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Old photo of the Volozhin yeshiva

The Volozhin Yeshiva (ישיבת וולוז'ין), also known as Etz HaChaim Yeshiva (the tree of the life yeshiva, ישיבת עץ החיים) , was a yeshiva in the town of Valozhyn (today part of Belarus), founded in 1803 by Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, a student of the Vilna Gaon.

Contents

History

The yeshiva was founded in 1803 by Rabbi Chaim Volozhin. In 1821, he was succeeded as head of the yeshiva by his son, Isaac. When Isaac died in 1849, Rabbi Eliezer Fried was appointed head of the yeshiva, with Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin as his assistant. Rabbi Fried died soon after, in 1854, whereupon Rabbi Berlin became the new head along with Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveichik, Reb Chaim Volozhin's great-grandson who was the assistant rosh yeshiva. In 1865, Soloveichik left to become a rabbi in Slutsk.

The Volozhin yeshiva closed in 1892. The proximate reason for the closure was the Russian government's demand for the introduction of certain secular studies. Rabbi Berlin refused to comply and allowed the government to close the yeshiva. [1]

Some have theorized that Rabbi Berlin was not so much opposed to secular studies as to the dictatorial tone of the demand: "All teachers of all subjects must have college diplomas ... no Judaic subjects may be taught between 9 AM and 3 PM ... no night classes are allowed ... total hours of study per day may not exceed ten."

Others, such as historian Shauel Stampfer, say the root of the problem was Rabbi Berlin's attempt to install his son as Rosh Yeshiva in the face of opposition. Russian government documents that have recently come to light seem to indicate that this was a consideration in the yeshiva's closure.[2]

Rabbi Refael Shapiro, the son-in-law of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, reopened the yeshiva in 1899, albeit on a smaller scale. It remained open until World War II, and was reestablished, also on a small scale, in Israel after the war.

Threat of repossession

In 2000, the Valozhyn authorities returned the building to the Jewish Religious Union of Belarus, an Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization. In 2007, the government of Belarus threatened to repossess the building unless the community raised $20,000 in order to renovate it. The Jewish community in America took action and Agudath Israel raised money to restore the site.[3]

Prominent alumni

References

Bibliography

  • Shaul Stampfer, Lithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Century
  • E. Leoni, Wolozyn; sefer shel ha-ir-shel yeshivat “Ets Hayim” Tel-Aviv, 1970

External links

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