The Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, who served as President of Agudath Israel of America since 1998, died early Tuesday morning at the age of 89, a victim of the coronavirus pandemic. He died at home in Boro Park.
Rabbi Perlow was born in Brooklyn and was named after his great-grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the first Novominsker Rebbe. His maternal grandfather was Rabbi Yitzchak Zelig Morgenstern, the Sokolover Rebbe, a direct descendant of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. Rabbi Morgenstern was among the founders of Agudath Israel in Poland in 1912.
Rabbi Perlow studied at Yeshiva Toras Chaim in East New York, then Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, then Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ. He also graduated with honors from Brooklyn College. He taught at Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Il., then became rosh yeshiva at the Breuer’s yeshiva in Washington Heights, NYC, and established a Novominsker synagogue. In 1981 he started his own yeshiva, Yeshivas Novominsk Kol Yehuda, in Borough Park, Brooklyn.
Rabbi Perlow frequently spoke publicly on issues affecting Orthodox Jews, including the Internet (not a fan), child abuse, Holocaust denial, overpriced Jewish weddings, and the Iran nuclear deal (he publicly called on President Obama to reconsider it). He called for increased dialogue and rapprochement with non-Orthodox Jews, but lashed out at non-Orthodox movements.
After 9/11, Newsweek quoted him as saying: “Today, the world is not the same as it was yesterday. If we are the same as we were yesterday, then it is pure folly.”