The Changing of an Era, Part Four: Continuation of a series about the passing of Rav Yitzchok Hutner's disciples:
The Changing of an Era Part I (Aug 2, 2022)
The Changing of an Era Part II (Aug 8, 2022)
The Changing of an Era Part III (July 24, 2023)
and Remembering Rebbetzin Bruria Hutner David (May 7, 2023)
HaRav Aaron Moshe Schechter (1928–2023) passed away on August 24, 2023 at the age of 95. He was the longtime Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Kollel Gur Aryeh in Brooklyn, New York, USA and was selected to become the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin by the previous Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906–1980).
Rav Schechter's passing is most definitely not just the changing of an era but is the closing of an era as he was the greatest of Rav Hutner's disciples outside of Rav Hutner's family, meaning his daughter the late Rebbetzin Bruria Hutner David (1938–2023) and her husband, and Rav Hutner's son in law, Rav Yonason David the co-Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn and the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok and Kollel Ohr Eliyahu in Jerusalem.
When Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Kollel Gur Aryeh relocated to the Flatbush (Midwood) section of Brooklyn in 1966/7 to their new location at 1593 Coney Island Avenue, Rav Hutner announced that both Rav Aaron Schechter and Rav Yonosan David would sit in the very front of the Bais Medrash building with Rav Schechter sitting on the extreme right hand side and Rav David sitting all the way on the extreme left side. Rav Hutner sat in the middle between them. This was symbolic of Rav Schechter's and Rav David's co-equal status as Roshei HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn even though Rav David would subsequently spend most of his time with his father in law Rav Hutner building and running their Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok and Kollel Ohr Eliyahu in Jerusalem, Israel.
Rav Hutner until his passing in 1980 and then afterwards Rav David continued to come from Israel to America to spend Pesach and Sukkos with the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin community in Brooklyn, where Rav Hutner and later Rav David would deliver their famous Yom Tov Ma'amarim (Torah discourses) during Pesach and Sukkos. After Rav Hutner passed away in 1980, Rav David would come back to America and both he and Rav Schechter would sit co-equally upfront in the Bais Medrash the way Rav Hutner had set it up and they would also share saying Ma'amarim on Pesach and Sukkos.
The above leads us into understanding the core of Rav Aaron Schechter's Hisbatlus (self-negation) to his Rebbe Muvhak (chief teacher) Rav Yitzchok Hutner and following Rav Hutner's will while at the same time asserting his own style in managing the yeshiva in his own way. While Rav Hutner laid down the general principles and guidelines, Rav Schechter also had a very strong-willed mind of his own and shaped the yeshiva's Talmidim (students) in his own direction.
While Rav Hutner was more a man of the world having lived and travelled in many places in Europe, Eretz Yisrael and America, Rav Schechter on the other hand spent virtually his entire life in Brooklyn and more exactly within the four walls of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin from a very young age until his passing. While Rav Schechter started out as an all American Jewish boy he evolved in his outward appearance as an adult to look like a Chosid always with short cropped hair and bushy Peyos tucked behind his ears, and wearing his very long Tallis Koton over his shirt and under his Kappote and he spoke Yiddish fluently even though he spoke a perfect American English. He was a very good looking man with a shining radiant face, sparkling piercing eyes and always smiling widely.
Rav Yitzchok Hutner came to America in 1933 and Rav Aaron Schechter was born in 1928. Rav Hutner joined the faculty of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in 1936 and later headed its high school in 1938/9. Rav Schechter's father Reb Yosef Schechter was a leader in the Young Israel Orthodox synagogue movement in Brooklyn and Rav Hutner initially joined in with one of the Young Israel branches where many of the parents and families of future Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin families prayed. It was there that Rav Hutner interacted with the Balebatim (lay people) and influenced them to send their children to Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. That included the young Rav Aaron Schechter who soon became a rising star and great Talmid Chacham (Torah scholar) and a lifelong Talmid (disciple/student) of Rav Yitzchok Hutner always eagerly and lovingly clinging to Rav Hutner's words of wisdom.
Rav Hutner realized very early on that Rav Schechter had tremendous intellectual, spiritual and leadership capabilities which connected to Rav Schechter's capacities for Amkus (in depth study of Torah) and Geonus (qualities of genius) marked him as a great future Maggid Shiur (Torah lecturer) and Rosh Yeshiva (yeshiva head). When Rav Hutner eventually encouraged Rav Schechter to write his own Talmudic treatise called "Avodas Aharon" Rav Hutner noted in his approbation and forward that Rav Schechter had the "heart of a lion" and that his Torah teachings were symbolic of his two names "Aharon" who represented service and worship of God and "Moshe" who represented the teaching of Torah as well as great leadership that combined in the personality and character of the author Rav Aaron Schechter.
Eventually Rav Schechter said the highest level Talmud Shiur (lecture) in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. In this regard he carried on the illustrious roles of previous Roshei HaYeshiva such as Rav Yaakov Moshe Shurkin (1902–1963) who was a Maggid Shiur and Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin from 1938 to 1963, as well as following Rav Aaron Soloveichik (1917–2001) who was appointed by Rav Hutner to give the top level Shiur at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin until he moved to Chicago in 1966.
Rav Schechter basically spent the bulk of his young adulthood and life within the walls of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. Even before he was married he already had roles of authority in the yeshiva given to him by Rav Hutner. For a short while Rav Schechter spent some time learning in Lakewood and became close with its famous Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Aharon Kotler (1892–1962) and was a lifelong friend of the Kotler family and the Lakewood yeshiva. A particularly close personal friend of Rav Schechter was Rav Shlomo Freifeld (1925–1990) the Rosh HaYeshiva of Shor Yoshuv Yeshiva and one of Rav Hutner's top tier disciples.
Anyone who attended Rav Schechter's Shiurim (Talmudic lectures) will attest to his enormous stamina, incredible depth, focus and concentration, complete absorption with the Talmudic subject matter under discussion and the highest level of energy and thinking devoted to the Sugya (subject) that he was analyzing. His focus was very much on the Gemora, Rashi and Tosfos and mostly the great Rishonim and he would usually refer to an Acharon as support for a Chiddush. In his prime his Shiurim could last for three hours or even longer leaving everyone mentally stretched to the limits and intellectually exhausted.
One of Rav Schechter's trademarks was his capacity to stop either before or during he was talking or giving a Shiur and become totally silent as he would sit and think while he would stroke his very long beard in his characteristic way. While he was capable of great long pregnant silences he also had a very loud voice and when he was debating a Talmudic point with one of his students or colleagues he was not afraid to raise his voice to a high symphonic level and make his points loudly and very adamantly.
Rav Aaron Schechter was unique in that he became a Gadol (great Torah scholar) who was born, raised and educated in America after the flames of the Holocaust had destroyed the Torah centers and Gedolim (great Torah scholars) of Europe. It is to the credit of the few great Torah scholars who survived the Holocaust, such as Rav Yitzchok Hutner and Rav Aharon Kotler and others like them, that they were able to produce disciples of such great caliber in America within so short a time.
Like Rav Hutner, Rav Schechter was a master of the writings and ideas of Rabbi Yehuda Loew Ben Betzalel (1512–1609) known as the MAHARAL of Prague and would often quote him and give classes based on the MAHARAL's works. Rav Schechter was also the supreme master of Rav Hutner's classic work known as "Pachad Yitzchok" and gave constant classes based on that to many senior students over the decades of his tenure as Rosh Yeshiva.
They say that during Rav Hutner's lifetime three top disciples were permitted to give over the Chazarah (review) of Rav Hutner's intense Ma'amarim (Torah discourses) after he delivered them: Rav Yonoson David who took half the time to review the original Ma'amar; the late Rav Gershon Weinreb who reviewed it over in the exact same amount of time; and Rav Aaron Schechter who said it over in double the length of time of the original Ma'amar! That was Rav Schechter's style and essence as he saw the depth and breadth of the meanings that went beyond the original words that Rav Hutner had spoken.
One of the most dramatic and noticeable changes that Rav Schechter introduced that makes him very different to Rav Hutner is in the amount of Talmidim (yeshiva students) that Rav Schechter allowed to attend college. At the height of Rav Hutner's role as Rosh HaYeshiva in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s probably the majority of those attending Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin also attended classes either in the afternoons or nights mostly at Brooklyn College making Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin into a well-known "college yeshiva" while at the same time Rav Hutner encouraged and nurtured a distinguished minority of his young disciples to either drop out of or forego going to college and become great Talmudists instead.
Rav Hutner as leader of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin together with Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (1886–1948) the head of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn had planned to together open a community college in Brooklyn where their students would attend yeshiva during the day and take secular college classes at night, but this plan was stopped by Rav Aharon Kotler who was absolutely against yeshiva Bochurim (single male students) attending secular colleges at all.**
So instead Rav Hutner at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Rav Mendlowitz at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas instituted educational policies independently and individually at their own yeshivas allowing their Talmidim (students) to attend college and not just that but to get credits at college for Talmudic studies from their yeshivas meaning students could attain a Bachelor's degree in less than four years when credits were give for yeshiva studies outside of college.
This policy existed during Rav Hutner's lifetime until his passing in 1980 with few changes. Rav Hutner himself had briefly attended the University of Berlin when he was a young student and had a lifelong respect for secular studies on all levels as can be seen by the fact that his daughter Rebbetzin Bruria Hutner David (1938–2023) had a PhD from Columbia University. On the other hand Rav Schechter was more insular in approach since he spent his entire life only in yeshiva and never went to college even though he was well-informed in general knowledge and well-spoken in the English language which he spoke with flawless perfection.
After Rav Hutner passing in 1980 Rav Schechter instituted a steady squeeze and drastically cut back the amount of Bochurim (young male students) who would be allowed to go to college in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. When Touro College was formed in New York City in 1971 creating separate classes for young Orthodox religious men and women Rav Schechter encouraged those whom he permitted to attend college to attend the separate seating classes of Touro College and he would also allow the yeshiva to give such students the extra credits from the yeshiva. Each year and each passing decade fewer and fewer students attended even Touro College, to the point of being rarities by the time of his old age.
By the time of his passing in 2023 and as he had handed over leadership of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Kollel Gur Aryeh to his son in law Rav Shlomo Halioua (pronounced: Haliwa) basically none of the Bais Medrash students attend college and virtually all are full time Torah and Talmudic students while attending the yeshiva.
However, the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin also has a huge high school and elementary school that are the main feeder schools to the post-high school yeshiva Bais Medrash. In high school and elementary school secular studies are still taught as "general studies" to all students. The Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin high school, known as the Mesivta, and the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin elementary school, known as the Yeshiva Ketana, all have fully accredited and proper full-blown secular studies departments with teachers and principals that were all under the leadership of Rav Aaron Schechter and are now under the leadership of his son in law the new Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Shlomo Halioua.
Rav Schechter accepted as a son in law the American born Rav Shlomo Halioua who is of Moroccan heritage and comes from a long line of famous Moroccan rabbis. In his way, Rav Schechter was an open-minded and independent person who very much thought outside of the box. Like his mentor Rav Hutner he was not impressed by titles or exteriors and instead looked to what was the interior inner core "identity" (one of his favorite words). In this regard he chose Rav Halioua who is one of the most outstanding Illuim (Talmudic geniuses) of our time as his son in law and heir who faithfully continues the heritage of Rav Hutner, Rav Schechter and the long history of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Bertlin in America.
Rav Hutner and Rav Schechter had a strong interest in the Baal Teshuva movement and supported the pioneering Jewish outreach Kiruv work of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin graduates who went into the field of Kiruv Rechokim – outreach to secular Jews by Orthodox religious Jews be it in America, Israel, Russia or anywhere else. To this end, Rav Hutner established a Shiur (class) in the 1970s within the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin that welcomed and catered to young Jewish men who had not had a yeshiva education in their younger years.
The program was headed by the late Rav Shmuel Brog, the son in law of the late Rav Avigdor Miller (1908–2001), and after Rav Hutner's passing in 1980 Rav Schechter gave this Shiur and Rav Brog his full support. Mainstream yeshivas do not usually have such a program but Rav Schechter continued Rav Hutner's optimistic vision that it was needed and would be a source of successful students a number of whom eventually joined and became regular students of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and devotees of Rav Schechter himself.
Rav Schechter was an outstanding Rosh Yeshiva and was like a caring father to the yeshiva's students. While he had a very no nonsense approach to life and disliked trivialities he would devote long hour of every day to discussing anything that students would want from him either right after the scheduled times for Tefilla (prayer) in the yeshiva, or in his office where there was always a line of students who wanted to meet with him, and in the Bais Medrash where he would spend many hours of the day learning Talmud one on one with individual students or with groups of two at his table. No matter what he was doing he was always immersed in the tasks before him and was 100% focused whether it be a student in front of him, some communal request being made of him, or if he was delving into a text.
After Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman (1900–1987) the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Baltimore Yeshiva passed away in 1987, Rav Aaron Schechter was elevated the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages) of Agudas Yisroel of America and a very illustrious and prestigious rabbinical body in the America yeshivish Haredi world and essentially filling the role that Rav Yitzchok Hutner had played in it. Rav Schechter was a very proactive and well-informed outspoken leader within that body and made his views known in very strong terms. Since the workings of that organization are held in very private circumstances it is not possible to know exactly which issues and what problems, ranging from Jewish communal affairs to American and Israeli politics, Rav Schechter took on, tackled and tried to solve.
On the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah Rav Schechter headed the three-man "faction" of Rav Hutner's disciples and graduates of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin: The Novominsker Rebbe Rav Yaakov Perlow (1930–2020) and Rav Aharon Feldman (born 1932) who all basically followed Rav Schechter's directions. Rav Schechter also had the great advantage that he inherited from Rav Hutner as an ally the wealthy president of Yeshivaa Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Reb Avrohom Fruchthandler who is a real estate magnate and power-broker in the American Aguda world.
Rav Schechter's influence extended to the American Orthodox educational organization Torah Umesorah where another one of Rav Hutner's disciples Rav Yehoshua Fishman was in a leadership position as its Executive Vice President in effect running the entire organization and after Rav Hutner's passing, always having Rav Aaron Schechter in the know and in his corner of the ring when disputes among the rabbis and leadership of the organization arose.
Rav Schechter played a central role in the publication of the translation of the Talmud into English by the ArtScroll company. When this project was being planned there was a behind the scenes debate between the great rabbis of the time whether it should be allowed. It seems that the Rav Elazar Shach (1899–2001) the famous Rosh HaYeshiva and Haredi leader in Israel was opposed to the project but it was Rav Schechter who intervened and convinced Rav Schach of the benefits of the project and that it would be handled by accomplished Torah scholars only. Rav Schechter's very lengthy approbation is displayed prominently at the beginning of all the printed ArtScroll English Gemoras. Supposedly he also guided the ArrScroll editors to use the word "elucidation" rather than "translation" of the Talmud text from Hebrew/Aramaic into American English.
Rav Schechter was also the chief mentor and advisor to a number of young Roshei Yeshiva, Jewish Day School principals and to basically anyone who not just sought out his counsel, since he was a very good listener, but he offered his help only if they would also follow his directives. In particular, examples are the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Waterbury Yeshiva Rav Ahron Kaufman and the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Ohr Yisroel in Brooklyn Rav Avrohom Zucker, Rosh HaYeshiva of Shor Yoshuv Yeshiva in Far Rockaway, New York Rav Naftoli Jaeger, the Principal of Bais Yaakov of Miami Rav Ephraim Lazerson at whose home home Rav Schechter would spend Winters in Florida. All these heads of Torah institutions were disciples of Rav Schechter and followed his Daas Torah (Torah opinion/authority).
Rav Schechter's independence of thought, speech and action was unique and to his admirers was nothing less than the word of HaKadosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One Blessed Be He). I recall my own late father's reaction when he first met Rav Schechter when he said in Yiddish "Me Ken Zen Az Di Shechina Rut Af Em" ("One can see the that the Divine Presence rests upon him") and indeed for many years after I had first met him at the end of 1976, I would always think to myself while looking at him and his Kapotte and wide black hat and at his very long white beard and shining face: "You sir, are an inspiration!" Yet Rav Schechter could also court strong controversy and firmly, even defiantly, stood his ground no matter how much it cost or impacted him or his prestige.
Rav Aaron Schechter was a unique person, a truly American home grown Gadol (great in Torah). He had admirers and like all successful men who accomplished a lot he had his detractors.
On balance he was a brilliant and very capable and highly successful master Rosh HaYeshiva and beloved guide to those who sought his guidance in the Torah world.
He was capable of a wide range of emotions. He was always smiling his trademark smile, but that did not mean that you could get too close or familiar with him. He loved music and was an incredible dancer. At weddings of people close to him he was always the star attraction in the center of the dancing as he stretched out his arms wide and danced with fervor for a very long time. His energy level was high and on Simchas Torah he could dance for a long time to the accompaniment of his favorite Yom Tov songs from those singing and dancing around him.
He was a devoted family man and always put his wife Rebbetzin Shoshana Leichtung Schechter, Of Blessed Memory, first in all situations they found themselves in. She was an equal partner in every single aspect of his long life and supported him every inch of the way in his rise to the top as one of America's own home-grown Gedolim and Roshei HaYeshiva from Brooklyn, New York.
Rav Schechter chose to be buried in America near his wife in Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, Long Island, New York, not so far from Brooklyn, New York where they spent their entire lives and raised their large family and nurtured generations of grateful Talmidim (students).
Yehi Zichro Baruch – May his memory be a blessing.
**According to the family of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz the college project stopped because Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz passed away.
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.
He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]