first eastern Poland and then Lithuania marked the beginning of the end of the Yeshivas, however, and the Holocaust ensured the final destruction of the venerable institution.
The first version of this work, Ketzur Halamish, published in Hebrew by the academic publishing house of the Zalman Shazar Center in Jerusalem in 2014, encompassed the world of Lithuanian yeshivas in the years before the First World War until the outbreak of the Second World War. The events that occurred in the yeshivas in the war years 1939–1941 were not presented; thus the picture of the Lithuanian yeshiva world was incomplete because the link between the old yeshiva society and the yeshiva world that was miraculously rehabilitated before our very eyes in its new homes is missing. This book has filled the gap, and an entire section has been added that shows the fascinating transformations—amazing by any standard—that took place in the yeshivas from the beginning of the Second World War. The chapters in this section show the fate of that old yeshiva world, the greater part of which was cruelly liquidated by the Germans and Lithuanians; only a small fragment survived in order to continue the wondrous tradition of Torah study.