Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Yeshivot

The name yeshivah was applied to institutes of talmudic learning of three distinct kinds:

(1) the academies in Ereẓ Israel and Babylonia in which the Mishnah was studied by the amoraim and which produced the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud (see *Talmud, Babylonian and *Talmud, Jerusalem);

(2) the academies of Sura and Pumbedita which in the geonic period were the central authoritative religious bodies for world Jewry;

(3) local institutions for the pursuit of talmudic studies which developed in the post-geonic period. This article deals with the third category only; for the others see *Academies.

The Yeshivot in Islamic Countries and in Western and Central Europe to the 15th Century

The first yeshivot outside Babylon and Ereẓ Israel were already established during the time of the geonim. *Pirkoi b. Baboi in the eighth century testifies to their existence in North Africa and in Spain, and in the tenth century yeshivot arose in the Maghreb – in Fez, in Gabès, in Sijilmassa, and in Tlemcen. The Kairouan yeshivah, where *Ḥushi'el b. Elhanan, regarded as its founder, and *Jacob b. Nissim were active, became especially famous. In Egypt there was a renowned yeshivah in Fostat headed by *Elhanan b. Shemariah, and he and other heads of yeshivot in Egypt were termed reish bei-rabbanan ("head of scholars") or rosh ha-seder ("head of the order"). In Egypt an effort was even made to revive the geonate and during the 12th century the head of yeshivot in Fostat bore the title *gaon. *Maimonides, who gave public discourses in Fostat, may have headed a yeshivah. There were still important yeshivot in Egypt in the 16th century, headed by *David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, Bezalel *Ashkenazi, and others.

The yeshivot of Ereẓ Israel moved to Damascus after the *Crusades and remained there until the end of the 12th century. There was also an important center of talmudic study in *Aleppo. The largest yeshivah in Oriental countries, headed by the last of the geonim, was in Gabhda, where there were also nine small yeshivot.

In Spain yeshivot are mentioned as existing in Lucena and in Barcelona in the middle of the eighth century, but definite evidence of them exists only from the tenth century onward. In the middle of that century *Moses b. Ḥanokh founded a large yeshivah in Córdoba, where he was succeeded by his son, Ḥanokh. The yeshivah of Granada was headed by *Samuel ha-Nagid and after him by his son Joseph. The yeshivah of Lucena attracted many students from outside Spain and continued to exist for some 250 years. Among its pupils were Jonah *Ibn Janāḥ and *Judah Halevi, among its later heads Isaac ibn Ghayyat, Isaac *Alfasi, and Joseph *Ibn Migash. The *Almohad invasion brought about the ruin of the yeshivot in southern Spain and they were replaced by the great yeshivot of Aragon and Castile.

The yeshivot of Barcelona and Toledo flourished in the time of Solomon b. Abraham *Adret, *Asher b. Jehiel, and *Nissim b. Reuben Gerondi, continued to exist until the persecutions of 1391, and exercised great influence upon the yeshivot of France and Germany. Subsequently, and until the expulsion, there were many yeshivot in Spain and by a resolution of the leaders of the communities of Castile in 1432 the duty was even imposed upon every rabbi to establish a yeshivah in his community. At that time the yeshivot of Isaac *Campanton and Isaac de *Leon in Toledo, Isaac *Aboab II, and of Samuel de Valensi became well known. Even Joseph *Jabez, who castigates the scholars of his generation for their secular outlook on life, admits that at the time of the Spanish expulsion the number of yeshivot in Castile was greater than it had ever been.

The first yeshivah in southern France was at *Narbonne, apparently founded in the tenth century. Among its heads (in the 12th century) was *Abraham b. Isaac, author of Ha-Eshkol. When *Benjamin of Tudela visited Lunel he found there an important yeshivah, whose pupils, although from other towns, were supported by the local community. The pupils of the yeshivah of Posquières were maintained at the personal expense of its head, *Abraham b. David. The yeshivot at *Béziers, Marseilles, and Montpellier also gained a great reputation. A vivid description of the method of learning in the yeshivot of Provence has been preserved in the work of *Jedaiah b. Abraham ha-Penini, who studied in the yeshivah of Béziers. In northern France the pupils and descendants of *Rashi headed the yeshivot – Jacob b. Meir *Tam at Ramerupt and *Isaac b. Samuel at Dampierre. Students were attracted to them from afar, even from the Slavonic countries. According to one tradition 60 scholars of the Dampierre yeshivah took part in the halakhic discussions which served as the basis for the *Tosafot. There were also important yeshivot in Orleans, Falaise, Sens, Coucy, and Chinon. The yeshivah of *Jehiel of Paris had 300 students. *Moses b. Jacob of Coucy relates that the students of the French yeshivot were so assiduous in their studies that they even slept in their clothes. The expulsion of the Jews from France in 1306 put an end to the yeshivot there; on their return an effort at revival was made by Mattathias Treves, who founded a yeshivah in Paris after 1360, but it did not succeed.

In Germany the yeshivah of R. *Gershom b. Judah in Mainz, to which pupils came even from Spain, was especially renowned. His pupils continued his activity both in Mainz and in *Worms. In the 11th, and still more in the 12th-13th centuries, there flourished the yeshivot of Speyer, Regensburg, Bonn, and Paris. The students made their way on foot, a custom preserved also in the following generations, and they were welcomed by the Jews of each locality with great honor. After the destruction of the *Rhine communities in the persecutions accompanying the *Black Death (1348–49), Austria became the center for study of the Talmud, and pupils began to stream to the yeshivot of Vienna from the north and the west. As a result of the activity of Isaac Or Zaru'a it became a Torah center as early as the 13th century, as did Wiener-Neustadt, where Israel *Isserlein was active, and Krems. In Prague, Bohemia, there were already yeshivot in the 12th century, headed by pupils of Jacob Tam, but their main flowering was from the end of the 15th century.

In Italy teaching institutions for Talmud existed at a very early period, and some scholars ascribe to Italy a special historical function in the chain of handing down the teaching of Oral Law in Europe. However, both the problem of its relationship to the Torah of Ereẓ Israel as well as of its influence upon the yeshivot of Europe that arose after it have not been sufficiently clarified and are subjects of dispute. In any event there was already a yeshivah in Venosa in the ninth century. Yeshivot, important in their time, existed then and in the tenth century within the Byzantine possessions in the south – at Oria Otranto, and Bari – and also in central Italy at Lucca – from where the *Kalonymus family brought the study of the Talmud to Mainz – and subsequently at Siponto and at Rome. The Jewish centers in the south were destroyed in the later Middle Ages and the northern ones declined in standard. A new impetus to the study of Talmud in Italy was given in the 15th–16th centuries by the arrival of the exiles from Germany and France.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Guedemann, Gesch Erz; Assaf, Mekorot; N. Isaacs, Study as a Mode of Worship (1925); L. Ginzberg, Students, Scholars and Saints (1928). POST-GEONIC PERIOD: Islamic Countries: S. Goitein, Sidrei Ḥinnukh bi-Ymei ha-Ge'onim u-Veit ha-Rambam (1962); Provence: Z. Benedikt, in: Tarbiz, 22 (1951), 85–109; I. Twersky, Rabad of Posquieres (1962), 19ff.; Italy: A. Marx. in: Sefer ha-Yovel… L. Ginzberg (1945), 271–304; M.A. Szulwas, in: Horeb, 10 (1948), 105–28; Roth, Dark Ages, ch. 8; France and Germany: M. Guedemann, in: MGWJ, 13 (1964), 68–70, 97–110, 384–95, 421–44; E.M. Lipschulz, in: Sefer Rashi (1956), 188–212; Urbach, Tosafot, ch. 1, 13; S. Schwazfuchs, Etudes sur l'Origine et le Developpement du Rabbinat au Moyen-Age (1957); J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis (1961), ch. 18; I.A. Agus, in: Studies and Essays in Honor of A.A. Neuman (1962), 1–16; Roth, Dark Ages, ch. 9–10; M Breuer, in: Zion, 33 (1968), 15–46; S. Rozman, Sefer Zikhron Kedoshim li-Yhudei Carpatoruss-Marmarosh (1968; Yid.), 149–63. EASTERN EUROPE: I.H. Weiss, Zikhronotai (1895); J. Trachtenberg, in: Jewish Education, 11 (1939), no. 2; I. Fishman, The History of Jewish Education in Central Europe from the End of the Sixteenth to the End of the Eighteenth Century (1944); H.H. Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-Hanhagah (1959), ch. 11. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Friedman, Haredi Society: Origins, Trends, and Processes (Heb., 1991); W.B. Heimreich, The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry (1999).