On 7 December 2017, a museum dedicated to the history of the Talmudic academy and its famous founder, Rabbi Meir Shapira, was opened in the former building of the Sages of Lublin Yeshiva at 85 Lubartowska Street.

The main protagonist of the exhibition, Meir Shapira (1887-1933), was born in an affluent Hasidic family and went on to become a scholar, a social activist and the creator of Daf Yomi – a method of studying the Talmud which is still in use today. On 24 June 1930, after many years of effort, he opened the modern edifice of the Lublin yeshiva. The opening ceremony attracted throngs of Jews from all over Poland to the city – so many people were planning to arrive that the number of trains headed to Lublin was increased and additional municipal bus lines were introduced for the occasion. Shapira became the rector of the academy, and held this position until his death in 1933. He was buried in Lublin. In 1958, the family moved his ashes to Jerusalem. The Israeli grave of the outstanding teacher is still visited by students from all over the world. The Sages of Lublin Yeshiva operated until the outbreak of the war in 1939.

The pre-war fame of the Lublin academy motivated many institutions, including those from outside Poland, to become involved in the project to create the museum. Its originators were the Moses Schorr Foundation and the Jewish Religious Community in Warsaw. Partners of the venture were the Lublin Museum, the ‘Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre’ Centre, the Netanya Academic College Jewish Heritage Center, and the Ganzach Kiddush Hashem Archives from Bnei Brak. Honorary patronage was taken by the President of the City of Lublin, Krzysztof Żuk, and the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich.

The opening ceremony of the museum coincided with the end of the celebrations of Lublin’s jubilee year. During the festivities related to the 700th anniversary of the foundation of the city, the rich legacy of the Lublin Jewish community was repeatedly evoked. As a token of gratitude for the contribution to the creation of the Yeshiva Museum, Deputy President Artur Szymczyk handed out Medals of the 700th anniversary of the City of Lublin. They were given to Rabbi Meir Shapira, an Israeli cousin of the founder of the yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Pinchuk, Director of Netanya Academic College, and Rachel Yud of Ganzach Kiddush Hashem.

The honorary guest of the opening ceremony – Meir Shapira, a descendant of Rabbi Szapira – came to Lublin together with his son. Deeply moved, he recalled the numerous stories he heard throughout his life about his famous ancestor and the school he founded, which was attended by his father. One of the guests was also the senior of the Lublin Jewish community and the chairman of the Branch of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Lublin, Roman Litman.

The works related to the concept and the script of the exhibition were entrusted to Grażyna Pawlak, director of the Prof. Moses Schorr Foundation. Michał Fronk was responsible for the architectural and graphic design of the exhibition.

The creators were met with openness and kindness. They established contacts with the Israeli family of Rabbi Shapira, thanks to which the exhibition was enriched by many original documents. The museum also obtained a previously unknown portrait photograph of the Rabbi. During the inauguration of the museum, Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Deputy President Artur Szymczyk jointly hung the portrait in one of the exhibition halls.

The museum is located in the rooms directly adjacent to the synagogue, previously used as a library and study rooms, as well as in the area of the staircase. The exhibition was divided into six parts: “The axis of time – Lublin Jews”, “Everyday life of yeshiva”, “Gates to Judaism”, “Meir Shapira. The life and achievements of the Rabbi” (the so-called “Rabbi’s room”), “The history of the yeshiva against the background of the history of Talmudic schools in Lublin”, and “Reading Room/Archives”. Michał Fronk emphasised that when designing the exhibition, he had been guided primarily by the respect for the atmosphere of the place, with space and light playing fundamental role in the interiors. These conceptual ideas of space were implemented with the use of symbolic representations of the words and pages of the Talmud. And so the arrangement of the walls of the “Rabbi's Room” resembles coiled scrolls of the Torah, and the space of the “History of the Yeshiva...” room calls to mind the layout of text on the pages of the Talmud.

The works on the exhibition lasted half a year (from June 2017). Not all spaces have been completed; the creators hope that it will soon be possible to open the educational centre “Gates to Judaism”, which will serve as a source of knowledge about Judaism. It is planned to include auxiliary materials for teachers to prepare their own lessons for schoolchildren. Following the example of the rich pre-war library of the yeshiva, the “Reading Room/Archives” will be filled with books, and pre-war press and publications on the history of the yeshiva will be available there.

The Museum of the History of the Yeshiva of the Sages of Lublin is now open to visitors upon purchasing an admission ticket (PLN 10).

Agata Korba

Read more about the history of the Sages of Lublin Yeshiva and about the building housing the academy.