Rav Aharon Kotler’s Forgotten Mashgiach Ruchni: An Appreciation

Rav Aharon Kotler’s Forgotten Mashgiach Ruchni: An Appreciation 1

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com

He was one of the top Yeshiva Mashgichim in all of Europe. He was Rav Shach’s Mashgiach ruchni at Kletzk, and he and Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l started the Yeshiva Ketana in Kelm.  The Chofetz Chaim himself took him as a mashgiach for his Yeshiva in Radin. And Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l chose him to replace Rav Chatzkel Levenstein zt”l as the Yeshiva’s mashgiach.

Unfortunately, this remarkable Baal Mussar has been almost completely forgotten.    The Nazis y”s have succeeded in destroying almost any vestige of him.  Who was he?  What was his name?

Before the rise of Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l had led another Yeshiva in Europe – Yeshiva Etz Chaim in Kletzk.  The Yeshiva had a sterling reputation, and was attended by the elite Yeshiva students of all of Europe.

The Mashgiach of the Yeshiva was one of the most outstanding Mussar personalities of the yeshivos in Europe – Rav Yoseph Leib Nenedick zt”l, was murdered by the Nazis in 1943 – he, his and his entire family.   Rav Nenedick’s mussar shmuessim were masterpieces and inspired all of the Kletzk talmidim.

Rav Nenendick felt that Talmidim should be treated in the highest manner of respect, and addressed them all in the “ir” form rather than the “du” form.  He had a remarkable koach hatziur in explaining a Tefilah – so that the Talmidim could marshal up an intensity of Kavana.  Many of his shmuessim focused upon how to further purify one’s sense of lishma.

One example of his penetrating insight:  What was Adom haRishon’s aveirah?  The Gemorah tells us that he sat in Teshuvah for 130 years.  What was so wrong with what he did?  Rav Nenedick explained that it was not the depth of the Teshuvah that was lacking – rather it was that Teshuvah was not his immediate reaction upon being told by Hashem that he had erred.  Teshuvah was created before the world itself came into being, and everyone has the ability to immediately take corrective action.  Dovid HaMelech did so when he said, “Chatasi Lashem..”  Adam haRishon should have done it as well..

Rav Yoseph Aryeh Leib Nenedick studied in the Talmud Torah of Kelm and served as the Mashgiach Ruchni of a number of yeshivos, including Kobrin, Lomzha, Radin, Shaar haTorah Grodna, Ponevech, and Kletzk.

He was born in the town of Sochovola. As a youth, he studied in the Yeshiva of Telze under Rabbi Shimon Shkop.  Afterward, he travelled to study at the Talmud Torah of Kelm, under Rav Simcha Zissel Zib Broidy, the Alter of Kelm.  He absorbed the Alter of Kelm’s mehalech hachinuch.  At the age of 28, he married the daughter of Rav Noach Viner, a Rav of a number of cities and towns.

After his marriage, Rav Yoseph Leib, Rav Elya Lopian and Rav Yeruchem Levovitz established a Talmud Torah in Kelm – where he served as a Rosh Mesivta.  Rav Nenedick then served as the Mashgiach in Brynsk, and Lomza.

He also served as the Mashgiach of the Radin yeshiva.  In 1915, on account of the war, based on a goral haGra it was decided that the Yeshiva should split into two.  The Chofetz Chaim travelled deeper into Russia, while Rav Nenedick and Rav Moshe Londinsky the then Rosh Yeshiva, and half of the Yeshiva remained in Radin.

Afterward, Rav Nenedick worked with alumnus of Yeshivos to create a Torah and Mussar organization. Following this he became the Mashgiach of Yeshiva Shaar HaTorah of Grodno, and was instrumental in its establishment and in bringing its Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shimon Shkop.

When the Bolsheviks captured Grodno in 1921, he and forty students escaped to the Yeshiva of Ponovech, where he also served as the Mashgiach during that period. After he returned to Grodno, Rav Yeruchem Levovitz took over his position as Mashgiach.

In 1923, Rav Pesach Prusskin established his Yeshiva in Kobrin.  Rav Nenedick was invited to also serve there as the Mashgiach, and he divided his time between Kobrin and Kletzk.  When the second World War broke out, he remained in Kletzk.

In 1940, the Yeshiva relocated to Vilna because the Soviets had promised to give Lithuania the city of Vilna to be its capital.  Even though they were secretly planning upon swallowing up Lithuania the entire time, the Russians had made this promise in order to get Lithuania to acquiesce to allow Russia to maintain military bases on Lithuanian land.  On June 5th, the Soviets reneged upon their promise of Lithuanian integrity and swallowed it whole.

The Soviets were concerned that the Yeshiva students might influence others in their ways, and demanded that the Yeshiva split up into three different groups.  The Yeshiva had actually grown grown during this time and now had 250 students.  Rav Aharon complied with the request, and the Yeshiva split into three locations; Saluk, Dushat, Duksht.  Saluk was a village near the city of Dvinsk in Latvia.  Dushat was ten miles west of Saluk.

Rav Aharon made his central location in Saluk.  He had already began organizing his shiurim, and the Yeshiva’s old battered Hebrew typewriter was brought to Saluk.  Reb Beryl Starobin was serving as the Rosh haYeshiva’s secretary and was entrusted with typing Rav Aharon’s notes on his shiurim.  Many of these were to later be published by the Machon Mishnas Rav Aharon.  Rav Aharon made it his business to visit his Talmidim in the other locales as well.  Rav Yosef Leib Nenedick went to Doshat.  The more advanced students went to Duksht.

Eventually the Germans captured all of Poland.

Rav Nenedick, his wife, and son Michael were all murdered by the Nazis in 1943.  He also had a son, Shimon, that was taken to Siberia by the Russians.

The vast majority of his Torah has been destroyed and lost – but there are enough scattered areas in which a comprehensive sefer can be put together. If anyone has any further information about him please contact this author.  One of his talmidim had heard details about how he and his family were killed, but did not get the date.

This is a call for anyone that has any information about the mashgiach to email this author.  Also, anyone who would like to assist in publishing the material – please reach out as well.

Rav Aharon Kotler’s Forgotten Mashgiach Ruchni: An Appreciation 2

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