Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Nissan 5763 - April 30, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Adventures of a Mirrer Bochur in Europe

by Rav Dov Eliach

As a bochur, Menachem Manes Moore sailed from his hometown in Northern England carrying a large load of spiritual recording equipment. He had a powerful desire to absorb all he could and a great thirst to charge his batteries with Torah and mussar. Everywhere he went, his head took in the picture laid out before his eyes. He would listen and absorb, look and take "photographs" with his mind's built-in camera.

Yet wherever he roamed his strongest sentiments remained attached to Yeshivas Mir in Poland, the yeshiva he felt bound to and where most of his memories were set. He remained a "Mirrer" all of his life. But along came World War II, cutting short his stay in Mir. In fact when we spoke to Rav Menachem Moore zt'l fifty years later in Gateshead, he began his story shortly before the war broke out.


Part II

The first part discussed HaRav Moore's extensive travels throughout the yeshiva world of prewar Europe, including stops in Vilna, Drozegnik, Telz, Yanuva, Ramigola, Kelm, Kovna, Vladivostok, Australia, New York and Lakewood.

In this section he talks mainly about Mirrer Yeshiva, which was the one he felt closest to.

Yeshivas Mir -- Poland

The beis medrash was very wide. Along its width were three rows of very long benches. The aron kodesh stood facing them at the mizrach. At the back end of the beis medrash, near the entrance, stood a huge furnace made of bricks and covered with ceramic. It was a very large building, but also extremely plain. The walls were totally bare. More than 400 bochurim filled the heichal, which was full and crowded. There were also older bochurim who would stand together in the aisles talking over their learning. I especially remember the voice of Rav Michel Feinstein. In the beis medrash you couldn't discern individual voices over the din of learning, but he could be heard loud and clear. He would speak with great fervor--rischo deOraisa--and his booming voice could be heard throughout the hall.

The practice at Mir was that every bochur who came to study at the yeshiva would receive slips that could be exchanged for portions of bread, and similar slips to receive meat. They would give these slips to the housewives at the boarding houses and in exchange [the housewives] would prepare bread and meat for us.

Those who had a bit of seniority at the yeshiva, one or two years or more, would also receive chalukoh money which made their living conditions easier, while the older ones among them received an extra portion. This chalukoh, worth about 20 zlotis per month, made it possible to buy fish, butter, eggs and similar food items not considered luxuries. The bochurim paid for their rooms out of their own money, except for those from poor families in whose case the yeshiva took care of it.

A way for anyone to receive increased chalukoh was to present chiddushei Torah before the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Leizer Yudel, which spurred the bochurim to study diligently and encouraged them to seek chiddushim in their learning.

At Yeshivas Mir there was no position of mishneh lemashgiach or mashgiach koton to help supervise the hundreds of talmidim. No. Nobody ever spoke with me and I never saw one of these at Mir. The mashgiach, HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein did the entire job. Although at Telz there was a special mashgiach, HaRav Zalman Bloch, part of whose task was to ensure that everyone came to the sedorim, the tefillos, and so on, but at Mir there was no need for this.

[He laughs.] At Mir there was nothing to do but sit and learn. A bochur who didn't learn, where could he be? What was there to do in such a tiny town like Mir? And besides, the Mirrer bochurim were quite responsible. Such things [as shirking study] were out of the question for them!

Sura and Pompedisa

The students at the yeshiva were generally from 20 to 30 years old, although some were 32 and over. The main reason for this was that during those years it was very difficult to secure positions in the rabbinate and as roshei yeshivos. Bochurim who were real gedolei Torah and aspired to such positions nevertheless had to wait a long time until they found the daughter of a rov or rosh yeshiva, and so in the meantime they got older.

There were a few who attained their goal, such as HaRav Naftoli Trop at Yeshivas Radin, followed by R' Zeidel Semiatitzky, who became the son-in-law of HaRav Schneider in London. Rav Zeidel was one of about five bochurim who were thirty and over and one of the most prominent figures at the yeshiva, along with R' Leib Malin and R' Eliyohu Chazzan.

The Alter of Slobodka, HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, advised his son Rav Leizer Yudel the rosh yeshiva, to send older bochurim to Brisk every year to learn by Rav Velvel Soloveitchik. At any given time there were twenty or thirty bochurim who had returned from Brisk and would speak of Rav Velvel's chiddushei Torah at the yeshiva.

Another clique was the Radiners, bochurim who had come from Yeshivas Radin, and they would bring with them Rav Naftoli Trop's Torah learning. Just a few years earlier he had been among the eltereh bochurim at the yeshiva, and they remembered his mehalchim in each and every sugya.

The Torah learning of the leading roshei yeshivos would make the rounds of the yeshiva. This was said in the name of Rav Chaim, and this in the name of Rav Shimon, and so on. Rav Shimon's teachings really were studied extensively. I remember how Shaarei Yosher was tattered and worn from use on all sides. But if I'm not mistaken the chiddushim of Rav Velvel and Rav Naftoli played a central role and drew the most interest.

A Rebbe for Every Talmid

Another of the Rosh Yeshiva's practices was to have the older bochurim learn with bochurim from abroad in a fixed seder every day. He [charged them with this task] when they came to him asking for increased chalukoh as veterans at the yeshiva. Members of this class of older bochurim were at the level of roshei yeshivos in every way. They knew all of the material being studied in the yeshiva, had mastered the Rishonim and Acharonim on all of Noshim and Nezikin, and those who were sent to Brisk returned with knowledge in Kodshim as well. They set the tone for the yeshiva, both in learning and in spiritual life.

In any case the Rosh Yeshiva wanted to oblige them and proposed an idea. Since many of the foreigners who came to the yeshiva--particularly Americans, British and Germans--had studied in schools and their level of study did not match that of the local talmidim who had attended yeshivos ketanos, from now on all those who came from abroad would have to hire a rebbe from among the elteres and pay a sum of 25 zlotis per month. As soon as about 30 older bochurim gained talmidim, the problem was solved and the increased chalukoh was definitely felt.

My rebbe was Rav Simchah Kaplan, who later became the rov of Tzfas. I would pay his wages from the money my mother sent me. He was 28 at the time and was among the leading talmidim at Mir. Like his close friends, he too was sent to learn by the Brisker Rav for a certain period of time. His cousin, Rav Simchah Sheppes, followed in his footsteps and later went on to become a maggid shiur at Yeshivas Torah Vodaas in New York.

This practice contributed considerably to the talmidim from abroad, and really this was the main source of their learning: two hours of study per day with the oldest and most outstanding bochurim at the yeshiva. The idea was devised by the rosh yeshiva, Rav Leizer Yudel, a bright idea by a very sharp-minded Jew--who was as wise as he was clever.

The Study Schedule

This was the daily schedule at Mir: The first seder began at 9:30 a.m. and continued until 2:00 p.m., which was the time for Minchah--tefilloh ketzoro without chazoras hashatz. At 2:15 we went to eat lunch and the second seder began at 4:00. The meal would last close to an hour and afterwards we needed a bit of rest, to slip off our shoes or to go for a stroll outside on days when the weather permitted. Of course many rushed back to the beis medrash after a half-hour or so, before the second seder began. By 4:00 the beis medrash was already full! At Mir this went without saying. Nobody imagined it could be otherwise.

This seder lasted until 10:00 p.m. -- six whole hours. Then we would daven Ma'ariv and go to the boarding houses to eat supper and maybe step outside for some fresh air. By then it was already midnight, time for bed.

There were definitely some masmidim who would return to the beis medrash, but for the most part the seder ended at 10:00, then we davened and ate. Since we had to get up for the tefilloh, how much time was there left to learn?

During the second part of the second seder, from about 6:00 to 10:00, we would change to a different type of learning, such as bekius study of the second half of the maseches or another maseches; for example, learning Kiddushin from Ho'ish Mekadesh until the end of the maseches. Due to the influence of returnees from Brisk, there was also a chaburah that spent this time studying Kodshim.

The pace was about 30 dapim of iyun per zman. This was in addition to the bekius learning of most, if not all, of a maseches. Yet this was perceived to be insufficient, something that needed to be rectified, learning a mere 30 dapim!

About half of the bochurim remained at the yeshiva during the month of Nisan including Pesach. There was no bein hazmanim break. Those who wanted to go home went, and those who remained, sat and learned as usual. Thus after Pesach there was no summer session marked by an opening-day shiur or any other indication of a new beginning. During the month of Nisan we would sleep in the same boarding house and received slips to be exchanged for bread and meat, everything as usual just as throughout the winter session.

Some bochurim would do the matzo baking for the rest of the talmidim and staff of the yeshiva. I recall dancing together during Pesach. But on the night of the Seder there was no group Seder, rather separate Seders in each and every boarding house.

The Tefilloh

Tefillas Hashachar was at 7:15 or thereabouts [depending on the time of year], if I'm not mistaken. The tefilloh lasted a bit over an hour, and another ten minutes on Mondays and Thursdays. The tefilloh was orderly and tightly scheduled. Brochos and Pesukei Dezimroh lasted half an hour since the chazzan would say Borechu half an hour from the time the tefilloh began.

The tefilloh itself left a very powerful and singular impression on me. After Borechu nobody went in or out. Everyone sat in his place and the beis medrash was packed from wall to wall. From this point on no conversation was heard, chas vecholilo. Not a single word until the end of the tefilloh.

Throughout the tefilloh nobody budged or moved an inch from his place, something I have not seen anywhere besides Mir, and apparently this was all due to the influence of the mashgiach, Rav Yeruchom. Elsewhere one would find eltereh bochurim roaming to and fro. Although they were much better than the shtiebelach, still people would come in and go out, etc. At Mir this was an anomaly. That was the atmosphere there. Nobody even went to the bathroom during the tefilloh.

"Omen" was said in unison and everyone would say "omen" together after the chazzan. "Omen, yehei Shemei rabbo mevorach" was also very impressive. Everyone said it one word at a time, clearly and in a memorable melody.

Pesukei Dezimroh lasted for 25 minutes, mamash kemoneh mo'os. When the chazzan came to Kedushoh Desidro he would bang on the bimoh and everyone would say the verses together. At every opportunity to recite in unison the chazzan would bang on the bimoh and right away everyone would recite divrei Elokim chaim aloud together with yir'oh.

By the way, in Bircas Hamozone we would only bentsch until "al yechasreinu," and from there on not another word. Similarly we would end bircas Bonei Yerusholoyim according to the Gra's custom, not saying the word, "berachamov."

During Havdoloh on motzei Shabbos all of the listeners were seated in their places. Rav Chaim Sharshevsky, a man of considerable achievement and one of the older bochurim at the yeshiva, would recite Havdoloh at Mir, and to this day I say Havdoloh exactly as he did. He would say it in a loud voice, with exceptional melodiousness and clarity so everyone could hear.

From Baranowitz to Mir

In general those who came to Mir from other yeshivos already had some knowledge of gemora and the commentators. Those who had learned under HaRav Elchonon Wasserman knew how to learn particularly well, since the learning there was taken very seriously. Rav Elchonon had already set them on the right path in terms of study and they could stand on their own two feet with confidence.

Bochurim under the age of 18 did not come to Mir. The better talmidim under Rav Elchonon could come to Mir once they reached the age of 18. At Baranowitz the maximum age was 20. Afterwards either they would return home or go to another yeshiva, a yeshiva gedoloh. Most of Rav Elchonon's better talmidim did wind up at Mir, which was quite close to Baranowitz, only about 20 mil [12 miles] away.

Out of the goodness of his heart, rosh yeshivas Mir Rav Leizer Yudel would send money to Rav Elchonon to fill up the yeshiva's empty coffers, for on numerous occasions the talmidim there went hungry. This was not the case at Yeshivas Mir, which managed to raise funds in America and was able to support its fellow yeshiva as well. At the time, Mir was the richest yeshiva, with the possible exception of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin.

By the way, at Yeshivas Mir, Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin was not held in such high regard. It was perceived as a place that had not proven itself as a yeshiva. Nevertheless many people had a very high opinion of the Admor of Gur, HaRav Avrohom Mordechai Alter, and showed great appreciation for his gadlus in Torah. They also had a very high opinion of HaRav Menachem Ziemba, and would travel to Warsaw especially to speak with him in learning. He was greatly respected as a gaon muflag in Torah, much more than other lomdim you could find in Warsaw.

At the yeshiva itself, some specialized in mussar, such as HaRav Elya Chazzan or HaRav Dovid Kobriner (Kronglas), who later became mashgiach in Baltimore. During his time at Mir he did a lot to encourage the British and American bochurim. He himself was an orphan with no family, but he was really a geshmaker mentsch!

The mussar seforim studied at Mir included Mesillas Yeshorim and Shaarei Teshuvoh, and another sefer often used was Yalkut Yedi'os Ho'emes (Derech Hashem) by the Ramchal. There were dozens of copies of these seforim at the yeshiva and much use was made of them.

What is a Mirrer Man?

Mir was particularly noted for ahavoh and achvoh and derech eretz. If, nevertheless, someone hurt someone else accidentally he would immediately apologize and ask for forgiveness. Here in England politeness is a common heritage, but it is merely a national tradition. I don't know if anyone is sincere. But there we really did mean it!

Once a certain bochur stepped into a boarding house on Shabbos in the day and the housewife served him and his friends cups of tea. Suddenly one of the guests slipped and spilled his cup of tea on one of the elteres sitting there. The tea was boiling hot, plus it spilled all over his nice Shabbos clothes. But rather than growing angry or losing his head he turned to the housewife calmly and said, "Balebusteh! Perhaps you could bring him another cup of tea."

He expressed neither his own pain nor the harm done to him, as if the only problem was that one of the guests was left without a cup of tea.

What I really enjoyed at Mir was the independence of the bochurim. Take Yeshivas Telz, for instance. There the roshei yeshiva were the ones who directed the yeshiva, but at Mir self-discipline reigned. Everyone was independently responsible for his personal conduct.

When the War broke out I used to travel frequently to Kovno, where there were avreichim with yiras Shomayim, avreichim from Slobodka and Kletsk and Kamenitz. But after studying at Mir for a while, I knew how to discern who among them had yiras Shomayim. Not that I knew everyone -- even at the yeshiva itself there was no way I could know all of the hundreds of bochurim -- but I could recognize in certain people that they had to be talmidim from Mir.

At Mir the practice in terms of outward appearance was neither to be sloppy like at Novardok nor meticulously groomed like at Slobodka. There was a different look. You could see a certain air of importance [in the Mirrer man]. He looked like a mentsch, perhaps with a slight touch of pride, but it was suppressed!

Many years later, I had set times for learning at Yeshivas Gateshead and I learned in chavrusa with HaRav Chaim Ozer Elynson, who is now in London. We spent seven years learning all of maseches Shabbos. One day I noticed a Yid walk into the beis medrash and walk over to speak with the rosh yeshiva, Rav Leib Gurwicz, o'h. I turned to Rav Chaim Ozer and told him, "That Yid is a Mirrer!"

"How do you know?" he asked me.

And I replied, "I can see it in him, that he was a talmid at Mir!"

I had never seen him before and I did not know him previously, but it turned out I was right. Later I was told he was a long-time Mirrer who had been appointed head of the shochtim in London. I don't know how to describe what I saw in him, but he looked like a Mirrer. He carried himself with a sense of importance, not gaivo but a unique manner of conduct.

At Mir, the Slobodkers were not held in such high regard. They were considered baalei gaivo. Actually the Alter of Slobodka's approach steered them and pushed them in that direction--to dress meticulously and to walk with a stately gait. All of this was to achieve the goal he had set for himself, to make sure they would stand up to the influence of the streets.

On one of my trips to Kovno I happened to eat at Yeshivas Slobodka. The dining room was arranged with small tables covered with snow-white tablecloths and goyishe women serving the food. They would cover their heads with kerchiefs, like the goyishe ladies here in England, and they would bring the food around to the tables. Nowhere else did I see such manners, and this was on a regular weekday! At Mir this was seen with a critical eye.


Rav Moore himself notes that a number of Torah greats emerged from the talmidim at Slobodka. But his loyalty to his own yeshiva and its hallowed tradition runs deep. "Nonetheless, in my humble opinion, Mir was the best of all of the yeshivos. Both in learning and in other matters. They were mentschen!"

Rav Moore is very happy to have finally found the right word to define what a Mirrer is. "Ho! Dos iz der vort-- mentschen."


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