Memory Lane: Brooklyn Talmudical Academy
by Yehuda Alter
Recently we profiled Rabbi Moshe Shulman, z”l, who was a pioneer in Torah chinuch in America from the early 1920’s until his passing in 1965—with the highlight of his career being his leadership of Boro Park’s Yeshiva Eitz Chaim. We noted that when his son, Rav Nisson graduated elementary school in 1945, Rabbi Moshe Shulman did not want his young son to have to travel all the way to Washington Heights every day to the only orthodox yeshiva high school that existed prior to this.
Talmudical Academy, the high school of Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, had been founded by Dr. Bernard Revel on the Lower East Side in the year 1916—one year after the flagship RIETS was created. In the early 1920’s, it moved—together with the main branch—uptown, to Washington Heights.
So, with the blessing of the leadership of TA, he created a Brooklyn branch of the school, which would feed in to RIETS, when the students were older. For more than three decades, this was a stellar institution where the boys of Boro Park, Williamsburg, and Crown Heights attended for their high school education. Consistently, the contacts listing of the graduates that appear in the end of the yearbooks since the very beginning have mostly Boro Park addresses. One such alumnus of Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, and then BTA is an attorney that some of our readers may have heard of; a Boro Park boy by the name of Alan Dershowitz, who also went by the name Avi, as evidenced by the yearbook.
Indeed, upon the graduation of the first class of BTA, in the year 1948, the leadership of Yeshiva Etz Chaim wrote the following in the inaugural edition of “Elchanite” (as the yearbook of the school was named): “The officials of Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, the members of the vaad hachinuch, and the board of directors, its principals and teachers bless you, dear graduates, and participate in your joy, at this conclusion of the first chapter of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan—Brooklyn Branch. Yeshiva Eitz Chaim raised you, and in this branch you have ascended the ladder of Torah…”
Brooklyn Talmudical Academy moved around a fair bit, always located in aesthetically pleasing buildings befitting the great work of educating the generations coming forth from Brooklyn’s orthodox families.
The first building was a small home in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. They soon outgrew that, as they were adding a class—and the enrollment growing per class—each year. They then moved into a grand building which only recently came down at the corner of Bedford and Church Avenues.
In 1967, the school—at its largest enrollment ever—moved into the vacated Vitagraph Studios at 1277 East 14th Street. This was a large complex that was built to shoot films for the Vitagraph Company that was based in Los Angeles. The enormous building that is nearly a square block in size had a tall smokestack that rose high above the cityscape.
It was here that the final chapter of BTA was written. Until the early 1970’s it continued to thrive, after which time it merged with its parent, which was then called Manhattan Talmudical Academy.
Interestingly, following its closure, it was taken over by Shulamith School for Girls—an institution that was founded in Boro Park almost a century ago. They occupied this space until recently they diverged into two branches—continuing the educational legacy of Brooklyn Talmudical Academy, spawned by the vision from—and for the boys of—Boro Park of yesteryear.
The photos featured here are of the BTA building in Midwood, as well as talmidim and faculty of BTA.