Historian & Electronics Engineer
The Golden Age of the Lithuanian Yeshivas
This book describes the world of Lithuanian yeshivas in Eastern Europe in the last phase of their existence, from the end of the First World War until the first days of the Holocaust—an era that the collective memory of the Torah world defines as the “golden age” of its history. It presents a lateral view of the world of Lithuanian yeshivas in its historical, organizational, economic, educational, social, and statistical aspects from the years after the First World War until the time of its destruction two decades later. This presentation is based on individual research of the history of each of the Lithuanian yeshivas in Eastern Europe. Knowledge of what was static and dynamic in their existence allows, on one hand, examination of the common processes they underwent from each of the aforementioned aspects, and on the other, identification of that which was unique to each one. Due to the lack of space, this book cannot include monographs about each yeshiva; nevertheless, it reveals a small portion of the events that occurred within some yeshivas to give examples of lateral processes or to highlight exceptional phenomena.
The book consists of three sections:
The first section (chapters 1–2) traces the reestablishment of the yeshiva world after the First World War. The social and economic conditions in Lithuania and Poland, which had just received their independence, presented the yeshivas with complex challenges. Despite the difficulties that faced them, they succeeded in rehabilitating and establishing themselves, most of them in their original locations. As if not satisfied by that which already existed, the yeshiva world chose to expand to new areas, whether among the Hasidim of Poland or in the Land of Israel. Moreover, its methods were copied by Hasidic Lithuanian circles according to a format similar to that of the traditional Lithuanian yeshiva.
The second section (chapters 3–6) offers an in-depth observation into the interwar yeshiva world from an economic, organizational, educational, and human standpoint. Even though each of these aspects presents an independent measure, often mutual influences can be found, and interdependency between them is evident. The proper examination of these aspects is therefore similar to observing different components of one common picture, and this is what created the special character of the yeshiva world in the decades between the two cataclysmic world wars.
The third section (chapters 7–8) deals with the period beginning with the outbreak of the Second World War and ends with the start of the extermination of the Jews in Lithuania. In the course of this period, the yeshiva world experienced a very rapid succession of events. The occupation of Poland and the political changes led to the flight of most of the yeshivas from the former Polish territories to Vilna. Within a short time, they succeeded in reorganizing themselves in Lithuania, and after its Soviet takeover, they and their local counterparts continued their attempts at survival there while trying to leave that country. The fate of most of these yeshivas was sealed for the worst with the beginning of Nazi German bombing over Lithuania.
The third section (chapters 7-8) deals with the period beginning with the outbreak of the Second World War and ends with the start of the extermination of the Jews in Lithuania. In the course of this period, the yeshiva world experienced a very rapid succession of events. The occupation of Poland and the political changes led to the flight of most of the yeshivas from the former Polish territories to Vilna. Within a short time they succeeded in reorganizing themselves in Lithuania, and after its Soviet takeover they, as well as their local counterparts, continued their attempts at survival there, while trying to leave that country. The fate of most of these yeshivas was sealed for the worst with the beginning of Nazi German bombing over Lithuania.
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.