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Tomchei Temimim (תומכי תמימים = "supporters of the pure ones") is the central Yeshiva (Talmudical academy) of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement. Founded in 1897 in the town of Lubavitch by Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, it is now a worldwide network of institutions of advanced Torah study
History and time period
Towards the late 1800's, the position of traditional Orthodox Judaism was declining. Various new movements eroded the traditional fabric of Jewish life, notably the Haskalah and Zionism. Many students were being lured away from a traditional yeshiva education to gymnasiums and universities. Even within the yeshiva framework, times had changed; no longer was the atmosphere one of exclusive devotion to Judaism, according to which Torah study has traditionally been not simply an acquisition of another science, but an end in itself. The winds of Enlightenment were blowing; students were reading books considered heretical by the yeshivot, and were for the first time exposed to ideas at odds with Orthodox Judaism. It was not uncommon for students to flagrantly violate basic Jewish laws, and ultimately join these secular movements.
Against this backdrop, Rabbi Sholom DovBer believed it necessary to found a new type of yeshiva, one which would regularly study Hasidic philosophy (Chassidus) according to the Chabad tradition, and thereby inoculate its students against the heretical views spreading through the Orthodox Jewish world. Moreover, he expressed his confidence that the students of this yeshiva (whom he termed "temimim" תמימים; sing. "tamim" תמים = pure, perfect) would be suitably prepared to overcome the problems plaguing the yeshiva community and Jewry in general.
In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution took place in Russia; within a short time, virtually any kind of formal Jewish education was outlawed by the new Communist rulers. The yeshiva took to operating underground, with teachers facing harsh penalties if caught: sentences of ten or more years of hard labor in Siberia, or a merciful death at the hands of a firing squad. Dozens of young rabbis paid the ultimate price for continuing the survival of Judaism in the Soviet Union, at any cost.
When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (the Rebbe Rayatz) exited the Soviet Union in 1927, the yeshiva reestablished itself in Warsaw and later in Otwock, Poland. When in the course of World War II the Rebbe was safely evacuated to New York. The yeshiva first escaped to Shanghai, along with some other yeshivot like Mir, and then was reestablished in America, where it remains to this day.
The central Yeshiva is housed today in Lubavitch World Headquarters, at 770 Eastern Parkway, with approximately six hundred students. Branches of the yeshiva, formally independent but recognized to be part of one global network, are to be found in major cities in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, South Africa, Australia, and the former Soviet Union, and a distinct network of yeshivot in Israel. Many of the branches also perform the functions necessary to grant ordination to their students. A significant number of graduates of Tomchei Temimim continue working within Chabad as religious functionaries, whether as shluchim in Chabad Houses or as teachers in schools.