KOTLER, AHARON (1892–1962), was a rabbi and prominent educator in eastern Europe and the United States. A child prodigy, Kotler was sent as a youth to study in the famous musar-yeshivah of Slobodka (near modern-day Kaunas, Lithuania), which emphasized Talmudic studies as well as ethics and self-improvement. After his marriage to the daughter of Isser Zalman Meltzer, the head of the yeshivah in Slutsk, White Russia, Kotler moved to Slutsk and began to teach in the yeshivah. In the wake of World War I he moved the yeshivah from the Soviet-controlled area to Kletzk in Poland. There he became one of the best-known figures in Polish rabbinical circles. He was the youngest member of the Council of Scholars and Sages of Agudat Yisraʾel.
In 1935 Kotler visited the United States, where he discussed the need for an American yeshivah that would be designed not for the training of rabbis and religious professionals but for the study of Torah for its own sake. The discussions came to naught and he returned to Poland.
Following the German occupation of Poland, Kotler immigrated in 1941 to the United States, where he was to have his most lasting influence. He was driven by the concern that with the destruction of the yeshivot in eastern Europe, new centers of Torah study would have to be established in America. Despite widespread doubt that the atmosphere of intense Torah study that had prevailed in eastern Europe could be re-created in the United States, Kotler persevered and in 1943 established the Beit Midrash Gevohah in Lakewood, New Jersey. The school was designed for students of post-high-school age, and its curriculum was made up solely of religious studies with no admixture of secular studies. The school grew rapidly and by the 1980s had more than eight hundred students. Active in the Jewish day-school movement as well, Kotler also helped to intensify Jewish education on the primary level. One result of his influence was a decrease of cooperation between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish groups, for he was strongly opposed to the participation of Orthodox bodies in associations that included Reform or Conservative rabbis.
There is no full-scale biography of Aharon Kotler. An interesting and highly complimentary study of the Beit Midrash Gevohah, which deals, of course, with Kotler, is Sidney Ruben Lewitter's "A School for Scholars" (Ph. D. diss., Rutgers University, 1981). Much relevant material can also be found in William B. Helmreich's The World of the Yeshiva (New York, 1982).
Finkelman, Yoel. "Haredi Isolation in Changing Environments: A Case Study in Yeshiva Immigration." Modern Judaism 22 (2002): 61–82.
Shaul Stampfer (1987)
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