||A summons to R. Eliezer Sirkus to join R. Meir Dan Plotsky in organizing Polish Jewry's support for the Agudat Israel.
R. Meir Shapira (1887–1934), Polish rabbi, rosh yeshivah, educationalist, and communal leader. R. Shapira received ordination when only 15 years old from R. Isaac Shmelkes, R. Meir Arikh, and his teacher, his maternal grandfather, R. Samuel Isaac Schor. R. Shapira manifested his future interest in Jewish education as early as 1910, when in his first position as communal rabbi of Gliniany, he founded his first yeshivah in his own home, later transferring it to his next post in Sanok. He rapidly gained a reputation among Polish Jewry, and was elected to the chair of the education committee of Polish Agudat Israel in 1919, and to the leadership of the whole organization in 1922. R. Shapira also became a Jewish spokesman in Polish government circles in 1923. He was elected to the Polish Sejm, where he was noted for his forceful speeches and outspoken criticism of anti-Semitism. Within two years, however, R. Shapira decided to devote the whole of his life and energy to Jewish education. He thereupon resigned from the Sejm in 1924, accepted the post of rabbi in Piotrkow, and worked for the development of the two enterprises which remain his greatest contribution to Jewish education.
The first enterprise was a program of studies (bigger than ever today) which has passed into Jewish nomenclature as the daf yomi ("daily page"). At the 1923 congress of the Agudat Israel, R. Shapira proposed that every Jew undertake to study each day one identical page of the Talmud. The plan envisaged a communal completion of the study of the Talmud every seven years. R. Shapira himself participated in the completion of the first cycle in 1931. R. Shapira's second achievement was the establishment of Yeshivat Hakhmei Lublin. He first conceived of the idea of this yeshivah in 1922, and two years later, after a highly strenuous fund-raising tour of Europe and North America, laid the foundation stone in the presence of leading Jewish rabbis and dignitaries. This institution was unique in conception, character, and even architecture. R. Shapira was vigorously opposed to the poor amenities, unattractive surroundings, and penurious atmosphere characteristic of the traditional yeshivot. He set a precedent, now universally followed, by equipping his establishment at Lublin with an excellent library (much of it his own), with spacious living and dining quarters, and with appropriate lecture halls. The academic standards themselves were maintained by a rigorous selection of applicants, including a growing number of hasidic youth. Shapira frequently lectured to the students and participated in their daily studies, activities, and even meals.
In 1933 R. Shapira accepted an invitation to become rabbi of Lodz, on condition that the community honor the yeshivah's debts. The condition was accepted, but R. Shapira died before assuming the post. R. Shapira was an enigmatic and colorful personality, in whom a deep understanding of rabbinic lore was combined with a nimble wit and love of life. The former is indicated in his responsa Or ha-Me'ir (1926), and in various collections of essays published by his pupils. The latter was revealed in the songs and melodies he composed while dancing with his students. Many of his witty aphorisms are still quoted. The manner of his death was characteristic of his life. Realizing that his end was near, he requested his students to dance in song around his bed; while they were so engaged, he breathed his last breath.
||Isaac Meir Levin (1894–1971), leader of the Agudat Israel movement. Born in Gora, Poland, Levin came from a Hasidic family: his maternal grandfather was the Gerer Rabbi, R. Judah Aryeh Leib Alter (Sefat Emet), and his father-in-law was the Gerer Rabbi, R. Abraham Mordecai Alter. He was active in Agudat Israel when it was formed in Poland after World War I. Agudat Israel in Poland was dominated by the Gerer Hasidim, and Levin quickly rose to its leadership. In 1924 he represented his movement on the Warsaw Community Council, and at the Second Great Assembly of Agudat Israel (Vienna, 1929) he was elected to the World Presidium. In 1935 he visited Palestine at the head of a delegation of the Agudat Israel Center in Poland and reorganized the executive there. At the Third Great Assembly (Marienbad, 1937), he was chosen as one of the two deputy presidents of the World Actions Committee.
Levin managed to escape from Poland at the beginning of World War II and in 1940 reached Palestine, where he was active in rescue operations from Nazi-dominated Europe. When the Central Committee of Agudat Israel met in Marienbad (1947), he was put in charge of the Erez Israel branch of the movement. Levin was elected to the First Knesset and was minister of social welfare in the first Israel government. He served in this capacity until 1952, when he resigned during the controversy over some form of national service for women. At the Fourth Great Assembly (Jerusalem, 1954), he was elected president of the World Actions Committee and chairman of the World Executive of Agudat Israel.