Why Marc B. Shapiro Won’t Be Giving Any Classes On The Rebbe, The Rav, And Aharon Kotler

In his first class on Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg for Torah in Motion, Professor Marc B. Shapiro says:

Let me tell you about who we won’t be discussing — the three most important figures in post-war North American Orthodoxy — the Rav, the Rebbe and Aharon Kotler.

There is so much being done about Rav Soloveitchik that I don’t think that I would have much to add. The Rav has now entered the realm of hagiography and it’s become very difficult to do real biography of Rabbi Soloveitchik because you risk running into some of the accepted truths and discussing some things that in certain circles will be controversial.

I’m not so much interested in the Rav per se but his students.

The whole notion of kiruv (outreach), which is so important today, is something started by Chabad. Today the yeshiva world — Aish HaTorah, Ohr Somayach, and the rest — dominate kiruv, but 50 years ago, the yeshiva world was against kiruv. They didn’t want these baalei teshuva coming into their community and truth be told, they never really accepted it. If you know what it is like in the chareidi world for baalai teshuva getting shiduchim (marriage), etc.

It would take five years to just get a hold of the Chabad cannon. I was asked to write a book on the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It is not for me.

Aharon Kotler kept American yeshivas to the Right. Without Aharon Kotler, the influence of Rav Soloveitchik and Yeshiva University would’ve been much greater. Think about Chaim Berlin and Torah V’Das, the two oldest yeshivas in America, between 1950 and today. To a large extent, this is due to Lakewood.

It was difficult for any yeshiva to stand up against him. Only one did — Ner Israel, which set up a yeshiva-college program.

The classical example? In 1946, Rabbi Hutner of Chaim Berlin and Shreiva-Feivel Mendelwitz of Torah V’Das organized the American Hebrew Theological University. They submitted all the papers to the state of New York. It was post-yeshiva university. It was going to give credits in Psychology, Chemistry, Math. No humanities. A Lander College. It would’ve awarded a PhD in Theology, an MA in communal service and a Masters of Science in educational administration.

Why did they want to do this? All their students were going to Brooklyn College at night. Just think about the waste of time in the travel and the mixing with non-Orthodox Jews.

They were granted a charter by the state of New York but it was never created. Why? Because Aharon Kotler insisted that all yeshivas shun secular studies.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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