Personal Memories About Rav Aharon Schechter ZT”L: How He Guided My College Career In Yeshiva


(Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin) — The passing of Rav Aharon Moshe Schechter (1928–2023) ends an era at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Kollel Gur Aryeh in Brooklyn, New York, where he was the main Rosh HaYeshiva after the previous Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906–1980) passed away in 1980. Anyone who interacted with him as the Rosh HaYeshiva will have their own memories and stories. I would like to share some of my own because I feel they reflect the type of open-minded person he was.

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I was referred to Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin at the age of 23 and arrived there at the end of 1976, coming from South Africa. Before I arrived in New York I stopped off in Detroit to visit with family and they asked me if I had a resume. I told them that I did not have one and they insisted that I have a resume about myself when I get to New York for interviews, which I did. When I got to New York and went to Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and met Rav Schechter I introduced myself and when he asked me about myself I told him that I have a resume! He smiled at me and said that he was not interested in the resume but wanted to get to know me better personally. I then asked him if I should start talking about myself or talk about my parents, to which he replied that I should tell him about my parents first.

I had never been a full time student in a yeshiva before, although I had spent time studying with various rabbis in Johannesburg, South Africa, so the experience of being immersed in a real yeshiva was overwhelming for me but Rav Schechter was very friendly and welcoming and wanted me to stay in the yeshiva. Even though I was just starting out with my yeshiva life Rav Schechter was never condescending or patronizing. He took a keen interest in my learning in yeshiva and he drew up a special personalized program for me whereby he set me up with several advanced chavrusos to learn with during first seder in the morning, and for the afternoons he wanted me to attend the shiurim of the late Rav Shmuel Brog who was the son in law of the late Rav Avigdor Miller (1908–2001).

Originally I had planned on going to graduate school for a doctorate in educational administration since my plan was to return to teach in the Jewish day schools in Johannesburg where I had already started teaching Jewish Studies in 1975 before I came to yeshiva. In one of my first meetings with Rav Schechter I told him that I planned on going to university as well, part time of course, he waved his arms and said not do it now, so I postponed going to college at that time.

1976 to 1980 were my first four years in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and they were also the last four years of Rav Yitzchok Hutner’s life and I had the great merit to meet him and interact with and have some deep discussions with him about my life. Strange as it may seem when I first met Rav Hutner he asked me if I had any paperwork about myself, so I told him that I had come with a resume to the yeshiva a while back but that no one was interested in seeing it. Rav Hutner said to me, “that is them, I want to see your official papers” and I brought them to a later meeting I had with him to which he exclaimed that I must definitely continue with university studies and he encouraged me to go back to South Africa to do Kiruv, Jewish Outreach.

During that time when Rav Schechter was the main person running the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Kollel Gur Aryeh during the last periods of Rav Hutner’s life, and because Rav Hutner was spending time in Yerushalalyim building his Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok, many of the Talmidim in America were in a quandary as to how to address Rav Schechter when speaking with him since Rav Hutner was obviously the senior Rosh HaYeshiva. Some called Rav Schechter “Rebbi” because they were his Talmidim (students) but others called him “Rav Aaron” or “Reb Aaron” directly. This went on until Rav Hutner passed away in late 1980 and then word got out that from now on Rav Schechter was to be addressed only as “the rosh yeshiva”!

After about three years of full-time learning in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, and I was still single I started to think of a different plan of action and maybe going to another yeshiva or pursuing some new avenue. I plucked up the courage to go have a discussion with Rav Schechter and I told him of my frustrations at that time and that I was considering going to another yeshiva in Israel. I told him the name of the yeshiva I was thinking of and he looked at me with amused surprise and slowly repeated the name of that yeshiva to me, as if it was the funniest thing he had just heard. Then he leaned forward and asked me if I had any other ideas. I then told him that I had also been thinking of going to Teachers College at Columbia University in Manhattan as a possibility.

To my great surprise Rav Schechter virtually jumped up and shouted “But that was always part of the plan!” I was completely flabbergasted because I thought that he had forgotten our original discussions we had when I arrived in the yeshiva about going to college, and that since he was known to be “anti-college” himself he would oppose any idea by anyone going to study at a university or college. With that agreement and encouragement from him I registered for a Masters in Education at Teachers College and continued to stay on learning part time at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin with various chavrusas.

When Teachers College asked me to show proof that there was no conflict of interest between the time I spent in yeshiva and the time needed for university studies, I went to discuss this with Rav Schechter who told me to speak with Rav Yisroel Meir Kirzner who was a professor of Economics at New York University and also a great Talmid Chacham who spent half a day learning at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin himself. Rav Kirznder advised me how to write the necessary letter and the problem was resolved.

It took me two years of part time study at Teachers College to complete all my required credits, and after that I started writing my Master’s thesis on the topic of “The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy” that eventually ran to about 250 pages. When I completed my thesis and got my degree I gave Rav Schechter a copy of my Master’s thesis as a gift which he thoroughly liked and placed prominently on his own bookshelf!

I met my wife in 1981 and we got married in 1982 and Rav Schechter was our Mesader Kiddushin. Before I was married I did not grow a beard, but my father had recently passed away in 1981 and soon thereafter I met my wife when it was still the Shloshim (mourning period) for my father. I told my fiance that after the Shloshim I planned on shaving the short growth on my face but she said I should keep it and looked better with it. I mentioned it to Rav Schechter and he was so pleased and he said he agreed with my fiance that I should grow my beard, which I have since done from then on.

When my oldest son was born, two other boys were also born that day to people in the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin community and there were three brissim on the same morning in the yeshiva community. Rav Aaron Schechter chose to attend my son’s bris and we honored him with being the Sandek! Years later when my oldest son’s own son was born our family honored Rav Schechter with being the Sandek making it three generations in our family that Rav Schechter played a key and active role in.

Rav Aaron Moshe Schechter was a very profound person and he had the wisdom and insight to guide me with great care and concern for which I am very grateful.

Yehi Zichro Boruch – May his memory be a blessing

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]

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