Aharon Kotler

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Aharon Kotler
Aharon Kotler

February 2, 1892 (2 Adar 5652)
DiedNovember 29, 1962(1962-11-29) (aged 71)
(2 Kislev 5723)
Jewish leader
SuccessorRabbi Shneur Kotler
PositionRosh yeshiva
YeshivaBeth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood Township, New Jersey
BuriedHar HaMenuchot

Aharon Kotler (February 2, 1892 – November 29, 1962) was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and a prominent leader of Orthodox Judaism in Lithuania and the United States; the latter being where he founded Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood Township, New Jersey.

Early life[edit]

Kotler was born Aharon Pines[1][2] in Śvisłač, Russian Empire (historically Lithuania, now Belarus) in 1892. He was orphaned at the age of 10 and adopted by his uncle, Yitzchak Pines, a rabbinic judge in Minsk. He studied in the Slabodka yeshiva in Lithuania under Nosson Tzvi Finkel, and Moshe Mordechai Epstein. Subsequently, he joined his father-in-law, Isser Zalman Meltzer, to run the yeshiva of Slutsk.[3]

World War II and move to the United States[edit]

After World War I, the yeshivah moved from Slutsk to Kletsk in Belarus. With the outbreak of World War II, Kotler and the yeshivah relocated to Vilna, then the major refuge of most yeshivoth from the occupied areas. The smaller Yeshivos followed the lead of the larger Yeshivos, and either escaped with them to Japan and China, or were arrested by the communists and sent to Siberia or Kazakhstan. Most of his students did not manage to escape and were murdered by the Nazis. He was brought to America on April 10, 1941, by the Vaad Hatzalah rescue organization, and guided it during The Holocaust.[3] At first, he settled in New York City's Upper West Side, and in 1949, he moved to the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.[4]

In 1943, Kotler founded Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood Township, New Jersey, with 15 students.[3] By the time of his death in 1962, the yeshiva had grown to 250 students.[3] 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 2019 the yeshiva had grown into the largest institution of its kind in America with 6,715 students, 2,748 regular and 3,967 in Kollel status.[5] while the surrounding Lakewood community supports a network of more than 100 other yeshivas[6] and approximately 200 synagogues[7] for an Orthodox population estimated at more than 66,000.[8]

Upon the death of his father-in-law, 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.[citation needed]


Following his arrival in the United States, he joined the presidium of the Vaad Hatzalah, working feverishly to save Rabbis and Yeshiva students who were trapped in Europe.[9] Along with Rabbi Eliezer Silver , Rabbi Avraham Kalmanowitz and others, he worked day and night, using both private and government channels to try and save lives.[10] A committed anti-Zionist,[11] 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.[3]

Some of those noted Jewish activists who supported Kotler in his efforts were Irving Bunim, Moses Feuerstein,[12] Stephen Klein and Zev Wolfson[13]


Kotler died at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City on November 29, 1962.[3] A funeral service 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. Kotler was buried in Israel[14][15] on Har HaMenuchot.


  • Shu"t Mishnas R' Aharon
  • Mishnas Rabbi Aharon on various tractates of the Talmud

Notable students[edit]


  1. ^ Kamenetsky, Noson. (c. 2002). Making of a godol : a study of episodes in the lives of great Torah personalities. Jerusalem: Distributors, Hamesorah Publishers. ISBN 965-90379-0-2. OCLC 56324345.
  2. ^ Pronounced /piːnɪs/ PEE-nis
  3. ^ a b c d e f Staff. "Rabbi Aaron Kotler Dead at 71; Jersey Rabbinical School Dean", The New York Times, November 30, 1962. Accessed August 29, 2011.
  4. ^ Ami. No. 65. Apr 4, 2012. p. 84.
  5. ^ "Enrollment in the N.J. Colleges and Universities by Universities, by Level and Attendance Status, Fall 2018" (PDF). state.nj.us. Retrieved 5 April 2023.
  6. ^ "11 things to know about Lakewood amid fraud sweep". 30 June 2017.
  7. ^ "New Jersey Local News, Breaking News, Sports & Weather". nj. Retrieved 5 April 2023.
  8. ^ Strunsky, Steve. "Lakewood's Orthodox population keeps growing. We talk to a rabbi about why, and what it means.", 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."
  9. ^ Development, PodBean. "To Save A World: Rav Aharon Kotler's Endless Activism". jsoundbites.podbean.com. Retrieved 2021-01-04.
  10. ^ "Kotler Family". www.eilatgordinlevitan.com. Retrieved 2022-01-21.
  11. ^ Shaul Magid (2013). American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society. Indiana University Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-253-00802-2. 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.
  12. ^ "Moses I. Feuerstein, 1916-2009". Jewish Action. 2009-06-01. Retrieved 2021-01-04.
  13. ^ Mathias, Elliot (2012-08-19). "Zev Wolfson: A Modest Visionary". aishcom. Retrieved 2021-01-04.
  14. ^ "25,000 MOURNERS AT Rabbi Aharon KOTLER'S RITES; Crowd Pays Tribute to Rabbi at East Side Synagogue", The New York Times, December 3, 1962. Accessed August 29, 2011.
  15. ^ Staff. "30,000 March in Funeral Of Rabbi Aharon Kotler in Israel", The New York Times, December 5, 1962. Accessed August 29, 2011.

Dor-Shav (Dershowitz), Zecharia (2022). "Personal Experiences with Great Rabbis of My Generation". Dershowitz Family Saga. ISBN 9781510770232.

External links[edit]