Aharon Kotler bigraphy, stories - American rabbi

Aharon Kotler : biography

January 1, 1891 - November 29, 1962

Aharon Kotler (1891 – November 29, 1962) was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and a prominent leader of Orthodox Judaism in Lithuania, and later the United States, where he founded Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood Township, New Jersey.

A biography and attempts to ban it

The 2002 book, Making of a Godol, contains many biographical stories and information related to Rav Kotler, including details of Rav Kotler's pursuit of his future bride, which included sending letters to her. These letters raised concerns for Rav Meltzer about the character of his future son-in-law when he caught a glimpse of Rav Kotler's letters. After raising the issue with the matchmaker who had arranged the marriage, she replied that Rav Kotler was a genius, not a saint.Shai, Eli. , The Jerusalem Post, April 16, 2003. Accessed August 29, 2011. Author Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky wrote in his unpublished work Anatomy of a Ban and in a footnote in a second edition of Making of a Godol, that it was Rav Kotler's loyalists who launched the ban on the book, out of fear that the book paints Rav Kotler differently than how they wish him to be portrayed.Making of a Godol reference # 8Weiss, Steven I. , The Forward, September 30, 2005. Accessed August 29, 2011. "This would appear to be no coincidence: In Kamenetsky’s unpublished, intermediate volume — titled “Anatomy of a Ban” — the rabbi argued that it was Kotler loyalists who launched the effort to get the book banned."

Recently a biographical study of Rav Kotler's life and teachings was written by his student Rabbi Yitzchok Dershowitz. The book is titled The Legacy of Maran Rav Aharon Kotler.ISBN 978-1-58330-875-2

World War II and move to the United States

After World War I, the yeshivah moved from Slutsk to Kletsk in Belarusia. With the outbreak of World War II, Rav Kotler and the yeshivah relocated to Vilna, then the major refuge of most yeshivoth from the occupied areas. Reportedly Rav Kotler encouraged the yeshiva to stay in Vilna despite the approaching Nazis. Most of his students were murdered by the Nazis. Some did not listen to him and escaped to China. He was brought to America in 1941 by the Vaad Hatzalah rescue organization and guided it during the Holocaust. He settled in the Borough Park neighborhood.

In 1943, Rav Kotler founded Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood Township, New Jersey, with 15 students.

When he arrived in America, he was told that he is wasting his time trying to rebuild what was destroyed in Europe because Jewish students of college age were interested only in earning a degree that will enable them to make money and have no interest in learning and mastering the ability to understand the Talmud just for its own sake. Rabbi Kotler responded that he will "plant" Torah in America and declared this to be his life's mission. Through his yeshiva he rebuilt Torah throughout America. He would send the best of his senior students to open other yeshivahs throughout North America.

By the time of Rav Kotler's death in 1962, the yeshiva had grown to 250 students. He was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Shneur Kotler, as rosh yeshiva. As of 2011, Beth Medrash Govoha is run by his grandson, Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, and three of his grandsons-in-law, Rabbis Yerucham Olshin, Yisroel Neuman, and Dovid Schustal. By 2007 the yeshiva had grown into the largest institution of its kind in America with 5,000 college and advanced-level students, while the surrounding Lakewood community supports a network of 50 other yeshivas and over 100 synagogues for an Orthodox population estimated at 40,000.Fahim, Kareem. , The New York Times, December 10, 2007. Accessed August 29, 2011. "Many Orthodox Jews have been drawn to Lakewood by the prestige of the town's yeshiva, Beth Medrash Govoha, one of the largest rabbinical colleges in the world. The yeshiva was founded in 1943 by a Polish-born rabbi, Aaron Kotler. In 1962, when Rabbi Kotler died, the school had 250 students. It now has about 5,000. The wider yeshiva community includes more than a hundred temples, and about 50 schools."

Rav Kotler also helped establish Chinuch Atzmai, the independent religious school system in Israel and was the chairman of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel. He chaired the Rabbinical administration board of Torah Umesorah and was on the presidium of the Agudas HaRabbonim of the U.S. and Canada.

Upon the death of his father-in-law, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, he inherited his father-in-law's position of rosh yeshiva of Etz Chaim Yeshiva of Jerusalem. In an unusual arrangement, he held this position while continuing to live in America, and visiting Jerusalem occasionally. Today, his grandson, Rabbi Zevulun Schwartzman, heads a kollel located at Etz Chaim Yeshiva.


Shu"t Mishnas R' Aharon

Mishnas Rabbi Aharon on various tractates of the Talmud.


Rabbi Kotlers's students include:

  • Rabbi Elya Svei
  • Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky
  • Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
  • Rabbi Moshe Hirsch
  • Rabbi Moshe Hillel Hirsch
  • Rabbi Yisroel Taplin
  • Rabbi Moshe Heinemann
  • Rabbi Meir Stern
  • Rabbi Yechiel Perr
  • Rabbi Shlomo Miller

Early life

Rav Kotler was born in Śvisłač, Russian Empire (now Belarus) in 1891. He was orphaned at the age of 10 and adopted by his uncle, Rabbi Yitzchak Pinnes, a Dayan in Minsk. He studied in the Slabodka yeshiva in Lithuania under the "Alter (elder) of Slabodka", Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, and Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein. After learning there, he joined his father-in-law, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, to run the yeshiva of Slutsk.


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