+ Photos Only + Advanced Search
Printer-friendly Printer-friendly

Guide to the Records of Tarbut Hebrew Teachers Seminary, Vilna, RG 23

Processed by Isaiah Trunk in 1979 with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.. Finding Aid edited, encoded and posted online thanks to a grant from the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation.

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
Email: archives@yivo.cjh.org
URL: http://www.yivo.org

© 2006 YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. All rights reserved.

Electronic finding aid was converted to EAD 2002 by Dianne Ritchey Oummia and Yakov Sklyar in November 2006.  EAD finding aid was customized in ARCHON in 2012. Description is in English.

Collection Overview

Title: Guide to the Records of Tarbut Hebrew Teachers Seminary, Vilna, RG 23

ID: RG 23 FA

Extent: 4.15 Linear Feet


The records were originally deposited in the YIVO Institute in Vilna but little is known about their original state. In addition, little information is available on attempts at arrangement immediately after their arrival in New York in 1947. However, a rudimentary sorting process took place. The records were divided into folders with folder descriptions and stored in 9 acid-free 5" boxes.

The records were processed by Dr. Isaiah Trunk in 1979 with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The original inventory is in Yiddish. The English version was written by Fruma Mohrer.

In 1979 when arrangement was begun, the records were incomplete and not in original order. An initial survey revealed two different existing arrangements. Some files seemed to be in their original state, as kept in the seminary office, i.e., the correspondence with the Tarbut Central Office, in Warsaw. Other files had been artificially created, either perhaps by the YIVO staff in Vilna or during the 1950s. These two types of files posed problems because they overlapped. For example, the General Office Correspondence, Correspondence with Students, and Correspondence with Teachers all contained letters from graduate students requesting their diplomas. In numerous instances materials in the folders did not fit the folder descriptions. A thorough sorting and item-by-item reading of the material was undertaken.

The principle followed in arrangement was, recreation, as much as possible, of original files based on activity or function. The series divisions were determined by a logical analysis of administrative activities rather than on any actual knowledge of the original files. The collection was divided into General Administrative Records (Series I and II) and Academic Records (Series III-VI).

Languages: Yiddish, Polish


The Tarbut Hebrew Teachers Seminary was founded in 1921. The school was part of a network of educational institutions established by the Tarbut movement in Poland. Teachers' seminaries were created to train Tarbut teachers for the Hebrew elementary school system. The collection contains records of the seminary in Vilna, Poland. It holds administrative records as well as correspondence. Correspondence is with the Tarbut Central Office in Warsaw, the Vilna School District, the Keren Kayemet L'Israel, the Vilna Jewish Community Council, branches of Tarbut throughout Poland, organizations, bookstores, and publishers. Other documents included in the collection are by-laws, financial documents, contracts, statistical materials, and printed and mimeographed materials. Academic records are also found in this collection. These types of records include correspondence with students and teachers, applications for admission to the seminary, teachers' files, student grades, and diplomas. There are also minutes of the Pedagogical Council, curriculum outlines for various subjects, teaching schedules, and lessons prepared by student teachers.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The records of the Tarbut Hebrew Teachers Seminary reflect both administrative and educational activities from its foundation in 1921 to circa 1940. They consist of correspondence, certificates, diplomas, reports, minutes, by-laws, contracts, invoices, promissory notes, receipts, statistical tables, questionnaires, application forms, manuscripts, lists, student grades, payroll lists, card files, curricula, syllabi, schedules and a mechanical drawing.

General Administrative Records reflect those activities necessary to administer any institutional office and include financial and legal matters, whereas Academic Records reflect activities particular to a school. General Administrative Records contain comprehensive correspondence files. Miscellaneous administrative records are scanty. There are no bookkeeping records; financial documents reveal budgetary information for only some years. Academic Records contain a fairly complete file of correspondence with students. Correspondence with teachers is not complete. Student Achievement Records are fragmentary with accumulative recorded grades for only 1926-1928. Minutes of the Pedagogical Council are incomplete, mainly of 1933. Curriculum records contain entrance requirements, syllabi and schedules of classes but with gaps. Student Teaching Records contain evaluations for only the early 1920s.

While all areas of the administration are represented, there are no complete series except for some correspondence files. This narrows down research possibilities for the fragmentary portions, but does not rule them out. For instance, Student Achievement Records for 1926-1928 are cohesive and fairly complete and provide a valuable sample. The by-laws of the seminary, 1926-1937, consist of only a few documents but provide indispensable background information about the original structure and purpose of the seminary. The staff records consist of only a few sheets but in fact throw light on the background of teachers hired over a period of ten years. Course outlines are available for only some subjects but these are thorough. Student teaching evaluations, although available only for the early 1920s, reveal the pedagogical theories of the Student Teaching Department.

Where there are no records at all, such as in the case of the accounting books, information on the general financial situation is evident in the general office correspondence, in letters relating to funding, in student correspondence relating to tuition reduction. In fact, in the case of other topics as well, the rich correspondence files compensate for the scanty administrative records and provide documentary evidence of facts which might otherwise be expected to be substantiated by accounts or other records. Some research topics for which the collection is a source: Tarbut movement; teaching conditions in Poland, 1920s-1930s; school and state in Poland; methodology of teaching Hebrew subjects.

Historical Note

The Tarbut Hebrew Teachers Seminary was registered with the Vilna School District as Habrajskie Koedukacyjne Seminar Nauczycielskie 'Tarbuth' w Wilnie. It was founded in 1921 by the Vilna branch of the Histadrut Ivri L'khinukh U'tarbut b'polaniya (Organization for Hebrew Education and Culture in Poland, henceforth known as the 'Tarbut') and was part of a network of educational institutions established by the Tarbut primarily to promote the Zionist objective of preparing Jewish youth for settlement in Palestine.

The Tarbut curriculum included both spiritual and practical elements of this preparation. Biblical and Talmudic literature as well as Jewish cultural tradition were to serve not as a guide for practical observance but as a source of moral and intellectual inspiration for the modern Hebrew pioneer. Hebrew was to replace Yiddish as the daily Jewish language. Courses in agriculture and natural sciences were introduced to teach the student to deal with practical problems in Palestine.

As the Ministry of Education required incorporation of the regular Polish elementary and secondary curricula, the Tarbut program, therefore, was a synthesis of the Polish school system and the curriculum followed by Zionist schools in Palestine. All subjects were taught in Hebrew, with the exception of Polish language and literature, history and geography. The Tarbut organization was legalized in March 1922 and expanded steadily until the outbreak of World War II. In 1918 there were 51 schools, 2575 students. In 1927-1928, 234 schools, 24,099 students. In 1933-1934, 269 schools, 37,000 students.

The network included elementary and secondary schools, kindergartens, teachers' seminaries, an agricultural school, evening schools and summer camps.

Despite their expansion, the Tarbut schools faced several problems. They had no financial base and depended for their survival upon school fees and contributions from private individuals and Zionist organizations. Funds from the AJDC in the U.S. lasted until the early 1930s when the depression put an end to all support. A constant shortage of teaching supplies and school equipment was a direct result of the financial problems. Second, there was a lack of qualified teachers committed to the ideals of the Tarbut. Third, the Tarbut secondary courses were not accredited as preparation for university; this lack of recognition from the government was symptomatic of the generally unfavorable position of minority schools in Poland.

The Tarbut teachers' seminaries were created to train teachers for the Hebrew elementary school system. Seminaries were established in Vilna, Grodno, for elementary school and in Warsaw and Lwów (now called L'viv, in present-day Ukraine) for kindergarten training. Later on, kindergarten training was also given at the Vilna seminary. In 1925-1926 there were 3 seminaries in Poland and by 1931-1932 there were 6. The seminary in Vilna was the first one founded. Its history reflects the development of the entire Tarbut system. This applies to the general ideological objectives, the curriculum, financial conditions and relationship between the school and the Vilna state educational authorities.

The seminary's annual budget ranged from about 70,000 zloty to 116,000 zloty (about $17,500 to $29,000). The school structure included a director, teachers, a pedagogical council, a student council and a staff doctor. There was a library as well as a dormitory provided by the Tarbut branch in Vilna.

Applicants to the seminary were required to have completed elementary schooling. The 5 year program included bible, Talmud, Hebrew language and literature, Polish, mathematics, natural sciences, psychology, pedagogy, methodology of teaching, logic, hygiene, music and gymnastics. In 1932 educational reforms were enacted in Poland, affecting all Tarbut schools. The seminary's 5 year program was now replaced by the 3 year pedagogical lyceum to which only gymnasium graduates were accepted. A lyceum for kindergarten training was established.

Although figures on graduates are few, from 1931-1934 a total of 155 students 1 graduated from the seminaries of Vilna and Grodno. Miriam Eisenstein, in Jewish Schools in Poland, 1919-1939, claims that all teacher training institutions were closed by the state in 1936. The Tarbut records in the YIVO Archives, however, indicate that the Vilna seminary existed at least until 1940.


1. Chaim Shloyme Kazdan, Di geshikhte fun yidishn shulvezn in umophengikn Poiln, (History of Jewish School Systems in Independent Poland) Mexico, 1947, p. 434.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions: Open to researchers by appointment with the Chief Archivist, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011 email: archives@yivo.cjh.org

Preferred Citation: Published citations should read as follows:Identification of item, date (if known); YIVO Archives; Records of the Tarbut Hebrew Teachers Seminary; RG 23; folder number.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Series I: Correspondence, 1920-1940,
Series 2: Series II: Miscellaneous Administrative Records, 1924-1939,
Series 3: Series III: Correspondence with Students and Teachers, 1922-1940,
Series 4: Series IV: Student Achievement Records and Staff Records, 1926-1939,
Series 5: Series V: Curriculum, Schedules, Schoolwork, 1922-1939,
Series 6: Series VI: Miscellaneous, undated,

Series I: Correspondence
Contains three files of correspondence: Tarbut Central Office, Warsaw, 1922-1939; Vilna School District, 1924-1939; General Office Correspondence, 1920-1940,  which includes Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael, Vilna Jewish Community Council, branches of Tarbut throughout Poland and other Jewish organizations, as well as commercial establishments such as bookstores and publishers.
Sub-Series 1: Tarbut Central Office, Warsaw
Folder 1: Correspondence
Folder 2: Correspondence
Folder 3: Correspondence
Folder 4: Correspondence
Folder 5: Correspondence
Folder 6: Correspondence
Folder 7: Correspondence
Folder 8: Correspondence
Folder 9: Correspondence
Folder 10: Correspondence
Folder 11: Correspondence
Folder 12: Correspondence
undated, 1938-1939
Sub-Series 2: Vilna School District
Folder 13: Correspondence
Folder 14: Correspondence
Folder 15: Correspondence
undated, 1939
Folder 16: Teachers' Evening Program
Sub-Series 3: General Office Correspondence
Folder 17: Correspondence
Folder 18: Correspondence
Folder 19: Correspondence
Folder 20: Correspondence
Folder 21: Correspondence
Folder 22: Correspondence
Folder 23: Correspondence
Folder 24: Correspondence
Folder 25: Correspondence
Folder 26: Correspondence
Folder 27: Correspondence
Folder 28: Correspondence
Folder 29: Correspondence log

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Series I: Correspondence, 1920-1940,
Series 2: Series II: Miscellaneous Administrative Records, 1924-1939,
Series 3: Series III: Correspondence with Students and Teachers, 1922-1940,
Series 4: Series IV: Student Achievement Records and Staff Records, 1926-1939,
Series 5: Series V: Curriculum, Schedules, Schoolwork, 1922-1939,
Series 6: Series VI: Miscellaneous, undated,
© 2013 YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Terms of Use Privacy Policy

Archive powered by Archon Version 3.14
Copyright © 2011 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign