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Shkop, Shim‘on Yehudah

(1860–1939), Lithuanian Talmudist. Shim‘on Shkop studied in the Mir and Volozhin yeshivas, where he stood out as a brilliant student. In Volozhin he met Ḥayim Soloveichik, who became his principal teacher and greatly influenced his approach to Talmud study.

Shortly following Shkop’s marriage, he was invited in 1884 by Eli‘ezer Gordon to teach at the prestigious Telz yeshiva. Shkop was regarded as an excellent lecturer, and his classes attracted many students. The method of study that he developed became known as the “Telz way of learning,” though Shkop himself referred to it as the ‘iyun (scrutinizing) method. In it, he combined Soloveichik’s analytic method of the Brisk school with the aspiration to approach a subject under discussion from all sides, through the consideration of a wide variety of sources from diverse halakhic realms. After 17 years, Shkop left Telz—apparently over a controversy regarding the Musar movement that had flared up—and served as rabbi and head of the yeshiva in Maltsh (1903) and later in Bransk (1907).

In 1920, several leading Torah authorities asked Shkop to head the Sha‘ar ha-Torah Yeshiva in Grodno that had been established during the war and was now undergoing a crisis. He accepted the position, and the yeshiva quickly recovered and soon became one of the most important Torah institutions of the time. He remained in his position until his death. Beginning in 1926, Shkop also served as rabbi of the Grodno suburb of Vorstadt.

In 1928, Shkop published his most important work, Sha‘are yosher, which to this day is considered one of the exemplary works of Lithuanian yeshiva scholarship. The book treats the laws of evidence, primarily regarding issues of uncertainty, halakhic presumptions, and testimony. In the introduction to this book, Shkop calls for independent thinking in the study of Talmud and a critical approach to the words of the later authorities, stating: “We must on our own, to the degree that has been permitted to us, investigate and contemplate, rather than rely on the words of the great authorities who have preceded us.” A striking idea found in the book is that halakhah’s fundamental concepts of civil law are based on the principles of universal “Natural Law.”

In 1929, in the wake of economic difficulties facing his yeshiva, Shkop went on a fund-raising trip to the United States, where he remained for several months and was received with veneration and enthusiasm. This step marked a break in the reservations that the East European rabbinical elite held for what they called di trayfene medine (the unkosher country). He even considered remaining in America, but in the end decided to return, under the pressure of various Lithuanian Torah authorities and the students of his yeshiva. Two years later (1931) he traveled also to England, but his visit there was a short one.

In 1936, Shkop’s students published a jubilee volume in his honor—a rare phenomenon in the yeshiva world—which included his work Ma‘arekhet ha-kinyanim (The Theory of Ownership Transfers). Other works of his, most of them Talmudic novellae (ḥidushim) on various tractates and topics, were published posthumously.

When the Germans entered Lithuania during World War II, most of the yeshiva’s student body fled to independent Vilna at Shkop’s encouragement, but he himself remained in Grodno with a small number of disciples. He died in 1939 while engaged in prayer.

Shkop was known as a cordial and charming man who heaped paternal attention upon his students—many of whom became famous rabbis. He participated in the activities of Agudas Yisroel, dealing primarily with issues relating to the yeshiva world and avoiding matters that were clearly political in nature. His attitude toward Zionism appears to have been moderate. He had a positive view on immigration to the Land of Israel, and in his later years expressed his own desire to move there.

Suggested Reading

Oscar Feuchtwanger, Righteous Lives (New York, 1964/65), pp. 110–114; Ḥayim Shelomoh Rozental, Torah yevakshu mi-pihu (Jerusalem, 2000); Avi Sagi, “Ha-Mitsvah ha-datit veha-ma‘arekhet ha-mishpatit: Perek be-haguto ha-hilkhatit shel ha-rav Shim‘on Shkop,” Da‘at 35 (1995): 99–114; Sefer ha-yovel li-khevod Rabenu ha-Ga’on Rabi Shim‘on Yehudah ha-Kohen Shkop (Vilna, 1936); Aharon Sorasky, Rabi Shim‘on ve-torato (Bene Berak, Isr., 1970/71).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 25, Vaad Hayeshivot (Vilna), Records, 1924-1940 (finding aid).



Translated from Hebrew by David Strauss