Saturday, December 12, 2015

Litvish Yeshivos, Then and Now, a Real Rags to Riches Story! Part RaP

Guest post by RaP

Recently there has been some discussion on this blog about the nature of modern-day Litvish ("Lithuanian type") Yeshivos and their rabbinic and lay leaders, the Roshei Yeshiva and the Balebatim (laymen) that support them in America but also in Israel that are the two main centers for these central Torah learning institutions.

Today the Litvish (Lithuanian-type) yeshivas have luxurious air-conditioned buildings, with thousands of students, living in hotel-like dorms, and kitchens serving restaurant-type foods, often spread over a few campuses, with huge teaching and admin staffs, with budgets running in the millions or tens of millions of dollars per year!

But it was not always like that, nor was it what the founders of this system in Lithuania originally had in mind about 200 to 300 years ago!

When Rav Chaim Volozhiner (1749 - 1821) founded the so-called "Mother" of all Litvish Yeshivos in the small town of Volozhin Lithuania, he began with ten Talmidim (students) that he maintained at his own expense. Supposedly, it is said, that his wife even sold her jewelry to contribute to their maintenance.

Very different to the modern-day yeshivas that look and work more like modern corporations with CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CTOs, employing full time staffs of clerical workers, maintenance staff, administrators, highly paid professional fundraisers, and many other types of staff.

Keeping these huge operations running is the primary goal and the mission of its top echelon lay leaders and especially of the top Roshei Yeshiva who spend much of their time talking to or travelling to a variety of millionaires, billionaires, tycoons and all sorts of big wigs, including politicians, lawyers, accountants and all sorts of professionals and entrepreneurs who are seen as the essential resources to keep these vast "Yeshiva Inc" enterprises running and humming.

If a Yeshiva looks "too poor" or slovenly it lacks prestige in the eyes of both potential students and donors and is ignored in favor of the larger Yeshivas that are viewed as types of "Ivy League" colleges that can and do have huge endowments and astronomical budgets to keep up and to impress both donors to give to such a fancy place and have their names plastered on the walls, and parents to send their sons there as a status symbol good for Shidduchim, marriage mates, marriages, future work in either the Jewish or secular world.

Top donors and laypeople (men and women) and top Roshei Yeshiva regard themselves and act like a new type of "aristocracy" with all the airs and mannerisms of rich and powerful and famous and influential people. Like modern-day celebrities that get their photos published and republished, there is a whole genre of Haredi and Yeshivish media that promote and work like "state organs" and "Public Relations agents and agencies" to depict them in the best light as they travel the length and breadth of North America, attend major "conventions" and mass gatherings, go globetrotting and are lionized by the other rich and famous.

Modern Litvish Yeshivas have become mega status symbols and networking centers to rival any similar secular educational or even political establishment today.

So it's become all about the money, as in "money makes the world go round" that is always at the top of the agenda.

To be continued.

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