Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik needs little introduction, but
many people wonder who and what is behind the project, which
just may be the most successful idea for fostering Torah
learning since the Daf Yomi was begun by Rav Meir Shapira
some eighty years ago. To find some answers to this question
we interviewed Rav Naftoli Meir Falk, Rosh Yeshivas Mordechai
Rav Falk, what new developments can you share with us
regarding this year's Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik?
First of all we have grown, boruch Hashem. The growth
rate is fantastic. This year we are expecting 50,000
children, ken yirbu, to participate in Eretz Yisroel
Fifty thousand! That's truly an amazing figure. Where did
you find all of them?
Actually they have been finding us. Our base consists of Avos
Ubonim branches, where boys and their fathers meet every erev
Shabbos during the summer and every motzei Shabbos during the
winter for an hour of learning together. Avos Ubonim has
become so popular that people come to us begging to open
other branches at various locations around the country and
abroad. Today there are 680 branches in Eretz Yisroel and
another 250 in other parts of the world.
Regular participants comprise the majority of the children
who participate in Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik on Purim. But
there are also thousands of fathers and sons who take part in
the learning program only on Purim.
When is there free time to learn on Purim? Six years ago
everybody knew there was no time to learn on Purim.
The children always had time, it was the fathers who didn't
have the time. But when a precious Jewish child begs his
father to come with him to learn, eventually the father will
be happy to capitulate. And when we offer attractive prizes
the children simply won't pass it up. This is a tried and
true recipe for success.
How did you develop the study program? Would it have
succeeded without prizes?
The first Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik in modern times was
held eleven years ago in 5752 in Lakewood by Rav Moshe
Mayers. He wanted to urge people to learn on Purim. After a
few failed attempts over the course of several years he
decided to try offering the children prizes. Within three
years there were 3,000 children learning on Purim morning in
Lakewood and another 1,000 in Monsey. But this program did
not include adults; the boys learned on their own.
In 5754 Rav Mattisyohu Salomon, then mashgiach at
Yeshivas Gateshead and today mashgiach at Yeshivas
Lakewood, organized Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik in
Gateshead, but according to the Avos Ubonim formula. He
stipulated prizes would only be rewarded to children who
brought their fathers. All of a sudden the beis
medrash was packed on Purim!
Five years later in 5759 the program was brought from
Gateshead to Eretz Yisroel, where it began to flower and
bloom in conjunction with Avos Ubonim, which is under the
direction of Rav Dovid Hirshkovitz, Rav Eliyohu Meir Sheinman
Avos Ubonim makes full use of prizes, lotteries, club
membership and other means to stir suspense and excitement
among the children. Of course at the core is a desire to
learn Torah, but after all is said and done children are
children. They have to be treated accordingly, using methods
that draw their interest.
In your opinion has this approach proven itself on Purim
Definitely. The numbers speak for themselves. Four years ago
we had 400 children learning in a single branch of Yeshivas
Mordechai Hatzaddik in Eretz Yisroel. A year later there were
14,500 children in 90 branches, a growth rate of 3500
percent! Two years ago 25,183 children came to over 300
branches located throughout Eretz Yisroel. And last year we
reached 32,480 children in more than 500 branches in Israel
alone, and nearly 40,000 children worldwide.
That would make this the biggest Torah learning program in
Am Yisroel since the Daf Yomi was founded.
Indeed. Through siyata deShmaya our program has been
accepted across the spectrum, much like the Daf Yomi. Avos
Ubonim and Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik branches are held in
every type of beis knesses and beis medrash in
Torah-true Judaism--Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Yemenite,
Chassidic, Lithuanian, people living in Meah Shearim and
people living in Gush Etzion, baalei batim and
lamdonim--in short, everybody.
It is interesting to note how each group tailors the program
to fit different needs. For instance, most branches of
Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik operate during the early
afternoon, between shlach monos and the seudah,
but Chassidic communities learn in the morning before the
tefilloh because admorim hold a tish in
the afternoon. In Antwerp there is also an interesting twist:
all of the city's branches of Avos Ubonim gather together to
learn in a huge hall. Berov om hadras Melech!
So there really is no uniform study program. What, then,
is the Central Committee's task?
We mainly provide counselling and guidance along with the
promotional material and prizes, which are ordered and
printed in huge quantities, greatly reducing costs for the
branches. The Central Committee also serves as the main think
tank for developing new ideas and ways of expanding. We also
serve as a communications link for the rabbonim, whose
opinions are binding for the entire organization.
The administration and running costs of Avos Ubonim are in
the hands of local organizers at each and every branch, with
the help of regional organizers as well. But Yeshivas
Mordechai Hatzaddik as a whole is organized and funded by the
Which rabbonim are on the committee? On what matters have
you received directives from them?
Rosh Yeshivas Mir-Brachfeld HaRav Aryeh Finkel is the main
decision-maker. What kinds of questions arise? Just one week
ago, for example, a branch in Netanya asked whether they
could learn for only 40 minutes instead of a whole hour.
Rebbe Aryeh, as he is known at Mir, considered the various
sides to the question and in the end decided they should
learn for a whole hour, based on the importance Chazal
attributed to an entire hour--yofeh sho'oh achas.
However most of the decisions relate to matters that arise
during the fundraising process. For example, should we accept
money only from private individuals in order to give them the
zchus of the great mitzvah of supporting Torah, not
"wasting" the mitzvah on commercial or official providers?
For this reason he instructed us not to give anyone the
zchus to assume more than one-third of the total costs
in order to allow the rest of Klal Yisroel to
participate in this great mitzvah.
What do you mean by "zchus?"
To support thousands of tinokos shel beis rabbon who
are sitting and learning happily on Purim, a day when, were
it not for the Yeshiva, there would be hardly anyone learning
at all--this is a tremendous zchus beyond measure.
Also, many families have seen various yeshu'os when
they helped sponsor this special mitzvah. People merited
zera shel kayamo after long years of anticipation,
unmarried people finally found their match, sick people
recovered . . .
Every year before Purim I receive phone calls from Jews in
pain and suffering all over the world asking to donate to the
program to merit yeshu'oh, and every year after Purim
I receive another round of calls from people who want to
express hakoras hatov.
Sometimes the yeshu'oh arrives almost immediately. One
person donated a large sum the day before Purim in his
daughter's merit and the next day she received her
shidduch proposal! Many of our donors came to us after
HaRav Aryeh Finkel sent them to merit yeshu'oh and
they continue to support us years later.
People say that according to HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman
the obvious miracle involving the car bomb in Meah Shearim a
few days after Purim two years ago was in the merit of
Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik.
He did in fact say that, which is not surprising. After all
the original Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik in which 22,000
children learned Torah with Mordechai Hatzaddik in the
capital city of Shushan 2,500 years ago saved all of the Jews
of that period. The importance of Torah learning among
children has not diminished today, and besiyata
deShmaya we have managed to organize more than the 22,000
children who were in Shushan!
Last year as well two attempted terrorist attacks in the
Haifa area were foiled on Purim Day, and later it was
discovered that one of the terrorists was accosted exactly
during the hour when Haifa's Tiferes Yisroel branch of
Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik was learning, while the second
attack was stopped during the hour when the Ramat Vishnitz
branch in Haifa was learning. Everyone can see this is no
You must get a great deal of satisfaction out of taking
part in the defense of Klal Yisroel.
Yes, but the greatest feeling of nachas comes when you
see the bonds forming between fathers and sons as a result of
learning Torah together. This is really the primary goal of
the weekly Avos Ubonim program, but it can be seen on Purim
as well. Chaim Walder wrote in his weekly column that if
there was a Nobel Prize for education he would nominate Avos
Ubonim and Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik for their combination
of support and emotional encouragement for the
That's a good idea. Maybe someone will suggest it to the
Nobel Prize Committee.
No thanks. I'm not willing to receive a prize as long as we
have yet to solve one weak link in avos ubonim: those
boys who do not have fathers who can come and learn with them
-- orphans, or children whose fathers are sick, children from
Russian homes. Local organizers, together with the national
organizers, R' Dovid, R' Eliyohu Meir and I, have begun to
focus on finding surrogate fathers for boys who need them,
but a great deal of work remains to be done!
What happens at branches outside of Israel?
For now we want to focus on expanding the level of activity
abroad. Branches already operating abroad receive materials
and prizes from us in accordance with their needs, and can
make use of the experience we have acquired.
And now for the big question: How does such a large
organization support itself financially?
Boruch Hashem we have fabulous supporters. Today the
merit of hosting a branch of Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik in
a certain beis knesses is a matter of prestige. Last
year a debate over who would sponsor one of the branches even
went to din Torah when the Yeshiva simply spilled over
into the adjacent beis knesses due to the large number
of participants! One of the regulars at the second beis
knesses vied with the sponsor of the original branch. The
first insisted the zchus was his because all of the
participants in the second beis knesses were overflow
from his beis knesses. The rov determined that the
original sponsor retained the rights and the other party
should find another branch to support.
What are the total costs of the operations?
The total cost is $4.50 per child. We would like to allow
ever donor to merit a portion of the Torah learning of each
and every child. A donor can give one agora for each of the
50,000 children who come to learn in Eretz Yisroel--a total
of NIS 500--thereby receiving the merit of Torah learning of
the entire yeshiva at all of its branches!
But despite the importance of acquiring funding our primary
focus is expanding the present number of branches and opening
other ones. What we need most is people willing to serve as
organizers, branch directors, etc.
They probably need to do a lot of work . . .
Less than you might expect. In the past our biggest concern
was a lack of participants, but this concern has completely
vanished. Now we have the opposite problem--not letting
matters get out of control. But our experience shows that
running Avos Ubonim and Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik bring so
much pleasure and satisfaction that the organizers get a
burst of energy that lasts for several weeks.
Everyone who has taken part is familiar with the amazing
sight, immersed with kedushoh, of dozens of pure
children, ken yirbu, coming to the beis knesses
to study at Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik. They run, hop and
dance on their way to learn, arm-in-arm with their fathers,
dressed in costumes and wearing masks, or just smiling a big
ear-to-ear Purim smile. But then everyone takes their seats
and the atmosphere becomes electrified and filled with the
geshmack of Torah learning. The fathers are thrilled
when they see the great pleasure their sons derive from Torah
learning, while the sons are enthusiastic over the
opportunity to receive personal attention and to learn with
After an hour of learning, the prize becomes a thing of minor
importance. Nobody is in a big rush to go home. Some branches
add another minute of learning at the end of the hour, a
minute of learning lishmoh, not for the sake of
All this is an unforgettable experience, and not a single
branch director has asked to resign from his post because of
the time and effort it involves.
I'm sure those who have read this interview so far want to
know just one thing: how to contact the organization.
That's very simple. Our address is Yeshivas Mordechai
Hatzaddik, Rechov Ezrat Torah 19, Jerusalem, 95320. The phone
number is 1-700-500-613 and the fax number is 02-5003406. We
will be glad to answer any questions and to do all we can to
open additional branches.
One last question, a bit personal: Where do you find the
time for all of these activities?
Besiyata deShmaya and the fact that people can always
find time for things they love to do. Our dream is to see all
of Klal Yisroel learning on Purim. If every individual does
his share, we will merit to see our dream come true!