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Yaakov Kamenetsky

KAMENETSKY, YAAKOV (1891–1986), U.S. rabbi and scholar. A leader of modern Orthodox Jewry for more than a half-century, Kamenetsky was born in Kalushkave, a small Lithuanian village near Minsk. He studied under Torah luminaries at the Slobodka yeshivah, including Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein and Rabbi Nosson Zvi Finkel (the Sabba of Slobodka), who nurtured the brilliant student's education and his interest in *musar (spiritual self-improvement). By 18, Kamenetsky had become a renowned Torah scholar who had earned rabbinical ordination by several esteemed Lithuanian rabbis.

In 1919, Kamenetsky married Etta Heller, daughter of the mashgi'ah of the Slobodka yeshivah and continued to study at the Kollel Bet Yisroel in Slobodka. He accepted his first rabbinic position in 1926 at Zitavian, near Kovno, Lithuania, serving as communal rabbi until 1937. However, harsh Communist rule led Kamenetsky to immigrate to Seattle, Washington, in 1937 to accept a temporary position at Congregation Bikur Cholim. Later that same year, Kamenetsky moved to Toronto, where he served as rabbi of Congregation Toras Emes and as headmaster of a small yeshivah.

In 1946, Kamenetsky joined the faculty of Mesivta Torah Vo-Da'ath in Brooklyn, New York. Within two years, he headed the yeshivah (together with Rabbi Gedalya Schorr) following the passing of the dean, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz. Under Kamenetsky's energetic and inspiring leadership, the Mesivta Torah Vo-Da'ath added a high school, a post-high school seminary, and a kolel institute. Through these efforts, Kaminetsky helped fuel the unprecedented surge in Torah education in the U.S. in the post-Holocaust era. By the 1960s, Kaminetsky was widely regarded as one of the leading Torah scholars in the U.S. He served on the presidium of the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudath Israel of America (Moetzet Gedolei Ha Torah) and as chairman of the Advisory Board of Torah U'Mesorah (National Society of Hebrew Day Schools).

Unlike many other Orthodox rabbis of his generation, Kaminetsky read and admired some works of classic secular literature. Such secular reading was controversial, as some feared the further secularizing influences on European and American Orthodox youth, many of whom were already shedding their religious lifestyles.

Kamenetsky retired to Monsey, New York, in 1968, where he continued to teach Talmud classes from his home, provide personal counseling and halakhic advice to those who sought it. He also wrote articles for the journals Jewish Observer and Ha-Pardes. He died at the age of 95.

His son, Nathan, a brilliant Talmudist, published a biography of his father, The Making of a Gadol. Respectful and insightful as it was, the book was banned because of the climate of Haredi Judaism in the early 20th century. Published in a limited edition of 1,000, the book is now rare and offered at auction at many times its original publication price. It seems that the ban has only excited the interest of would-be readers. The book will be reissued without the offending passages.


M. Sherman, Orthodox Judaism in America (1996); N. Kamenetsky, The Making of a Gadol (2002); D. Rachelson, "Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky," at:

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.