I remember hearing a story told by R' Hershel Schachter about the Mir Yeshiva's journey to Shanghai, that took place on the train ride from Eastern Europe to Shanghai.

The gist of the story is that it's presented from the perspective of a third party onlooker. Said person recounts:

I would see these boys and they seemed to be such great friends-- hanging out and helping one another, but then all of a sudden they would take out these huge books [gemaras] and would start shouting at each other “What are you talking about! That's not what that means! How does that make sense!” and this would go on for a little until they put the books away.
Then they would laugh with one another and resume being great friends.

Not 100% sure, but I think the context of this sweet story was to highlight the unique aspect of learning Torah with a chavrusa.

Has anyone else heard this story that R' Schachter referenced and where it might be found?

  • 1
    I heard it years ago at a fabrengen. I also seem to remember it being printed in one of the more recent Jewish history books that touched on the Holocaust. Bli neder, maybe over Yom Tov I’ll dig around and see if I can find it for you. Jun 6, 2019 at 11:05
  • @YaacovDeane that would be great, thank you!
    – alicht
    Jun 6, 2019 at 12:46

2 Answers 2


I read this story in an essay from R. Schechter entitled ‘Ego and Humility in Torah Study’:

During the Second World War, when the students of the Mirrer Yeshiva were traveling for a week and a half on the transcontinental railroad towards Vladivostok, there were non-Jewish passengers traveling on the same train. One of the Polish non-Jews on the train later published his memoirs and included a description of what he had observed on that trip. He recognized that these young people were Jewish students. He related that while the "big books" were open, and they were obviously "studying", they were extremely belligerent towards each other; sharp, seemingly angry, and even abusive. As soon as the "big books" were closed, they acted towards each other as the best of friends. The non-Jew did not know what to make of the scene!

The Mirrer students were following the Talmudic formula for studying Torah: while learning they "waged battle" with each other, acting towards each other like enemies. As soon as the "big books were closed" and they were done learning, they acted again towards each other with great love and respect.

EDIT: R' Schachter also recounted this story in his Chukas 5779 parsha shiur
(YUTorah audio link from 1:05:40 - 1:06:30)


Rav Schachter read the story in the book "Operation--Torah rescue: The escape of the Mirrer Yeshiva from war-torn Poland to Shanghai, China" by Yecheskel Leitner, page 68. Here's an excerpt:

There was also a striking contrast between the conduct of the yeshiva passengers and that of the other people on those trains. In the words of a western European fellow passenger who was unaware of the unique status of the scholars and Torah giants with whom he lived for two weeks on the Trans-Siberian train:

They showed a puzzling kind of conduct all day, con-stantly arguing with each other — but in friendship! Quarreling and disputing, even in larger groups — but only verbally! Their heated disputes focused on oversized books, large bulky volumes from which the disputes seemed to originate or to end.

As striking as this observation might seem about the manner in which the remnants of the famous European Torah centers spent their days on the trans-Siberian trains, that observer could barely appreciate the high scholastic and religious standards of his fellow travelers, who spent their days of miraculous rescue in the study of Torah. They were absorbed in trying to solve numerous problems of legal, ethical and religious character arising out of the changing conditions and the technical innovations they were encountering during this trip. These new facts had to be assessed according to the principles of Torah living. The heated debates were testimony to the depth of commitment of those individuals to the obligations and principles of Torah life.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .