Rabbi Aharon Kotler, whose 50th yahrtzeit is today, arrived in the United States in 1941. The Va’ad Hatzalah brought Rabbi Kotler out of Nazi controlled Europe, where he had been a highly regarded scholar and the head of the Yeshiva in Kletsk. At the time of his arrival, the United States was considered a Torah wilderness–meaning that there were few yeshivot (learning centers) and only a small number of recognized Torah scholars. The commonly held opinion in pre-Holocaust Europe was that a world centered around Torah scholarship could never be created in America.
Rabbi Kotler felt differently. In 1943, he opened Beth Medrash Govoha (the School of Advanced Torah Study) in Lakewood Township, NJ. Lakewood was just far enough from New York City to avoid the big city distractions. Rabbi Kotler began his yeshiva with 15 students. Nineteen years later, at the time of his passing, Beth Medrash Govoha had 250 students and numerous offshoots led by his former students. Today, Lakewood Township is the home to tens of thousands of families whose lives are centered around the yeshiva, which boasts over six thousand students.
The success of the Lakewood Yeshiva movement was due to Rabbi Kotler’s single-minded dedication to his dream of re-planting the Eastern European world of Torah Judaism on American soil. He not only taught and gave guidance to his students, but personally raised the funds that allowed the yeshiva to exist and flourish.
In addition to his dedication to Beth Medrash Govoha, Rabbi Kotler helped establish Chinuch Atzmaee , the independent system of Israeli religious schools, served as the chairman of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel (Council of Torah Sages), was involved in numerous other Orthodox community organizations and was the Rosh Yeshiva (Head of the Yeshiva) of Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
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