Best remembered today for establishing the seven-year cycle of daily Talmud study known as daf yomi, Rabbi Meir Shapira (1887-1933) also founded the Yeshiva of the Sages Lublin, which, far more than other, older East European centers of learning, resembled a modern educational institution—even located in a large, new building with dormitories and cafeteria. The yeshiva attracted a regular stream of visitors, ranging from scions of ḥasidic rabbinic dynasties to Jesuit seminarians. Thanks to a partially preserved guestbook, Wojciech Tworek has mined some information about them:
[The] visitors include merchants, a physician, and various organized groups. After all, burgeoning Jewish tourism was becoming an important way of spending leisure time. . . . [The organized] groups include a cyclist club, “Marathon,” whose members made it all the way to Lublin from Warsaw, almost 125 miles.
Other groups, often very remote from the ideology and worldview of the [yeshiva], also used trips there as an educational opportunity. Among these groups were members of the right-wing Revisionist Zionist youth movement Beitar; 59 students from a competing institution, the [religious Zionist] Warsaw Taḥkemoni rabbinical seminary; students from Lublin’s school for children with special needs; and 90 girls from a nearby public elementary school—rather unthinkable in today’s ḥasidic yeshivas with their strict standards of modesty and rigorous separation between sexes.
A few words are due about a visit paid by the “Astrea” student fraternity active at the Catholic University of Lublin. While the inscription in the book gives only the date of their visit and the number of visitors (twenty), the students shared their impressions several days later in Głos lubelski, the mouthpiece of the Lublin chapter of the right-wing nationalist National Democracy party. The article “Z wędrówek po Lublinie” (“From wandering around Lublin”), shows that the trip was not intended to open up young Catholic minds, but to confirm their long-harbored prejudice.
These students were not the only non-Jews visiting the yeshiva. Indeed, the guestbook demonstrates that it was a fairly popular destination among priests and seminary students. It is fascinating to see that in the mid-thirties, when rampant and violent anti-Semitism was on the rise in Poland and the Catholic Church was one of the antagonizing factors, the worlds of yeshiva students and Christian clergymen could meet.