DECEMBER 19, 2003 | current issue | back issues | subscribe |

Congress To Aid Lakewood Yeshiva


Congress is set to allocate $500,000 to Beth Medrash Govoha, known as the Lakewood yeshiva, for the establishment of a "Holocaust library."

The grant was included in the 2004 Omnibus Appropriation Conference Agreement that is expected to be signed by President Bush later this month. According to congressional staffers, New Jersey's two senators, Democrats Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg, inserted the money into the bill after being lobbied by Rabbi Aharon Kotler, brother of the yeshiva's foremost religious leader, Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler.

The allocation comes as attention is focusing on a book written by Rabbi Saadya Grama, a graduate of the yeshiva, arguing that gentiles are "completely evil" and Jews constitute a separate, genetically superior species. The book included endorsements from several of the top rabbis at the Lakewood yeshiva. But this week, Aryeh Malkiel Kotler issued a statement to the Forward saying that he had not read the book "carefully" before endorsing it and objected strongly to its alleged contents (see Page 1).

When asked about the book, Lautenberg said in a statement: "If these translations accurately portray the sentiments of Rabbi Grama's book, I find it deeply troubling that any representative of the school would endorse these views."

Corzine staffer David Wald would not comment on the book. But, regarding the Holocaust library, he said: "We supported the appropriation... to replace historically-important documents."

Which documents would reside in the library is unclear. The request for federal aid sent by Aharon Kotler to the senators requested funds for "Holocaust Memorial Libraries."

"Beth Medrash Govoha's Holocaust Memorial Libraries will replace the institution's famous collections of books and manuscripts that were destroyed in the Holocaust," Kotler wrote. "The collections will include the wartime archives of U.S. and European community leaders, and thousands of scholarly works, from the pre-Holocaust, Holocaust, and immediate post-Holocaust eras."

Later in the request, Kotler wrote, "Exhibits on the Holocaust and other events from that era will be a prominent activity at the Library/Memorial."

Kotler said that he would be willing to discuss the project at a later date, but not the same week that the Forward was writing an article on Grama's book.

Binyamin Speigel, the yeshiva's head librarian, said he could not provide details regarding the library. "We don't have a Holocaust library. It's in future plans," he told the Forward. Asked to provide more details, Speigel responded: "We don't have exact plans."

Statements from Corzine's and Lautenberg's offices indicate that both believe the library was meant to preserve documents nearly lost in the Holocaust. In a statement from Lautenberg, the senator declared: "I worked to secure federal funding for this library, which will house a large collection of historical documents, books and other artifacts that survived the Holocaust." Corzine's aide, Wald, said the funds would be used "to replace historically-important documents."

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