Monsey Memories: Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l
By: Yitzy Fried
One of the great Roshei Yeshiva of the postwar era in America was Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, of Torah Vodaath, who settled in Monsey in his golden years, where he was a beloved and revered presence.
Rav Yaakov was a true child of the old Lita.
He was born to his father, Reb Binyomin, in the town of Kalushkove. As a young boy—learning in the great city of Minsk—he became friendly with Rav Aharon Kotler and Rav Reuven Grozovsky, together with whom he would spread Torah on American shores in later years. Eventually, he transferred to Slabodka—where he became especially close to the Alter of Slabodka, and one of the prime talmidim of this most prestigious yeshiva.
During WWI, he fled to Minsk, where he met Rav Chaim Brisker… but he kept running, under threat from being drafted into the Russian army. After the war, he married the daughter of the Slabodka mashgiach, and sat down to learn in the Kovno kollel, outside Slabodka.
After five years in the Kolel, he became the rov of Tituvian, where a number of his children were born to him. Here, he sat a learned, as he served as the leader of the simple shtetl in Lita.
In 1937, he set out for America to raise funds for the Kovno Kolel, and became a temporary rov in Seattle, Washington.
In 1945, Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, invited him to come to Torah Vodaath in Williamsburg—and the rest his history.
He employed all his experience, and vast Torah knowledge, to impact the talmidim in the yeshiva. He would share words of hashkafah and mussar as well. His very presence left a tremendous impact on the American yeshiva bachurim.
In 1967, he retired to Monsey, where he would live for close to two decades.
His home on Saddle River Road remained one of the most important addresses for American Jewry—as so many of Klal Yisroel’s questions were brought to him.
In 1984, Emes l’Yaakov was published, his chidushim on chumash.
Rav Yaakov was niftar on 29 Adar of the year 1986, and was interred on Mount Judah Cemetery, where his resting place continues to attract many Yidden nearly four decades after his passing.