|Rabbi Aharon Kotler|
|Yeshiva||Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood Township, New Jersey|
|Successor||Rabbi Shneur Kotler|
|Birth name||Aharon Kotler|
Śvisłač, Russian Empire
|Died||November 29, 1962
(2 Kislev 5723)
New York City
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.
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.
World War II and move to the United States
After World War I, the yeshivah moved from Slutsk to Kletsk in Belarus. 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.
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.
A committed anti-Zionist, 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.
Rav Kotler died at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City on November 29, 1962. A funeral service for Rav Kotler at the Congregation Sons of Israel Kalwarier on Manhattan's Lower East Side drew 25,000 mourners, with 200 officers from the New York City Police Department assigned to the event, which was described by the congregation's president as the largest gathering of mourners in his experience. The 700 seats in the sanctuary were reserved for notables. In an atmosphere described as being reminiscent of Yom Kippur, eulogies for Rav Kotler were delivered by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and by Satmar Hasidic leader Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, among others. Following the funeral, Rav Kotler's body was transported to Idlewild Airport to be flown to Israel accompanied by two dozen of his students. After arriving in Israel, the plane carrying Rav Kotler's coffin was greeted by a crowd of 5,000 at the airport. Jerusalem traffic was brought to a standstill by crowds of 30,000 people who lined the path of the procession transporting Rav Kotler's body from the airport to Etz Chaim Yeshiva, where thousands of mourners from throughout Israel came to offer their final respects before his burial on Har HaMenuchot.
Shu"t Mishnas R' Aharon
Mishnas Rabbi Aharon on various tractates of the Talmud.
Rabbi Kotlers's students include:
- Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi
- Rabbi Elya Svei
- Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky
- Rabbi Moshe Hirsch
- Rabbi Moshe Hillel Hirsch
- Rabbi Yisroel Taplin
- Rabbi Moshe Heinemann
- Rabbi Meir Stern
- Rabbi Yechiel Perr
- Rabbi Shlomo Miller
- Staff. "Rabbi Aaron Kotler Dead at 71; Jersey Rabbinical School Dean", The New York Times, November 30, 1962. Accessed August 29, 2011.
- Fahim, Kareem. "As Orthodox Population Grows, So Do Tensions", 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."
- Shaul Magid (2013). American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society. Indiana University Press. p. 169. ISBN 0-253-00802-6.
R. Elhanon Wasserman, who is featured prominently in the ArtScroll series, was one of the most vehement anti-Zionists in the wartime period. R. Aaron Kotler, the founder of the Lakewood Yeshiva and architect of Yeshiva Orthodoxy in America, was also a committed anti-Zionist.
- Staff. "25,000 MOURNERS AT KOTLER'S RITES; Crowd Pays Tribute to Rabbi at East Side Synagogue", The New York Times, December 3, 1962. Accessed August 29, 2011.
- Staff. "30,000 March in Funeral Of Rabbi Kotler in Israel", The New York Times, December 5, 1962. Accessed August 29, 2011.