The Jewish Eye
Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman: The Zilberman Derech -Charting a New-Old Path
A small Cheder in the old city of Yerushalayim was set up twenty years ago that is sending shockwaves through the Chinuch system all over the world. Its approach to chinuch follows the Mishna in Pirkei Avos that says Chumash is learned from age five, Mishna from age ten and Gemara must wait until age fifteen. This method had met the satisfaction of the Maharal of Prague and the Vilna Gaon. Despite the support of these two legendary figures, until recently, this system of Chinuch did not catch on.
The man behind today’s reawakening of this approach was Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman, the founder of the now legendary Zilberman’s Cheder in the old city of Yerushalayim. Rav Zilberman was born in 1928 in Berlin, Germany and was orphaned from his mother at only three years old. Later on his father, the Tzaddik Rav Avrohom Moshe, moved his family to England fearing the Nazi threat. Unfortunately Rav Avrohom Moshe was niftar in 1939 leaving Rav Yitzchok Shlomo without a father or mother at age eleven. Not knowing where to turn to, Rav Zilberman wandered about until he managed to catch the last boat out of England to Eretz Yisroel before the war halted sea traffic.
Upon reaching Eretz Yisroel he was taken in by his mother’s brother. Right around that time Rav Yechiel Shlesinger was working on his dream of starting a Yeshiva for young boys of German origin. Rav Zilberman started learning in the now famous Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim. He thrived under Rav Shlesinger’s watchful eye as the latter declared that all his efforts in starting the Yeshiva were worth it to produce a single Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman. He later went on to learn in the Mir Yeshiva during which time he married and started his home in the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood in Yerushalayim.
His life was a never-ending quest for the truth in Avodas Hashem. He would speak to gedolim and always questioned his own derech hoping to find the ultimate truth. One of his ideals was not derive benefit from Torah and he became a Sofer to earn a livelihood for his family. Due to his immense Yiras Shamayim his work became favored by the likes of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and the Tchebiner Rov.
Like everything else he was faced with, when his children reached the age of chinuch he wanted to teach them torah in the best way. Believing in the method of the Vilna Gaon he had no choice but to start a new Cheder based on this system. His unique approach attracted a close following. Eventually he settled in the old city taking with him many followers and starting a close-knit kehilla with the Cheder being the centerpiece.
The “Zilberman Derech” has been copied both closely and loosely by other Chedarim in Eretz Yisroel. In recent years the method has spread across the shores with Zilberman like tracks starting in Yeshivos in America in cities like Lakewood and Baltimore. While this approach has garnered appeal from many who are dazzled by the fantastic amount of material that a child can memorize, the jury is still out on its long term success in educating the next generation. Many gedolim oppose this method because it teaches children only superficially and stymies their ability to think deeply. Either way Rav Zilberman would have much nachas from the establishments reexamining the way they teach and their seeking the truth.
Rav Zilberman was niftar 18 Adar 5761/2001 but his legend lives on. Yehi Zichro Boruch.
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