Shneur Kotler
Kotler as a young man in the 1940s, while studying at the Hevron yeshiva in Jerusalem
Yosef Chaim Shneur Kotler

Died24 June 1982(1982-06-24) (aged 63–64)
SpouseRischel Friedman (d. July 2015)
ChildrenMeir Kotler, Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, Isser Zalman Kotler, Yitzchok Shraga Kotler, Aaron Kotler, Sara Yehudis Schustal, Batsheva Krupenia, Esther Reich, Baila Hinda Ribner
ParentsRabbi Aharon Kotler, Rivka Chana Perel Meltzer
Alma materHevron yeshiva
Jewish leader
PredecessorRabbi Aharon Kotler
SuccessorRabbis Malkiel Kotler, Yerucham Olshin, Dovid Schustal, Yisroel Neuman
PositionRosh yeshiva
YeshivaBeis Medrash Govoha
BuriedHar HaMenuchos, Jerusalem

Yosef Chaim Shneur Kotler (1918 – 24 June 1982) was an Orthodox rabbi and rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha (also known as the Lakewood Yeshiva) in Lakewood, New Jersey from 1962 to 1982.[1] During his tenure, he developed the Lithuanian-style, Haredi but non-Hasidic yeshiva into the largest post-graduate Torah institution in the world.[2][3] He also established Lakewood-style kollels in 30 cities, and pioneered the establishment of community kollels in which Torah scholars study during the morning and afternoon hours and engage in community outreach during the evenings. Upon his death, he had served as the Lakewood rosh yeshiva for exactly the same amount of time as had his father, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the founding rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha: nineteen years, seven months, and one day.[4]

Early life

He was born in Slutsk, Russia, to Rabbi Aharon Kotler and his wife, Rivka Chana Perel,[5] the daughter of Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer. Of his parents' children, only he and his sister, Sarah, survived infancy.[6] He was named after his father's father, Shneur Zalman Pines.[7]

Shneur was educated in his youth by his father. He later studied in the Kaminetz yeshiva in Poland and became a student of Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz.[4]

In 1940, when most yeshivas in Lithuania fled to Vilna, including the yeshiva in Kletzk (where Rabbi Aharon Kotler had moved the Slutsk yeshiva), Shneur went to Vilna where he became engaged to Rischel Friedman. He escaped Europe and went to Mandatory Palestine in 1940 while his fiancée was a refugee in Shanghai. They married in America after the war. His father escaped to Japan and from there to America in 1941.[3] During the war he studied in the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva led by his grandfather, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, who had also emigrated to Palestine, and attended shiurim given by Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, rosh yeshiva of the Hevron yeshiva in Jerusalem, and Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, known as the Brisker Rav.[4]

In 1946 Kotler rejoined his father in America, where he enrolled in the kollel division of the Lakewood Yeshiva which his father had founded.[4] His father died in 1962.

Rosh Yeshiva

Whereas his father had actively restricted enrollment to a select group of students, Kotler accepted a broader range of students and post-graduate fellows. Enrollment grew from less than 200 students in 1962 to over 1,000 by the time of his death in 1982.[2][4]

Rabbi Kotler supervised the opening of 30 Lakewood-style kollels in 30 cities,[8] including Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Long Beach, New York, Scranton, Pennsylvania, Miami Beach, Denver,[1] Pittsburgh, Deal, New Jersey, and Melbourne.[9]

He also established community kollels in several countries. Unlike a kollel, which is a full-time learning program, a community kollel is a part-time learning program, part-time outreach program.[8] His assistant in this was Rabbi Nosson Meir Wachtfogel (1910–1998), the Lakewood mashgiach.[1] Kotler and Wachtfogel oversaw the opening of community kollels in cities including Passaic, New Jersey (a kollel which developed into the Yeshiva Gedola of Passaic),[10] Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Los Angeles, Toronto,[1] and Melbourne, Australia.[11]

Kotler served on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America and the rabbinical boards of the Torah Umesorah National Society for Hebrew Day Schools and Chinuch Atzmai.[2] He was also active in the effort to help Jewish refugees from Russia and Iran.[12]


He died on 24 June 1982 (3 Tammuz 5742)[4] in Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, at the age of 64. He was survived by his wife, Rischel, eight children, fifteen grandchildren, and his sister, Sarah Schwartzman.[13] His funeral processions in Lakewood and Jerusalem were attended by tens of thousands,[12] with an additional stop in Borough Park, Brooklyn attended by 30,000.[14] He was buried near his father, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, and his grandfather, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, on Har HaMenuchot.

His widow, Rischel, died at her home in Lakewood on July 17, 2015. Her funeral took place on July 19 in Lakewood. Estimated attendance was about 15,000.

Kotler served as rosh yeshiva for nineteen years, seven months, and one day, exactly the same amount of time as did his father.[4] This extraordinary coincidence was noted throughout the Torah world and seen as a sign that he had been a worthy son and successor who carried on his father's mission.[15]

He was succeeded as rosh yeshiva by his son, Rabbi Malkiel Kotler along with another three gedolei torah Rabbi Dovid Schustal, son-in-law, and Rabbi Yerucham Olshin and Rabbi Yisroel Neuman who are married to other grandchildren of Rabbi Aharon Kotler.


  1. ^ a b c d Wolpin, Rabbi Nisson (April 2002). Torah Leaders: A treasury of biographical sketches. Mesorah Publications Ltd. pp. 232–247. ISBN 1-57819-773-2.
  2. ^ a b c American Jewish Yearbook 1984. Jewish Publication Society of America. 1983. p. 351. ISBN 0-8276-0235-9.
  3. ^ a b Preil, Joseph J. (30 October 2001). Holocaust Testimonies: European survivors and American liberators in New Jersey. Rutgers University Press. p. 185. ISBN 0-8135-2947-6.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Silber, Dovid (February 2003). Noble Lives, Noble Deeds II: Captivating stories and biographical profiles of spiritual giants. Mesorah Publications. pp. 52–53. ISBN 1-57819-794-5.
  5. ^ Dershowitz, pp. 1, 211.
  6. ^ Dershowitz, p. 51.
  7. ^ Dershowitz, p. 65.
  8. ^ a b Feitman, Yaakov (Winter 2002). "It Takes a Kollel: How higher learning is transforming American Jewry" (PDF). Jewish Action. OU. Retrieved 10 May 2011.
  9. ^ Dershowitz, p. 20.
  10. ^ "History". Bais Medrash L'Torah. Retrieved 11 May 2011.
  11. ^ "Synopsis of Rav Malkiel Kotler's Trip to Australia". Yeshiva World News. 25 December 2007. Retrieved 10 May 2011.
  12. ^ a b "Rav Shneur Kotler zt"l, On His Yahrtzeit, Today, 3 Tammuz". matzav.com. 15 June 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2011.
  13. ^ "Rabbi Shneur Kotler, 64, Head Of Rabbinical School in Jersey". The New York Times. 27 June 1982. Retrieved 9 February 2011.
  14. ^ "Rabbi Shneur Kotler Dead at 64". Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
  15. ^ "Today's Yahrtzeits & History – 3 Tammuz". matzav.com. 15 June 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2011.