TELSIAI (Rus. Telshi ; Ger. Telschen ; Yid. Telz ), city in N.W. Lithuania. Jews began to settle in Telsiai in the 17th century, when they were under the jurisdiction of the community of *Kedainiai. During Russian rule (1795–1915) Telsiai was a district town in Kovno province. J.L. *Gordon, who was a teacher in the state-controlled Jewish school from 1866 to 1872, describes the community in his letters and poems as conservative and attached to tradition. The number of Jews in the community increased from 2,248 in 1847 to 4,204 in 1864. The years of famine in Lithuania in the 1850s and the lack of railroad connections contributed to the decline of Telsiai and emigration from the town. In 1897 3,088 Jews (51% of the total population) lived there.
The community was wiped out when the Germans invaded Lithuania. In July 1941 all the men were brutally tortured and killed by the Lithuanian Fascists and within six months the women too were murdered. In 1970, the Jewish population of Telsiai was estimated at around 150.
Telsiai became important for the Jews and Jewish history because of the yeshivah which existed there from 1875 to 1941. Established by the community's scholars, it developed into a central institution of traditional Jewish scholarship under the leadership of Eliezer *Gordon, rabbi of the community from 1883 to 1910, and after his death, of Joseph Leib Bloch (1910–30). New methods were introduced in the yeshivah; the division of the pupils into five classes according to their knowledge, periodic tests, and compulsory attendance at classes. The study of *musar was instituted under Gordon and became especially prominent under Bloch. The reputation of the yeshivah was furthered by Simeon Shkop (to 1904) and Ḥayyim Rabinowitz, who shaped the "way of Telz" in Torah study, which concentrated on the development of acuity and skill in profound logical analysis. After the *Volozhin yeshivah was closed by the authorities in 1892, Telz became one of the central yeshivot in Russia and had 300–350 students. A new building was completed in 1897 (it was rebuilt after the great fire of 1908). When some Telsiai Jews were expelled during the general expulsion from Lithuania in 1915, the yeshivah continued its activities. During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918–40) the yeshivah was one of the three largest in the country, serving as a Torah center for all Orthodox Jewry.
In a community of 1,545 Jews in 1923 (approximately one-third of the town's total population) and 2,800 Jews in 1939, the yeshivah had a decisive influence. A complete educational network was established under its control: an Orthodox kindergarten, an educational institution for boys, a school for girls, an Orthodox secondary school for girls called Yavneh, a seminary for Orthodox teachers, also called Yavneh (transferred in 1924 from Kovno to Telz), headed by Yiẓḥak Raphael Holzberg-Eẓion, and a Hebrew seminary for teachers. Near the yeshivah a kolel was established in which graduates of the yeshivah were trained for the rabbinate. The Orthodox Hebrew monthly Ha-Ne'eman (1928–31) and the bulletin of *Agudat Israel in Lithuania, Der Yidisher Lebn, were issued in the town. Yeshivah students were sent to Lithuanian towns to establish "small yeshivot" (i.e., schools for children) in which they prepared children for study in the Telz yeshivah. In the 1930s Abraham Isaac Bloch and Azriel Rabinowitz, the sons of its first leaders, were the heads of the yeshivah. With the Soviet annexation of Lithuania in 1940 the yeshivah building was confiscated and the students dispersed to several Lithuanian towns, where they continued their studies under their rabbis. A few teachers and students managed to reach the United States.
In 1941 the Telz yeshivah was reestablished in Cleveland, Ohio, under E.M. *Bloch, and in 1971 it had about 400 students and was directed by M. *Gifter. In 1959, a girl's school by the name of Yavneh, counterpart of the yeshivah, was founded in Cleveland, and two years later a teachers' seminary was opened there.
A.E. Friedmann, Sefer ha-Zikhronot (1962), 106–11; Sefer ha-Yovel le-S. Shkop (1936), 38–44, 54–56, 63, 73–74; M. Berlin, Mi-Volozhin ad Yerushalayim, 1 (1939), 164–71; Lite (1951), 1574–76; E.M. Bloch, ibid., 623–30; idem, in: Ha-Pardes, 16 (1942), 5–8; E. Asheri, Ḥurban Lita (1951), 238–40; S. Assaf, in: He-Avar, 2 (1954), 34–45; Gifter, in: Mosedot Torah be-Eiropah (1956), 169–88; Alon, Meḥkarim, 1 (1957), 1–11; B. Dinur, Be-Olam she-Shaka (1958), 62–78; Yahadut Lita, 3 (1967), 315–6; Bialoblocki, ibid., 233–7; D. Katz, ibid., 233–7; S. Kushnir, Sadot ve-Lev (1962), 29–36.