Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits giving a
Torah lecture at Aish HaTorah

On Sunday, September 1, Aish HaTorah celebrated the gala inauguration of its new Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, taking the reigns as spiritual and educational leader of one of the world’s most influential Jewish organizations.

The event began with Rabbi Berkovits delivering a Torah lecture in the yeshiva study hall, exploring a Talmudic passage on the topic of causing damage to others. Citing Maimonides, Rabbi Berkovits explained the importance of not only making financial restitution, but also of personally appeasing the damaged party.

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel and Rabbi Berkovits

Dignitaries and rabbis from around the world gathered at the Aish World Center for this once-in-a-lifetime inauguration event, including: Rabbi Avigdor Nevenzal, beloved Chief Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem; Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites throughout Israel; Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, head of the Ahavat Shalom institutions; and Eliezer Rauchberger, deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Berkovits had previously been Menahel Ruchani (spiritual guide) at Aish HaTorah from 1983-2001, where he became personal mentor to hundreds of Aish students who now hold Jewish leadership positions worldwide.

In paying tribute to Rabbi Berkovits, Aish CEO Rabbi Steven Burg cited the Midrash (Shmot Rabba 2:2) that describes Moses tending his father-in-law Yitro's flocks in the desert. When one of the sheep ran away searching for water, Moses ran after it and carried the lamb back on his shoulder. God saw Moses great compassion for the lamb and determined that Moses should lead the Jewish people.

Rabbi Avigdor Nevenzal

Rabbi Burg said that this legacy – of seeking out every Jew “thirsting” for Torah – was a core value of Aish HaTorah’s visionary founder, Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l, and is a quality that Rabbi Berkovits shares as well. Rabbi Burg then proudly passed the “proverbial keys” of Aish HaTorah to Rabbi Berkovits.

Dr. Stuart Hytman, member of the Aish HaTorah Board of Governors, and a patron of the Aish World Center Dan Family of Canada Building, said: “Rabbi Berkovits’ passion for the need to bring all Jews back to the meaning, beauty and relevancy of Torah… positions him as the catalyst to lead the charge of the Jewish world to the next level of achieving Rabbi Weinberg’s vision for world Jewry.”

Dr. Stuart Hytman and Rabbi Berkovits

The event also featured video messages from the revered Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, and from Rabbi Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, who emphasized how over the years he has turned to Rabbi Berkovits for guidance on important issues in Jewish law. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky wrote a personal blessing wishing Rabbi Berkovits great success.

In his address to Aish’s students, staff, and supporters, Rabbi Berkovits spoke passionately about the responsibility to reach out to all Jews around the globe. “There is a need for so much creativity and originality,” he said. “But we're not reinventing the wheel.” He credited Rabbi Weinberg for establishing the formula: Distill the essence of the Torah, "then express that in a way that speaks the language of the generation."

With great humility, Rabbi Berkovits said that Rabbi Weinberg “had very big shoes. I'm not a replacement. Even if you'd like to have that illusion, I don't want to disappoint you."

Rabbi Berkovits thanked the Weinberg family for their support, paying special tribute to Rebbetzin Dinah Weinberg, who gave him his first teaching position at her school, EYAHT.

Rabbi Steve Burg, CEO, Rabbi Berkovits and Aryeh Lightstone, advisor to U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman

Rabbi Berkovits also singled out Mr. Richard Horowitz, who consistently lobbied for his return to Aish, and Rabbi Burg who “worked relentlessly, doing whatever it took” to make it possible.

The inauguration ceremony was followed by a celebratory banquet on the rooftop of Aish HaTorah.

Watch videos of the event here.

Photos by: Todd Rosenblatt and Zvi Fermaglich