Rabbi Aharon (or Ahroyn, Aaron, Aron) Kotler (1891 - 1962) was a prominent leader of Orthodox Judaism in Lithuania, and later the United States of America, where he built one of the first yeshivas in the US.
Rabbi Kotler was born in Svislovitz, Poland in 1891. 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 USA
When the communists took over, the yeshivah moved from Slutsk to Kletsk in Poland. With the outbreak of World War II, Rabbi Kotler and the yeshivah relocated to Vilna, then the major refuge of most yeshivoth from the occupied areas. Rabbi Kotler went to the United States via Siberia, but many of his students did not survive the war. He was brought to America in 1941 by the Vaad Hatzalah rescue organization and guided it during the Holocaust.
In 1943, Rabbi Kotler founded Bais Medrash Gevoha in Lakewood, New Jersey. After his sudden death in 1962, he was succeeded by his son Rabbi Shneur Kotler as rosh yeshiva of the Lakewood yeshiva. Today, this important institution is run by his grandson, Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, and three of his grandsons-in-law, Rabbis Olshin, Neuman, and Schustal. Over the years it has grown into the largest institution of its kind in America with nearly five thousand college and advanced-level students.
Rabbi 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 also 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 also 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.
Rabbi Kotler was the main proponent of a classic approach to Torah study that was new to the shores of the USA. In his view, Torah study and the culture built around it had suffered badly from the persecutions of World War II and the decline of character of the generations. This led him to encourage young men to devote themselves to full-time Torah study with financial support from the community. After marriage, yeshiva students could move on to a post-graduate kollel program.
Together with Rabbis Moshe Feinstein, Yaakov Kamenetsky, Joseph Soloveitchik and others, Rabbi Kotler was considered one of the primary leaders of the Orthodox community in the U.S. during the post-war years.
In the summer of 1937, at the third convention of the rabbinical leaders of Agudath Israel held in Marienbad, Rabbi Kotler (together with Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Rabbi Rottenberg from Antwerp, and rabbis from Czechoslovakia and Hungary) was adamant in rejecting any proposal for a "Jewish State" on either side of the Jordan River, even if it were established as a religious state. However, Rabbi Kotler had a very realistic approach once Israel was established in 1948. He fully supported the raising of funds for religious schools in Israel. Rabbi Kotler was diametrically opposed to the anti-Zionist views of Satmar. He fully supported the efforts of his father-in-law, R' Isser Zalman, who was living in Israel.
Recently a biographical study of Rabbi Kotler's life and teachings was written by his student Rabbi Yitzchok Dershowitz