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Slobodka Yeshivah


SLOBODKA YESHIVAH , a leading European yeshivah which was dedicated to the ideals of the *Musar movement. In 1882 the yeshivah was founded in Slobodka, a suburb of Kouro, Lithuania, by R. Nathan Ẓevi *Finkel as an advanced school for the graduates of the local elementary yeshivah which had previously been established by R. Ẓevi Levitan. The new school made rapid strides after the leading yeshivah of this era, the *Volozhin yeshivah, was closed by the czarist government on Jan. 22, 1892. Many former Volozhin students enrolled at Slobodka, and in 1893 R. Finkel appointed two brothers-in-law, both brilliant Volozhin graduates, R. Isser Zalman *Meltzer and R. Moses Mordecai *Epstein, to be the heads of the Slobodka yeshivah. R. Meltzer left in 1896 to organize the Slutzker yeshivah, but R. Epstein remained associated with the school until his death in 1933. R. Finkel remained the yeshivah's dominant personality and fashioned its unique musar environment. He instituted a daily half-hour period devoted solely to the study of musar texts, and on Saturday nights he delivered musar lectures to the assembled students. In 1896 the yeshivah was caught up in a public controversy with those students and rabbis who had long opposed the innovations of the Musar movement. The yeshivah split in 1897 and those loyal to the ideals of R. Finkel and R. Epstein renamed their school Yeshivah Keneset Israel, in memory of the founder of the Musar movement, R. Israel *Lipkin (Salanter). The other students organized a new school which they called Keneset Bet Yiẓḥak, in memory of R. Isaac Elhanan *Spektor of Kovno. It was later headed by R. Baruch Ber Leibowitz and following World War i relocated in Kamenetz, Poland.

R. Finkel's yeshivah continued to expand; by 1899 it had an enrollment of over 300 students and a new building was constructed for the school. The yeshivah's position was further strengthened with the 1910 selection of R. Epstein to serve as the chief rabbi of Slobodka. Additional heads of the yeshivah were appointed, including R. Finkel's son, R. Moses Finkel, and son-in-law R. Isaac Sher. With the outbreak of World War i, the school was compelled to move from Slobodka to Minsk, and afterward to *Kremenchug, where it remained for the duration of the war. After its return to Slobodka, the yeshivah continued expanding rapidly during the 1920s. The student body increased to over 500, including scores of foreign students from Germany and the English-speaking countries. R. Finkel organized new divisions of the yeshivah to complement its educational program, including an elementary school named Even Israel and a secondary school called Or Israel. The culmination of these schools was the Slobodka kolel, which was established in 1921.

In 1924, following the Lithuanian government's decision to discontinue its previous practice of exempting all yeshivah students from military service, it was decided to open a branch of the school in Palestine, and Hebron was chosen for its location. R. Finkel joined the new school in 1925, and it soon attracted over 150 students. Following the Arab massacre of 1929 in which 25 yeshivah students were murdered, the school relocated in Jerusalem, where it continued to function under the name of the Hebron yeshivah. The original Slobodka yeshivah, under the leadership of R. Isaac Sher, continued its activities until June 23, 1941, when the Nazi invasion was imminent. Although most of the faculty and students perished during the Holocaust, the Slobodka yeshivah was reopened in *Bene-Berak following the conclusion of the war.


E. Oshry, in: Mosedot Torah be-Eiropah, ed. by S.K. Mirsky (1956), 133–68; D. Katz, Tenu'at ha-Musar, 3 (n.d.); A. Rothkoff, in: Jewish Life (Feb.–March, 1969), 47–53; (Nov.–Dec. 1970), 34–42.

[Aaron Rothkoff]

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