Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida, aka the Alter of Kelm, around the year 1865, opened a Yeshivah with a focus on Mussar. In addition to Mussar, he

" ...also introduced general subjects such as geography, mathematics, and Russian into the Talmud Torah curriculum. These subjects were studied for three hours a day, which was unprecedented in traditional Lithuanian yeshivas. Ziv did not view general studies as a "necessary evil" but rather argued that such studies would encourage "better living" and "a better understanding of religious teachings as well." (1) (2) (From Wiki)

If I am not mistaken, the Litvish (Lithuanian) communities were typically averse to secular studies, let alone giving it a presence in a Yeshiva's curricular space. I don't have an explicit source to this besides a hint in the aforestated text and anecdotal experience with Litvish Yeshivot.

At any rate, and in light of this information, what were the reactions of the Gedolim to the Alter, if there were any?

1) Claussen, Geoffrey (2015). Sharing the Burden: Rabbi Simhah Zissel Ziv and the Path of Musar. Albany: SUNY Press.

2. Zalman Ury, The Musar Movement: A Quest for Excellence in Character Education (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1970), 51.

1 Answer 1


In the sefer מחנך לדורות (bio on ר' אליהו דסלר) it's written that ר' ישראל סאלאנטר gave special permission to R' Simcha Zisel Ziv (רש"ז) from Kelm to teach secular studies (as required by the gov at the time, למורת רוח של רש"ז(to his great displeasure)), and told him that it's only because R' Ziv was there and would have such a powerful positive influence on the students that he allowed it. R' Ziv also added some extra time for mussar to counteract the bad influence from those studies. And it's interesting to note that רי"ס did not let the ישיבה be called under his name (like all other schools that followed רי"ס mussar movement), nor did he ever visit the ישיבה, lest others think he allows secular studies.

I have also seen that there was a lot of backlash towards the yeshiva (ha'mayon issue 50 pg 104), but no details were given.

In לקט רשומות (from ר' נתן וואכטפויגל) it says that when he was a young teenager and learning in Kelm (under R' Elya Lopian), they one day started learning secular studies, so he got up and left the yeshiva and went to Mir, saying that an institution that learns secular studies is not a ישיבה!

  • Does this answer disagree with the quote in the question "Ziv did not view general studies as a 'necessary evil'", and was only because it was required by the government? If yes, please make this a little more clear, as the focal premise of the question is
    – chortkov2
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 10:53
  • edited. @chortkov2, it's interesting to note that למעשה he encouraged his students to do well in secular studies cause he felt it would be a קידוש השם
    – yih613
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 3:21
  • yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/704426/… judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/76791/… These sources seem to suggest that secular studies were indeed viewed positively in Kelm (although one could argue that teaching them in a yeshiva is a separate issue)
    – Derdeer
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 7:16
  • @chortkov2 If I can apply some Gemara logic here.... The Alter viewed it as an "evil," hence he implemented additional mussar to counter it. Assuming he wouldn't implement something evil unless he was mandated to, we can term it "necessary." The Alter thus viewed it as a "necessary evil."
    – Yehuda
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 14:50

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