Those sounds of Torah continue to emanate from the very same building, a full century after its dedication
Title: The Great Torah Parade
Location: Lower East Side, Manhattan
Document: The Hebrew Standard
Time: June 1922
The streets of the Lower East Side at the dawn of the 20th century were teeming with Jewish immigrants, as the Great Immigration showed no signs of slowing down. In the decade leading up to World War I, well over a million Jews came to the United States. With the lion’s share settling in New York, the city’s Jewish population swelled to 1.5 million, nearly 30% of the city total. The predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Manhattan’s Lower East Side became one of the most densely populated areas worldwide.
Katz’s Delicatessen on Ludlow, the Forward Building at 173 East Broadway, the Yiddish theaters on Second Avenue, pushcart vendors on Orchard Street, the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol on Norfolk, the Bialystoker Synagogue off of Grand, Guss’s Pickles at 87 Orchard, are among the iconic Lower East Side addresses that come to mind. Yet it’s another address that bespeaks of both the richness of its storied history and the heroic vision of the founders of the institution it hosts. That is 145-147 East Broadway, home to Yeshivah and Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem.
It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Jewish schools couldn’t be successfully established within this ultra-urbanized environment of immigrants struggling to acclimate themselves to their new home. But there was an early attempt with RJJ, soon followed by a few others.
One of the pioneers in Jewish education was Congregation Tifereth Jerusalem on Eldridge Street, which opened a Talmud Torah of the same name in 1907 in the heart of the East Side. A group of courageous and visionary — and ordinary — laymen banded together in creating an educational institution that was unique. Even in an era when the Lower East Side offered the option of public schools that were nearly 100% Jewish and (perhaps for the only time in history) featured exclusively kosher kitchens, assimilation rates were sky-high, and the board saw a need to do more to stem the tide.
They hired Rabbi Yehuda (Wolpert) Sachs, a brother-in-law to the Alter of Slabodka and the former rav in Zamut, Lithuania, to administer the institution. In addition to its afternoon Talmud Torah, Tifereth Jerusalem offered morning shiurim and davening for the children to attend before the public school day began. A decade after its founding, Tifereth Jerusalem had an enrollment of more than 600 students.
The Talmud Torah’s early years saw the institution constantly moving from one temporary facility to another, across the Lower East Side. From Eldridge to Hester to Madison to East Broadway the rapidly expanding school required a more permanent home. In 1917, the board of directors purchased 145 East Broadway, which could be combined with an adjacent property they already owned. The Talmud Torah was temporarily moved to RIETS at 9-11 Montgomery Street; both older facilities were torn down, and a new building was planned, at a cost of more than $75,000. The goal was to expand the school into a full-time elementary school with both religious and general instruction and double the enrollment to 1,200 students.
Exactly 100 years ago, during the three days leading up to Shavuos 1922, the new MTJ building was dedicated in grand style. The festivities were attended by the leading rabbis and lay leaders of the city, as well as thousands of others, including the student body and their families. On May 1, the following item appeared in the Yiddish newspaper, Der Morgen Journal:
The dedication of the new building of Talmud Torah Tifereth Jerusalem, 145-147 East Broadway, will begin on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, Sunday, May 28, and will continue with festivities through the entire week, until Shavuos, the day of kabbalas haTorah. …. This too will be a celebration of receiving the Torah, as some 1,200 students will use these buildings day in, day out, to study that same thousands-years-old Torah…
On May 19, a letter from Rabbi Aharon Mordechai Ashinsky, one of America’s leading rabbanim, appeared in the same publication:
At my first opportunity, I visited the Talmud Torah, and I feel that it is my sacred obligation to share with you that everything that is said and written about this holy educational institution is absolutely true. It is a place where they teach Torah, tefillah, and fear of G-d, in the fullest sense.
I tested the Gemara students, and I was astonished by the clear knowledge and the excitement with which these American-born youngsters explained a complex topic and the seriousness with which they analyzed every word of Rashi.
Even in the Chumash classes, the environment is one of learning, and the young children recited each verse with the earnestness of a Talmudic scholar. The teachers have an amazing talent for infusing every verse with the teachings of the Oral Law, with sensitivity and passion.
When one enters the Talmud Torah, it is obvious that this is a place where the children are raised with derech eretz, good middos, and Fear of Heaven.
In addition to being pedagogues, all of the teachers are themselves G-d-fearing individuals, who are concerned that the children not only learn, but also that they observe all the teachings of the Written and Oral Law.
An institution of this sort should- and must — be supported generously. May the officers, the administration, and the supporters all be blessed. The directors of Talmud Torah Tifereth Jerusalem intend to raise the level of this institution and make it a full, all-day yeshivah, where general studies will be taught in a Jewish environment. Every devoted Jew should assist by helping donate the funds needed to achieve this goal …
The celebration continued every evening, as the neighborhood residents gathered to celebrate the sounds of Torah that could be heard in their midst, and many leading rabbis were featured speakers throughout. Those sounds of Torah continue to emanate from the very same building, a full century after its dedication.
A Dying Business
At a time when few were interested in supporting Torah, the yeshivah’s board of directors employed a novel solution to raise funds for its operations. Shortly after the Talmud Torah was founded, it purchased land in the newly consecrated Mount Judah Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens. For an annual subscription fee of $5, one would be entitled to a plot in the Tifereth Jerusalem Talmud Torah section of the cemetery. Eventually the yeshivah would purchase land in other cemeteries and offer similar such plans, thereby helping the yeshivah and offering its supporters to be buried in close vicinity to the many gedolim buried in MTJ's chelkas.
The Feinstein Family at MTJ
Though Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem would eventually be associated in the Jewish collective memory with leadership by generations of the Feinstein family for nearly a century and counting, Rav Moshe only arrived nearly three decades into the yeshivah’s existence, replacing the esteemed Rav Yosef Adler, who tragically drowned in 1938. Initially only an elementary school, a high school was added in the late 1920s, and a post–high school yeshivah and semichah program were eventually added as well. The latter was the primary purview of Rav Moshe Feinstein during his half-century tenure, and continued with his son Rav Dovid, who has now been succeeded by Rav Berel Feinstein. The yeshivah’s branch in Staten Island is led by Rav Reuven Feinstein.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 913)
Oops! We could not locate your form.