Rabbi Me’ir Shapira with a model of the Second Temple at Yeshivat Ḥakhme Lublin, Lublin, ca. 1930s. At the time, the replica was the only model of the Temple in the world and drew international visitors, both Jewish and non-Jewish. (YIVO)

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Shapira, Me’ir

(1887–1933), rabbi, educator, Sejm deputy, and leader of Agudas Yisroel. Me’ir Shapira was born in Shotz, Bucovina (today Suceava, Romania), to a Hasidic family of prominent lineage. By the time he reached adolescence, he had already been granted ordination by prestigious rabbis. Gaining renown as a scholar, Shapira married the daughter of Ya‘akov Breitman, a wealthy businessman from Tarnopol and a Hasid of the rebbe of Czortków, to whom Shapiro transferred his allegiance. At various points in his career, Shapira himself took on some of the mannerisms of a Hasidic rebbe. The young rabbi served congregations in Gliniany (1910–1920) and Sanok (1920–1924). In both communities he distinguished himself by his rhetorical ability and zealousness both in carrying out the duties of the rabbinate and in setting up and supervising traditional educational institutions for the young. His first book was Imre da‘at, on the weekly Torah portions (1910).

Shapira was an early member of Agudas Yisroel, serving as a delegate from Galicia at the founding conference of the movement in Kattowitz in 1912. He was chosen to be national president of the Polish branch in 1922. That same year, he was elected to the Polish Sejm as an Aguda representative on the National Minorities Bloc list. His poor command of Polish, however, limited his effectiveness. Nevertheless, the party saw great symbolic significance in having a traditionally garbed, eminent rabbinic scholar seated in the Sejm chamber.

The major community of Piotrków elected Shapira as its rabbi in 1924. There he published his second book, the collection of responsa titled Or ha-Me’ir (1926). Shapira’s most lasting reputation, however, stems from two educational initiatives. First, at the world conference (Kenesiyah Gedolah) of Agudas Yisroel in Vienna in 1923, he proposed adopting the Daf Yomi (daily folio) program, in which Jews all over the world would learn the same folio page of the Babylonian Talmud, following a schedule leading to completion of the Talmud in approximately seven and a half years. The plan was endorsed by the party and has become a fixture of Orthodox Jewry to this day, encompassing tens of thousands of participants.

Shapira’s second major initiative was a project to erect a large-scale institutional yeshiva in Lublin. He envisioned a large and modern yeshiva complex including a dining room and dormitory in which students could pursue their Talmudic learning in comfortable surroundings. The cornerstone of Yeshivat Ḥakhme Lublin (Yeshiva of the Sages of Lublin) was laid in 1924, but Shapira spent the next six years raising funds in Poland and abroad (including a stay of 13 months in the United States) until the school was able to open its doors in 1930. At that time, Shapira assumed the post of head of the yeshiva and rabbi of Lublin. The institution quickly took its place among the leading yeshivas at the time, but it was still saddled with tremendous debt, and Shapira continued to seek funds to keep the institution operating. He died suddenly at the age of 46. Shapira was a legend even in his lifetime, and his sermons, witticisms, stories and Talmudic studies have been gathered and published by colleagues and disciples.

Suggested Reading

Gershon C. Bacon, The Politics of Tradition: Agudat Yisrael in Poland, 1916–1939 (Jerusalem, 1996); Yehoshu’a Boimel (Baumol), A Blaze in the Darkening Gloom: The Life of Rav Meir Shapiro (Spring Valley, N.Y., 1994); Henoch H. Halpern, ed., Megiles Gline (Glinyane) (New York, 1950), pp. 84–85; Shemuel Nadler, ed., Sefer ha-yovel: Li-Khevod . . . Me’ir Shapira (Łódź, Pol., 1930); Meir Shapira, Sefer imre da‘at, ed. David A. Mandelbaum, 2 vols. (Bene Berak, Isr., 1997/98–[1998/99]); Konrad Zieliński and Nina Zielińska, Jeszywas chachmej Lublin (Lublin, Pol., 2003), pp. 49–87.