|This biographical article relies too much on references to primary sources. (January 2010)|
Aaron Moshe Schechter (also Aharon Moshe Schechter) is the rosh yeshiva ("dean") of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and its post-graduate Talmudical division Kollel Gur Aryeh as well as of all the branches of the yeshiva in Brooklyn, New York City that includes an elementary school and a high school for young Jewish boys, teenagers, and young men almost exclusively drawn from the surrounding community of Haredi Jews living in Midwood, Brooklyn. The total number of students at the "Chaim Berlin" institutions is close to three thousand students.
Rabbi Schechter was born in Brooklyn in the 1920s and became a disciple of Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner after being enrolled in the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin as a young child. His father belonged to the Young Israel movement and was befriended by Rabbi Hutner who had arrived in America in the 1930s.
Disciple of Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner
Rabbi Hutner chose Rabbi Schechter for leadership positions in the yeshiva even prior to Rabbi Schechter's marriage. He encouraged Rabbi Schechter to write a rabbinic commentary on Maimonides that he called Avodas Aharon and Rabbi Hutner wrote a glowing approbation:
- ...I recognized in you that your heart is the heart of the lion in all areas of the Torah: In hilchot deiot ("laws of ideas"), chovot halevavot ("duties of the heart"), and in the mitzvot of the limbs. And now that I have merited to see you in terms of a man elevated as a gaon ("genius") in Torah and knowledge...
- ...Avodat Aharon is the suitable name. Since this name combines the unique manner of your spiritual direction...that is combining the totality of the light of Torah and the light of avoda ("serving [God]") into one light. And I pray and my blessings to you is, my beloved, that these two lights of Torah and avoda will be purely upon your head, and from upon your brow shall shine forth the holy tzitz ("gold plate") like all the Torah and avoda of Aaron. And in its light shall you perceive light to complete your portion in the Torah, in depth and completion, like the good hand of God that is upon you, and may your friends rejoice, and may your disciples be raised through your hand to light up the world with the light of Torah and knowledge of God.
- The one who loves you and desires the shalom ("completeness and greatness") of your Torah.
- Yitzchok Hutner.
Rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin
A number of years prior to his death in 1980, Rabbi Hutner officially announced that Rabbi Schechter and Rabbi Yonasan David would both serve as co-equal roshei yeshiva of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. This was done when the yeshiva moved to its location on Coney Island Avenue in 1966 and Rabbi Hutner declared to all present that henceforth Rabbi Schechter and Rabbi David would share seats at the front of the main beth midrash (the main study hall of the yeshiva) with Rabbi Schechter sitting at the front right and Rabbi David at the front left, and with Rabbi Hutner sitting in the center. Even after the death of Rabbi Hutner, the center seat has been left empty as a kind of "holy spot", with Rabbi Schechter continuing to occupy the front right position. When Rabbi David returns for brief visits from Israel he assumes his position in the front left of the beth midrash. The seating arrangements reflect both Rabbi Schechter's and Rabbi David's shared position of supreme authority within the totality of the yeshiva.
A great part of Rabbi Schechter's success in building and expanding the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and helping launch the careers of a number of his disciples as rosh yeshivas has been his ability to maintain good ties with alumni. In this regard, Rabbi Schechter enjoys one of the greatest human legacies that Rabbi Hutner bequeathed in the person of philanthropist Abraham Fruchthandler who serves as president of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and heads its overall operations all under the guidance of Rabbi Schechter.
Shechter has been linked to a few controversies. Most notably he was listed as a Lo Tsayis Dino by Rav Moshe Feinstein over his refusal to answer to a rabbinic court over his handling of the case of R' Shlomo Carlebach, who was fired by Rabbi Hutner from his position as Mashgiach of Chaim Berlin. Despite reportedly being urged to attend by some Rabbis, Rabbi Schechter did not appear at a din Torah before R' Feinstein.
Agudath Israel and Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah
After the death of Rabbi Hutner in 1980 Rabbi Schechter joined the nesius ("presidium") of Agudath Israel of America. After the death in 1987 of Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman (the founder and rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ner Yisrael in Baltimore) Rabbi Schechter was accepted as one of the select members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the supreme rabbinical policy decision-making body of Agudath Israel of America that is loosely affiliated with the World Agudath Israel movement and its ideological kindred movements in Israel of Agudat Israel and Degel HaTorah. In this capacity Rabbi Schechter has become one of the foremost guides and leaders for Haredi Judaism in the United States, particularly of the Lithuanian Jewish community (although he does work closely with most branches of Hasidic Judaism.)
Rabbi Schechter works closely with two other early disciples of Rabbi Hutner on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, Rabbi Aharon Feldman of Yeshiva Ner Yisrael and Rabbi Yaakov Perlow ( who was appointed Rosh Agudas Yisroel -- "head [of] Agudath Israel [of America]") the Hasidic Rebbe of Novominsk as well as with all the members of the Moetzes and the lay leadership of Agudath Israel that is headquartered in Manhattan.
On January 13, 2015, Schechter resigned from the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah over a dispute regarding internal dissent in the World Agudath Israel affiliated Degel Hatorah. But after the dispute was settled returned.
Leadership beyond Brooklyn
Rabbi Schechter sits on the governing rabbinical boards of key Haredi institutions in the United States, such as Torah Umesorah - National Society for Hebrew Day Schools and Chinuch Atzmai. Quite a number of his own disciples have become rosh yeshivas in their own right and many have become members of "out-of-town" Kollels (post graduate and outreach schools) and Jewish day school. Many of these young rabbis and their wives frequently look to him and seek out his counsel which he dispenses with great caution and in private as he rarely speaks in public (another of Rabbi Hutner's trademarks that he has adopted) preferring to focus the bulk of his energies on his students, yeshiva business and delivering his regular Talmudic shiurim ("lectures") which only his students are permitted to attend.
- Rabbi Schechter speaks to students on OU radio, December 28, 2006
- Participates in conference concerning conversions, February 7, 2007
- Endorses the outreach kiruv work of the oorah.org organization
- Member of rabbinical committee, Vaad L'Hatzolas Nidchei Yisroel
- Video of Rabbi Schechter speaking about reconciling Science and Torah
- Aharon Moshe Schechter, Sefer Avodat Aharon (Shulsinger Brothers, 1957)