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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Yeshivas Ateres Yerusholayim©

A dramatic sight meets your eyes, as you walk though what is known as the Renewed Jewish Quarter of the Old City, formerly known as the Muslim Quarter. A balcony over the busy Arab thoroughfare flies Israeli flags. This is Yeshivas Ateres Yerusalayimhoused in the historic century old building of Toras Chaim Yeshiva. Generations of Torah greats such as HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav Aryeh Levin, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, Rav Yitzchok HaLevy Herzog and yibodel le chaim, Maran Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv have studied here. The building was built in 1886 by Rav Yitzchok Winongrad of Poland. At its peek the yeshiva had three hundred students from all over the world.
     With the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967, a platoon of Israeli soldiers passed alongside the yeshiva building. Their commander was Zerach Epstein the grandson of  one of the former roshei yeshiva of Toras Chaim whose name was also Zerach Epstein. An Arab man came out of the building and approached young Zerach, handing him the key to the beis midrash. 
       On entering the building, Commander Zerach Epstein found everything intact. This righteous gentile had faithfully guarded the sanctuary throughout the nineteen years of the Jordanian occupation of the Old City. He had built a false wall to hide the location of the yeshiva. He claimed that more than he had taken care of the holy place, the holy place had taken care of him. It had been his good luck charm. Till today, this man and his family still live in apartments beneath the yeshiva.
    In 1948, when the Jordanians drove the Jews out of the Old City, they wanted to eradicate all reminders of a previous Jewish presence. To this end, they destroyed all of approximately, 80 synagogues and yeshivas in their wrath. Only two escaped the rampage: the Toras Chaim Yeshiva and the Tzemach Tzedek Chadad shul. In contrast to the complete preservation of Toras Chaim, Tzemach Tzedek was desecrated by first being used as an ammunition depot, and later as stables and shops. 
         A letter was written by Jordanian General Abdallah Tell after he and his hordes had destroyed the places of Jewish worship and learning. In this letter he boasts: " No Jewish foot will ever step in the Old City again. We have eradicated every one of their holy places and houses of prayer. They have nothing to do here anymore."
        Walking though the Rova and even the Muslim Quarter we can see how wrong this man was.
Published in the "English Update"

1 comment:

  1. This is the same building that has been Torat Cohanim/Ateret Cohanim. Names changed as the yeshiva grew and developed. I learned there for a short time, coming through Damascus Gate each day on my bicycle from our home in Ramat Eshkol. The yeshiva has really helped anchor the Jewish presence in the area, in addition to all the Torah there. As you can imagine, it was a popular place with our hevra in Mercaz Harav because of the history, the location, and Rav Aviner. As first there was just davening there on Shabbatot with some old timers, and then the hevra from Torah Cohanim down the road got together under Rav Aviner to develop the beit midrash. Too bad that Rav Tzvi Yehudah didn't merit seeing this particular renewal; as he was quite attached to the place.

    By the way, there is apparently a yeshiva in Ramot for English speakers that uses the same name. No connection as far as I know, but confusing. Their web addresses are even the same, except that this one ends in .il .