Volozhyn

Home of a famous Lithuanian-style yeshiva.

Volozyhn was a Russian town, now part of Belarus, that was home to a prominent Lithuanian-style (not Hasidic) yeshiva from 1803 until 1892. Jews settled there in the middle of the 16th century, and the town had a sizable Jewish community until the Holocaust.

The Volozyhyn yeshiva, founded by Hayyim Ben Solomon (also called Hayyim of Volozhyn), a student of the renowned Vilna Gaon, was an outpost of conservatism and opposition to the Hasidic movement. The yeshiva admitted only distinguished Talmud scholars and was considered one of the world’s most elite centers of Talmudic learning until the Russian government shut it down.

According to Rabbi Louis Jacobs’ The Jewish Religion, Ben Solomon’s writings took issue with several Hasidic ideas, such as its doctrine of panentheism — the idea that all is in God — and the notion that Torah study is not a good in and of itself, but that it is merely a means to strengthen one’s attachment to God.

Another major leader of the yeshiva, Naftali Zvi Judah Berlin, was known as the Netziv. During the yeshiva’s heyday, according to Jacobs, its emissaries raised funds from Jews throughout Europe, and it operated 24 hours a day, with students studying there in shifts.

The yeshiva was officially closed in 1892 because its leaders refused to include secular and Russian-language studies, fearing secular studies would turn the students away from the study of Talmud. However, according to Jacobs, it secretly reopened and operated, “albeit in severe decline,” until the Holocaust, when the town’s Jewish population was murdered.

Adapted from The Jewish Encyclopedia.

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