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Rabbis and students of Novardok Yeshivas in Europe (before the Holocaust)

רבני ותלמידי ישיבות נוברדוק באירופה (לפני השואה)

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  • Yosef Hurwitz (1919 - 2022)
  • Rav Avrohom Horowitz (deceased)
    He was a Novardoker, a student of Rav Yoizel Horowitz. He didn't have a rabbinical position. He had a long beard, but he would always wear a brown or blue hat, never a black one so people shouldn't thi...
  • Dr. Dov Yarden (1911 - 1986)
    ב ירדן נולד בעיירה מוטלה שבמחוז פינסק באימפריה הרוסית (ולאחר המלחמה בפולין; כיום בבלארוס), בנם של חיים חלוונה יוז'וק[1] ולאה לבית באייר.את לימודיו החל בישיבת נובהרדוק שבביאלא פודלסק והמשיך בישיבות פינס...
  • Yitzchak Yona Turchin (b. - 1943)

The Novardok Yeshiva in Navahrudak, then the Russian Empire, was one of the biggest and most important yeshivas in pre-World War II Europe, and a powerful force within the Mussar movement.

The yeshiva was established in 1896, together with a Kollel for married men, under the direction of Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horwitz, an alumnus of the Kovno Kollel and pupil of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. In the footsteps of his mentor, he was a staunch advocate of the Mussar approach. He was known as the Alter fun Novardok, a Yiddish term meaning "the elder of Novardok".

It was the first of hundreds of yeshivas of Musar, which were created subsequently. They all assumed the name of Novardok yeshivas.

Novardok established yeshivas all over the region, in major cities such as Kiev, Kharkov, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Zhitomir, Berditchev, Tsaritsyn, Saratov, Plogid, and Chernigov. Influenced by the Alter, his students also created Yeshivas in Kherson, Mohyliv-Podilskyi, Kamieniec-Podolski, Berdichev, Nikolaev, Bălţi, Odessa, Piotrków Trybunalski and other places. The Alter sent young scholars to lead the yeshivas.

The directors of the yeshivas were in constant contact with The Alter, who guided and visited them, spending nearly every Shabbos in a different town.

One of the highlights of the yeshiva's mussar program was its daily "mussar hour." During these sessions, students engaged in fiery soul-searching.

Early history

The yeshiva opened with ten students. A few months later there were already fifty. A year after the yeshiva's establishment, great criticism was levelled at the study and practice of Mussar, and the opponents of that philosophy sought to close the yeshiva. They didn't succeed. By 1899, the yeshiva had swelled to 200 pupils.

Some students came to Novardok yeshiva from as far as the Caucasus.

At first, The Alter served as both the rosh yeshiva and mashgiach of the yeshiva, delivering shiurim in Gemara and mussar. In time, though, he appointed others to deliver the Gemara shiurim, while he focused on developing the mussar aspect of the yeshiva.

After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, the Alter ordered his students to cross the border into Poland. Many of the students were shot in the attempt; others were sent to Siberian prison camps, but six hundred made it across the border.

The Alter's son-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Yoffen, was the head of the Novardok yeshiva in Białystok, the biggest Yeshiva in Poland between the two world wars. This yeshiva Beit Yosef, which was the name of all Novardok yeshivas in Poland, supervised 30 other Beit Yosef yeshivas.

The Novardok philosophy - Self-improvement

Novardok had its own unique outlook, stressing the total negation of ego and the physical world. Through this, the complete and total focus of a person can be on his spiritual and intellectual side. Like other Mussar schools, Novardok demanded the complete shattering of personal desires, eradicating any vestige of evil habits. For that purpose, students would carry notebooks, in which they would daily enter records of failures and achievements. Before bedtime, they would check their "bookkeeping" and make plans-of-action for correcting faults. One method of "breaking" oneself was by denying oneself the rewards of a sin.

Students of Novardok participated in deliberately humiliating behaviour, such as wearing old, patched clothing, or going to a shop and asking for a product not sold there, such as screws in a bakery. All Novardok students would share their personal belongings with friends to rid themselves of their desires for worldly possessions.

One pupil related that the purpose of these exercises were not to "put yourself down", as is commonly thought. The training, in fact, promoted the opposite; it gave the students the emotional freedom from the chains of public approval. They discovered that the fear of embarrassment was actually much greater than the reality. This strengthened their confidence to do the right thing, oblivious to what others might think.

Novardok network

An extension of Novardok's unconventional approach entailed the establishment of numerous branches of the yeshiva. The most elite students of the yeshiva would set out on foot to strange communities without money in their pockets, simultaneously abstaining from speech and not asking for a ride or even food. Upon reaching a town, they would enter the Beth Midrash, and without a word to anyone, study Torah.

With this method, Novardok established in Poland alone no less than seventy yeshivas of varying sizes. Dispatched from the yeshiva base in Białystok, teams would investigate towns and cities and evaluate their suitability for a yeshiva. The extensive Novardok network supplied half of all the students to Eastern Europe's other famous yeshivas. (Source)