- TELŠIAI YESHIVA
From the second half of the 19th century onwards, the names of the yeshivas of Kaunas (Vilijampolė), Telšiai and Panevėžys became famous in the entire Jewish diaspora. Unlike the traditional Jewish houses of study - beit midrashim - where religious scriptures were studied independently, yeshivas became the formal Jewish educational institutions on par with institutions of higher education. Jews from all over the world came to study at these rabbinical seminaries in Lithuania. Each yeshiva, with its own specificity of teaching, or "spirit" as it was called at the time, formed a unique network of Lithuanian Jewish yeshivas. All three yeshivas were re-established in Israel and America during the war, where they continue to operate to this day. The Telšiai Yeshiva was re-established in 1942 under the same name in the USA, in Cleveland, where the system of education established in Telšiai continues.
The Telšiai yeshiva was founded in 1875. Its success is attributed to Rabbi Eliezer Gordon (1841-1910), a disciple of the famous Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salanter. In 1884, he became the head of the yeshiva and was the first in Lithuania to apply modern teaching methods: students had to pass entrance exams, after which they were divided into groups according to their level of knowledge. The practice of beit midrash, which had continued in yeshivas until then, where each person chose the part of the Talmud to read, was replaced by a new procedure. From now on, students were divided into groups and read and analysed the same Talmudic passage throughout the semester. The Telšiai Yeshiva has also introduced a regular knowledge testing procedure, which has not been practiced in other yeshivas before. In a short period of time, the Telšiai Yeshiva became one of the most important Jewish educational centres in Eastern Europe.
After Rabbi Gordon's death in 1910, Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch took over as head of the yeshiva and managed to maintain the prestige of the institution. Under Bloch's leadership, student committees were put in place to take care of all students' material, social and spiritual needs. The name of J.L. Bloch is also associated with the beginning of mussar studies at the Telšiai yeshiva. Initially opposed by the yeshiva community, the study of mussar eventually became an integral part of the Telšiai yeshiva's learning, and J.L. Bloch distinguished himself as a brilliant mussar scholar. In 1930, his son Rabbi Abraham Isak Bloch became the head of the yeshiva.He led the yeshiva until its closure in the summer of 1940, when the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania and closed the yeshiva.
In the yeshiva network, it is a postulate that anyone wishing to receive fundamental training in Torah studies must study in Telšiai.
The Telšiai yeshiva was made up of many strands, and many factors influenced the methodology of its studies. The foundations of this methodology are a deep study of primary sources, an effort to understand the thought preserved in the texts of the early Jewish sages, an analysis of the texts based on a strong logic, and a religious philosophy with a special, typical for Telšiai, Mussar tinge.
Each yeshiva had its own specific atmosphere, the so-called spirit. For example, they used to say: "The spirit of Telšiai", "The spirit of Vilijampolė", etc. Everyone immediately felt and understood exactly what it meant. The "spirit of Telšiai" was associated with insightful studies and a subtle understanding of morality and psychology.In this way, Telšiai was filled with great Torah scholars, wise men and diligent students. Day and night, the Yeshiva swayed like a stormy sea. The voices of the learners echoed not only from the synagogue, but also from the hostels, and could even be heard in the streets. The whole city, almost every street in Telšiai became part of the yeshiva.