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Yeshivat Sha'alvim was founded in 1961 by Rabbi Meir Schlesinger, the rabbi of Kibbutz Sha'alvim. The yeshiva, like the kibbutz, was originally affiliated with Poalei Agudat Yisrael ("Agudat Israel Workers"), whose ideology can be described as somewhere between that of Agudat Israel and that of the Mizrachi.
Rabbi Schlesinger served as the rosh yeshiva for over 30 years. For over 20 years, the highest class was taught by Rabbi Shimon Zelaznik, a student of Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer of Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem. A weekly shiur klali (general lecture) was delivered by Rabbi Yitzchak Dzimtrovski, one of the foremost students of Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky at Ponevezh yeshiva and maggid shiur [lecturer] at Yeshivat Kol Yaakov in Jerusalem. The first mashgiach was Rabbi Yitzchak Gittelman who had been a student of Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz, Mashgiach at Mir yeshiva. A subsequent mashgiach was Rabbi Moshe Yechiel Tzuriel (Weiss), a prolific author. The period between c. 1970-c. 1985, during which time these rabbis served at Yeshivat Sha'alvim, may be regarded as the yeshiva's golden age. The current heads of the yeshiva (see below) all studied at Yeshivat Sha'alvim during this period.
In the early-to-mid-1990s many of the yeshiva's original rabbis began to retire and their positions were filled by graduates of the yeshiva and of other, more strictly Religious Zionist yeshivas. This change coincided with the demise of the Poalei Agudat Yisrael movement and with the growing divide between the National Religious and Haredi movements in Israel. In the following years the yeshiva grew significantly and became the center of a large and flourishing educational campus which includes a kollel (rabbanut and dayanut), a teachers college, a yeshiva high-school for boys, an ulpana high school for girls, an elementary school and a Talmud Torah. In the early 1990s a National Religious yishuv named Nof Ayalon was built around the Sha'alvim educational campus. Over 400 families live in the yishuv including many graduates of the yeshiva.
Graduates of the yeshiva have founded Hesder yeshivas in Karnei Shomron and in Sderot. In recent years the yeshiva has also opened a post-high-school seminary for girls from the United States and other countries in Jerusalem.
Today, the yeshiva is headed by Rabbi Michael Yammer, son of Prof. Max Jammer; the kollel is headed by Rabbi Gidon Binyamin, Rabbi of Nof Ayalon; and the Mashgiach is Rabbi Aryeh Ben Ya'akov, all of whom are former students of the Yeshiva. Other senior rabbis include: (1) Rabbi Moshe Ganz, a former Rosh Kollel at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav and a close personal student of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. (2) Rabbi Yoel Amital, a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion and a close personal student of his father Rabbi Yehuda Amital, (3) Dayan Batat.
The Yeshiva reopened their Kollel for Dayanus in 2016.
Yeshivat Sha'alvim has a program for students from the United States and other countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Belgium, Hungary, South Africa or Australia. This program was headed for many years by Rabbi Mallen Galinsky and is headed today by Rabbi Ari Waxman and assisted by Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz. In recent years the program has grown significantly and over 100 students attend it annually. In the year 2004, Sha'alvim opened a women's division of its overseas program. Sha'alvim for Women is located in Jerusalem and is headed by Rabbi Yamin Goldsmith, an alumnus of the Yeshiva. Approximately 80 young women attend the program annually and another 15 return for a second year of study.
Yeshivat Sha'alvim has had some affinity for the Torah im Derekh Eretz philosophy of German Jewry. Both founding rosh yeshiva Rabbi Schlesinger and former rosh yeshiva Rabbi Yaakovson studied in the Kol Torah yeshiva founded by Rabbi Dr. Yechiel Michel Schlesinger, Rabbi Schlesinger's uncle (headed subsequently, for many years, by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, of whom they were both students). Both Rabbi Schlesinger and Rabbi Yaakovson are scions of prominent German-Jewish families. Rabbi Schlesinger is the son of Dr. Falk Schlesinger, former director of Sha'arey Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Other ties to German Jewry, include the phenomenon that many of the students, particularly in the high school, are associated with the German-Jewish founded youth movement Ezra (formerly affiliated with Poalei Agudat Israel). In addition, in 2006 Yeshivat Sha'alvim assumed the control of the Isaac Breuer Institute (also formerly affiliated with Poalei Agudat Israel, founded in memory of the movement's German-Jewish ideologue of that name), which issues the scholarly quarterly HaMa'ayan.
Notable alumni of Yeshivat Shaalvim include:
- Rabbi David Fendel, rosh yeshiva of the hesder yeshiva in Sderot.
- Rabbi David Hirsch, Rosh Yeshiva at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, an affiliate of Yeshiva University
- Rabbi Yona Reiss former dean of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
- Rabbi Yehuda Turetsky
- Rabbi Yitzie Klapper
- Rabbi Gershon Turetsky, Head of the Beit Midrash at Shaalvim for Women
- Rabbi Dovid Kupchik, Principal of the HAFTR Middle School
- Levi Cooper
- Rabbi Yechezkel Yaakovson, Former Rosh Yeshiva
- Rabbi Aryeh Hendler, Former Deputy Rosh Yeshiva
- Rabbi Moshe Yechiel Tzuriel (Weiss), Former Mashgiach
- Rabbi Avraham Avidan, Former Rosh Yeshiva
- Rabbi Meir Schlesinger
- Rabbi Shimon Zelaznik
- Rabbi Yitzchak Dzimtrovski
- Rabbi Yitzchak Gittelman
- Rabbi Mallen Galinsky
- Yeshiva website (Hebrew version)
- Yeshiva website (English version)
- Photo of the dais at the Yeshiva's opening