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The Kelm Talmud Torah was a famous yeshiva in pre-holocaust Kelmė, Lithuania. Unlike other yeshivas, the Talmud Torah focused primarily on the study of Mussar ("Jewish ethics") and self-improvement.



The Talmud Torah was founded in 1862 by Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, known as the Alter of Kelm (the Elder of Kelm), to strengthen the study of Mussar and counter the effects of the Haskalah movement in Lithuania.

In 1872, Rabbi Ziv purchased a plot of land and erected a building for the Talmud Torah. A few short years later, however, in 1876, the Talmud Torah was denounced to the authorities, who began to watch it closely and to hound it. Many traditional Jews in Kelm saw Rabbi Ziv as a "reformer," as his school supported unconventional prayer practices and an unconventional, mussar-focused curriculum.[1] Rabbi Ziv decided to open his school elsewhere: he re-established it in Grobin, in the Kurland province.

In 1881, Rabbi Ziv returned to Kelm. Young men from Kelm and the surrounding areas flocked to study under Rabbi Ziv and the town once again became a centre of Mussar.

Rabbi Ziv established a group that was known as "Devek Tov," comprising his foremost students. He shared a special relationship with the group's members and he worked on writing out his discourses for them.

Rabbi Ziv died in 1898 and his son Rabbi Nochum Zev Ziv and son-in-law, Rabbi Hirsch Braude, took over the running of the Talmud Torah. Rabbi Braude died in 1913 and Rabbi Nochum Ziv died in 1916. Following Rabbi Nochum Ziv's death, the leadership of the Talmud Torah was filled by his sons-in-law: Rabbi Daniel Movshovitz and Rabbi Gershon Miadnik. Another son-in-law was Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler.

On June 21, 1941, Nazi forces entered Kelm. Shortly after, the faculty and students of the Talmud Torah were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators and are buried in a mass grave in the fields of the Grozhebiski farm.

Educational ethos

Most of the students who came to study at the Talmud Torah were married. Entry to the Talmud Torah was difficult and restricted to select students from other yeshivas, who had to bring letters of recommendation from their Rosh Yeshiva. Students were chosen after they passed rigorous examinations on Mussar. At its peak, the Talmud Torah had a student body of between 30 and 35 members.

The curriculum of the Talmud Torah under Rabbi Ziv's leadership was fairly unique for a nineteenth-century Lithuanian yeshiva in two respects:

1. Most of the day's learning was devoted to Mussar, work on the improvement of character traits. In most Lithuanian yeshivas, nearly the entire day was spent studying Talmud. By contrast, at the Talmud Torah, according to Menahem Glenn, "Musar was the chief study, while the study of Talmud was only of minor importance and little time was devoted to it."[2]

2. In addition to Jewish subjects, students studied general subjects such as geography, mathematics, and Russian language and literature for three hours a day. The Kelm Talmud Torah was the first traditional yeshiva in the Russian empire to give such a focus to general studies.[3]

Famous students

The Mashgichim in many of the yeshivas in Poland and Lithuania were students of the Talmud Torah of Kelm. Some were:


  1. ^ Menahem Glenn, Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker (New York: Dropsie College, 1953), 71-2.
  2. ^ Menahem Glenn, Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker (New York: Dropsie College, 1953), 71.
  3. ^ Zalman Ury, The Musar Movement: A Quest for Excellence in Character Education (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1970), 51.



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