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A yeshiva (Hebrew, pl. yeshivos or yeshivot) is an institution for Torah study and the study of Talmud.



See also Torah study


Traditionally, every town rabbi had the right to maintain a number of full-time pupils in the town's study hall (beth midrash, usually adjacent to the synagogue). Their cost of living was covered by community taxation. After a number of years, these young people would either take up a vacant rabbinical position elsewhere (after obtaining semicha, rabbinical ordination) or join the workforce.

The Mishna (tractate Megilla) mentions the law that a town can only be called a "city" if it supports ten men (batlanim) to make up the required quorum for communal prayers. Likewise, every rabbinical court (beth din) was attended by a number of pupils up to three times the size of the court (Mishna, tractate Sanhedrin). These might be indications of the historicity of the classical yeshiva.

As indicated by the Talmud, adults generally took off two months a year (Ellul and Adar, the months preceding the harvest) to pursue full-time Torah study.

Chaim Volozhin

Organised Torah study was revolutionised by Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon (an influential 18th century leader of Orthodox Judaism). In his view, the traditional arrangement did not cater for those who were looking for more intensive study.

With the support of his teacher, Reb Chaim gathered a large number of interested students and started a yeshiva in the (now Belarusian) town of Volozhin. Although this institution was closed some 60 years later by the Russian government, a number of yeshivot opened in other towns and cities, most notably Ponovezh, Mir, Brisk and Telz (note: these are the Yiddish names of the Lithuanian and Polish towns). Many prominent contemporary yeshivot in the USA and Israel are continuations of these institutions and often bear the same name.

Types of yeshivot

There are four types of yeshivoth:

  • Yeshiva Ketana ("small yeshiva") - Also called Cheder, for elementary school students. Many Yeshivot Ketana in Israel and some in the diaspora do not have a secular course of studies and all students learn Judaic studies full time.
  • Yeshiva High School - Also called Mesivta or Mechina, combines the intensive Jewish religious education with a secular high school education. The dual curriculum was pioneered by the Manhattan Talmudical Academy of Yeshiva University in 1916.
  • Beth Medrash - Is for high school graduates, and is attended from one year to many years, dependant on the career plans and affiliation of the student.
  • Kollel - Yeshiva for married adults. The kollel idea, though having its intellectual roots traced to the Bible, is a relatively modern innovation of 19th century Europe. Many times, a Kollel will be in the same location as the yeshiva.

Prominent yeshivot

The largest yeshivos currently include Beis Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, NJ, The Mirrer Yeshiva of Jerusalem, the Yeshiva Ner Yisrael: Ner Israel Rabbinical College of Baltimore, MD, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanon Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, and The Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

Academic year

The year is divided into three periods called zmanim. Elul zman starts from the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul and extends until the end of Yom Kippur. This is the shortest (approx. six weeks), but most intense semester as it comes before the high holydays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Winter zman starts after Sukkot (the festival of booths) and lasts until just before Passover, a duration of six months (seven on a Jewish leap year).

Summer semester starts after Passover and lasts until either the middle of the month of Tammuz or the beginning of the Jewish month of Av, a duration of three months.

Typical schedule

They following is a typical daily schedule for Beis Medrash students

  • 7:00 - Optional Seder (Study Session)
  • 7:30 - morning prayers
  • 8:30 - Session on study of Jewish law
  • 9:00 - Breakfast
  • 9:30 - Morning Talmud study (first seder)
  • 12:30 - Lecture - Advanced students sometimes dispense with this lecture
  • 13:30 - Lunch
  • 14:45 - Mincha - afternoon prayers
  • 15:00 - Mussar seder - Jewish ethics
  • 15:30 - Talmud study (second seder)
  • 19:00 - Dinner
  • 20:00 - Night Seder - Review of lecture, or study of choice.
  • 21:25 - Mussar Seder - Study of Jewish Ethics
  • 21:45 - Maariv - Evening Prayers
  • 22:00 - Optional Seder

This schedule is generally maintained Sunday through Thursday. Fridays afternoons are free and Saturdays have a special Sabbath schedule.

Method of Study

Studying is usually done together with a partner called a chavruta (Aramaic: "friend"), or in a shiur (lecture).

Talmud study

In the typical yeshiva, the main emphasis is on Talmud study and analysis. Generally, two parallel Talmud streams are covered during a zman (trimester). The former is study in-depth (be-iyun) with an emphasis on analytical skills and close reference to the classical commentators; the latter emphasises general knowledge (bekiyuth) of the Talmud; see Talmud.

Works generally studied to clarify the Talmudic text are the commentary by Rashi and the analyses of the Tosafists. Various other meforshim (commentators) are used as well.

Jewish law

Generally, a period is devoted to the study of practical halakha (Jewish law). The text most commonly studied is the Mishnah Berurah written by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan. The Mishnah Berurah is a compilation of halakhic opinions rendered after the time of the writing of the Shulkhan Arukh.


The preeminent ethical text studied in yeshivoth is the Mesillat Yesharim ("Path of the Just"). It was written by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Other works studied include:

  • Orchos Tzaddikim (The paths of the Righteous) Its authorship and time of writing is uncertain, but as it quotes Maimonides, it was written some time after his works were disseminated.
  • Duties of the Heart Written by Bahya ibn Paquda.
  • Maalos Hamidos (The benefit of good character traits.)
  • Mishnas R' Aharon Mussar Lectures on many topics by Rabbi Aharon Kotler.

Weekly Torah portion

The weekly Torah portion is usually read together with Rashi's commentary and the Targum of Onkelos.

See also

Further reading

  • Helmreich, William B. The world of the yeshiva: an intimate portrait of Orthodox Jewry. Free Press, c1982. xix, 412 p.
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