Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Belarus, China, Jerusalem and Brooklyn: The Odyssey of the World’s Largest Yeshiva

For 125 years, from 1814 until 1939, the Mir Yeshiva served as a beacon of elite Torah study on the European continent. Situated in the small town of Mir in Belarus, the yeshiva was founded by Rabbi Shmuel Tiktinsky. Eventually, after a few generations of Tiktinsky Roshei Yeshiva (Deans of Yeshiva), Rabbi Eliyahu Boruch Kamai was appointed Rosh Yeshiva (Dean of Yeshiva) and his daughter married a young scholar named Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, the son of the famed Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, known as the Alter of Slabodka, the sagacious, pious and inspiring leader of the Slabodka Yeshiva. Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda eventually was named Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva. With the exception of the World War I years, when the yeshiva was forced to move to Poltava, Ukraine, The Mir Yeshiva educated thousands of students in their building in Belarus.

The story of the Mir Yeshiva’s escape from Hitler’s clutches is legendary, and some would even argue, miraculous. The story how they approached the Japanese consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, for exit visas is one of the few positive stories of Jewish rescue that emerged during World War II. After the Mir Yeshiva’s relocation to Shanghai, China, during the years of World War II, the faculty and students immigrated to Jerusalem, Israel, and New York. Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah served as Rosh Yeshiva of Mir Jerusalem until his death on July 19, 1965. He was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz. The reins of the yeshiva’s leadership returned to the Finkel family when Rabbi Nahum Partzovitz, Rabbi Shmuelevitz’ son-in-law passed away, and Rabbi Beinish Finkel, son of Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah, was appointed as Rosh Yeshiva. American born and bred Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Rabbi Beinish’s son-in-law, led Mir Jerusalem until his passing in 2011. Currently, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi’s son, Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah, serves as Rosh Yeshiva.

The other branch of Mir moved to Brooklyn, NY, after the yeshiva’s sojourn in Asia. Mir Brooklyn, known as the Mirrer Yeshiva, was led by Rabbi Avraham Kalmanovitz, and then, Rabbi Kalmanovitz’ son-in-law, Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum. Rabbi Bernbaum passed away in 2008, and the yeshiva is currently led by Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Nelkenbaum, Rabbi Elya Brudny Rabbi Asher Dov Bernbaum and Rabbi Asher Eliyahu Kalmanovitz.

Mir Jerusalem, with 8,500 students, is the largest yeshiva in the world.

The Mir Yeshiva in Belarus closed in Europe on the second of Cheshvan, 1939.

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