At most yeshivot, the primary focus of study is on the Oral Law (as compiled in the Talmud and later legal compendiums), leaving the study of the written Tanach (the five books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings) as secondary. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (known as the Netziv), who headed the Volozhin Yeshiva from 1854 until its closure in 1892, gave a daily lecture on Tanach after morning prayers.
In addition to the Netziv’s unique educational philosophy of including Tanach in the curriculum, he was also known for his unique support (at that time) of providing religious education for women. He has also been remembered as an avid reader of the newspaper, which brought the outside world into his home.
Born in 1817 (Mir, Belarus), the Netziv was noted as being a less than stellar student, and his parents considered withdrawing him from Yeshiva, and setting him up in trade. When he heard this, he begged for a second chance. His incredible diligence proved far more potent than most students’ natural abilities.
The first wife of the Netziv was the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva where the Netziv was a student. In 1847, the Netziv became a lecturer in the Yeshiva, and in 1853, he was named the Rosh Yeshiva.
Unfortunately, the political atmosphere in Russia became increasingly hostile. The Russian government, seeking to assimilate its Jewish population, placed restrictions on Jewish studies before 3 pm and put an end to night classes. And while the Netziv was prepared to incorporate some secular studies, he closed the Yeshiva rather than accept a system that would have left only a few hours a day for Torah study.
The Netziv hoped to ultimately travel to the land of Israel, but his poor health (he was diabetic) kept him in Warsaw. He died there on the 28th of Av, 1893.
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