The Mir yeshiva was founded in 1815 by a wealthy householder, Shemu’el Tiktinski. It shared many of the characteristics of the Volozhin yeshiva, but there is no evidence of direct links between the two institutions. Granting subsidies to students so that they would not be dependent on the charity of householders, Tiktinski raised funds not only in Mir but also in the entire region. In directing the yeshiva, he was assisted by another rosh yeshivah, and a daily lesson in Talmud was the highlight of a student’s day.
Tiktinski died in 1835, and his son and designated heir died the same year. In the absence of an obvious successor, the rabbi of the Mir community, Yosef David Eisenstadt, took over the position of rosh yeshivah. He in turn was succeeded by his son, Mosheh, but after the latter’s death in 1846 Ḥayim Tiktinski, a son of the founder, claimed the post of rosh yeshivah and took over its leadership. This step was challenged by the rabbi of Mir, who claimed that by then the post had become a prerogative of the community’s rabbi. This claim was rejected in 1867 by a large committee of prominent rabbis in a precedent-setting decision that amounted to formal recognition of the separation between yeshivas and communities.
In the course of the nineteenth century, the Mir yeshiva maintained its prominent role, but it was not particularly innovative or influential. After the death of Ḥayim Tiktinski in 1899, there was a leadership vacuum, and Eliyahu Barukh Kamai was brought in as rosh yeshivah. Though he was not an active practitioner of the ethical program and educational movement known as Musar (ethical study and teaching), Kamai felt that it had become necessary to introduce it into the curriculum in order to counteract the appeal of socialism and other modern “evils.” He brought in teachers of Musar, and married off his daughter to Eli‘ezer Yehudah Finkel, son of the prominent Musar figure and founder of the Slobodka yeshiva, Natan Tsevi Finkel.
After the death of Kamai in 1916, his son Avraham Tsevi took over some of his father’s responsibilities, but over the course of time Eli‘ezer Finkel took on most of the work of leading the yeshiva. During World War I, the yeshiva relocated to Poltava, but it returned to the newly independent Poland in 1921. A number of prominent figures in the Musar Movement taught in the yeshiva; the most prominent of these was Yeruḥam Levovits, who taught from 1924 until 1936.
During the interwar period, the Mir yeshiva was one of the most prominent in Eastern Europe, attracting students even from the West. At the beginning of World War II, the yeshiva relocated to Vilna. Its leadership made desperate attempts to emigrate and ultimately chose to seek refuge in the Far East. Almost the entire student body ultimately traveled by train in the first months of 1941 from Kovno to Vladivostok and from there to Japan and ultimately to Shanghai. A much smaller group went to Palestine. Mir yeshivas were subsequently established in Jerusalem and New York.
Samuel K. Mirsky, ed., Mosdot Torah be-Europah ve-vinyanam uve-ḥurbanam (New York, 1956); Shaul Stampfer, Lithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, forthcoming).
RG 25, Vaad Hayeshivot (Vilna), Records, 1924-1940 (finding aid).