Shapira, Meir

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SHAPIRA, MEIR

SHAPIRA, MEIR (1887–1934), Polish rabbi, rosh yeshivah, educationalist, and communal leader. Shapira received ordination when he was only 15 years old from Isaac *Shmelkes, Meir Arikh, and his teacher, his maternal grandfather, Samuel Isaac Schor. Shapira manifested his future interest in Jewish education as early as 1910, when in his first position as communal rabbi of Gliniany, he founded his first yeshivah in his own home, later transferring it to his next post in Sanok. He rapidly gained a reputation among Polish Jewry, and was elected to the chair of the education committee of Polish *Agudat Israel in 1919 and to the leadership of the whole organization in 1922. Shapira also became a Jewish spokesman in Polish government circles in 1923. He was elected to the Polish Sejm, where he was noted for his forceful speeches and outspoken criticism of antisemitism. Within two years, however, Shapira decided to devote the whole of his life and energy to Jewish education. He thereupon resigned from the Sejm in 1924, accepted the post of rabbi in Piotrkow, and worked for the development of the two enterprises which remain his greatest contribution to Jewish education.

The first enterprise was a program of studies (still in existence) which has passed into Jewish nomenclature as the daf yomi ("daily page"). At the 1923 congress of Agudat Israel, Shapira proposed that every Jew undertake to study each day one identical page of the Talmud. The plan envisaged a communal completion of the study of the Talmud every seven years. Shapira himself participated in the completion of the first cycle in 1931. Shapira's second achievement was the establishment of Yeshivat Ḥakhmei Lublin. He first conceived of the idea of this yeshivah in 1922, and two years later, after a highly strenuous fund-raising tour of Europe and North America, laid the foundation stone in the presence of leading Jewish rabbis and dignitaries. This institution was unique in conception, character, and even architecture. Shapira was vigorously opposed to the poor amenities, unattractive surroundings, and penurious atmosphere characteristic of the traditional yeshivot. He set a precedent, now universally followed, by equipping his establishment at Lublin with an excellent library (much of it his own), with spacious living and dining quarters, and with appropriate lecture halls. The academic standards themselves were maintained by a rigorous selection of applicants, including a growing number of ḥasidic youth. Shapira frequently lectured to the students and participated in their daily studies, activities, and even meals.

In 1933 Shapira accepted an invitation to become rabbi of Lodz, on condition that the community honor the yeshivah's debts. The condition was accepted, but Shapira died before assuming the post. Shapira was an enigmatic and colorful personality, in whom a deep understanding of rabbinic lore was combined with a nimble wit and love of life. The former is indicated in his responsa Or ha-Me'ir (1926), and in various collections of essays published by his pupils. The latter was revealed in the songs and melodies he composed while dancing with his students. Many of his witty aphorisms are still quoted. The manner of his death was characteristic of his life. Realizing that his end was near, he requested his students to dance in song around his bed; while they were so engaged, he breathed his last breath.

bibliography:

S. Nadler (ed.), Sefer ha-Yovel… Me'ir Shapira (1930); M.W. Niestépower, Ha-Yoẓer vi-Yẓirato (1937); B. Mintz, Me'ir be-Ahavah (1943); I. Frenkel, Men of Distinction, 2 (1967), 31–39; A. Sorski (ed.), Rabbi Me'ir Shapira be-Mishnah, be-Omer u-ve-Ma'as, 2 vols. (1964–67).

[Mordechai Hacohen]