A heavy blow fell on all of Klal Yisroel, particularly
European Jewry, on Sunday upon the histalkus of HaRav
Betzalel Rakow zt'l, the Rov of Gateshead, England,
who was niftar after an illness at the age of 76.
HaRav Rakow was born in Frankfurt to HaRav Yom Tov Lipman,
who had studied at Yeshivas Volozhin and traced his ancestry
back to the baal Tosafos Yom Tov. In this home of Torah and
yiras Shomayim the young Betzalel formed a unique
character as a man of Torah and halochoh, always guided by
the pursuit of truth. During his childhood he gained renown
for his exceptional ability in learning and for his character
traits that were later to serve him as a leader of the Torah
world. Graced with noble character and outstanding
middos, he always was careful to show respect and
kindness towards every man, great or small.
His father served as rosh yeshiva in Frankfurt, Germany. When
the Nazis rose to power he managed to flee from Germany after
Kristallnacht, arriving in London penniless and threadbare.
It was due to the insistence of HaRav Gedaliah Schneider that
the financial guarantees to the British government were given
to allow their entry into Britain. Arriving there, Rav Yom
Tov went to the beis medrash before he had even
arranged a place to sleep.
Years later Rav Rakow would recall that during the war he was
too afraid to fall asleep at night, but as he lay in bed
fitfully he would take advantage of those hours to review his
learning from that day.
In London he attended the yeshiva of HaRav Moshe Schneider,
where he totally immersed himself in Torah study, his great
joy in life. During this period he accumulated a tremendous
wealth of knowledge. By the age of 18 he had mastered two
orders of the Talmud, Noshim and Nezikim, by
heart, after having reviewed them over 20 times. At the
yeshiva he clung to his rebbe, HaRav Zeidel
Semiatitzky, who held him in great regard.
At the age of 18 he went to Kollel Gateshead where he learned
Torah and the ways of a ben Torah by attaching himself
to the rosh kollel, HaRav Eliyohu Dessler zt'l,
eventually becoming his talmid muvhak and one of the
Kollel's outstanding talmidim.
When he was 21, HaRav Rakow married the daughter of HaRav
Naftoli HaCohen Shakovitzky, the son of the Maggid of Minsk
and a talmid muvhak of the Chofetz Chaim, who was then
serving as the Rov of Gateshead. After his wedding he
continued his studies, amassing vast knowledge in every field
of Torah, particularly seder Kodshim, which was the
focus of his efforts during this period.
In his sefer, HaRav Gedaliah Rabinowitz cites several
letters exchanged with HaRav Rakow on difficult sugyos
in Seder Kodshim. These letters reveal the latter's great
stature as a Torah scholar, despite his relatively young
Later Rav Rakow was asked to serve as rosh yeshivas Eitz
HaChaim in Montreux, Switzerland, where he built up many
talmidim and greatly influenced many other
talmidim who had only originally come to study at the
yeshiva for a short time. However, thanks to the strong
impression Rav Rakow made on them, they stayed for an
extended period and turned into bnei Torah fully
devoted to the tents of Torah even to this day.
Upon his father-in-law's petiroh, HaRav Rakow was
asked to take over as moro de'asra of Gateshead, a
post he held for the next four decades. As head of one of the
Diaspora's most famous and illustrious Torah kehillos
his influence spread throughout Europe and halachic questions
were dispatched to him from around the world.
HaRav Rakow was the Gateshead community's central figure and
his authority was recognized by all. His guidance extended to
every aspect of life, in both ruchniyus and
gashmiyus. Members of the kehilloh recall that
in order to prevent non-Jews from inflating apartment prices
HaRav Rakow instituted a special system of price control: Any
prospective buyer would come to inform him he was bidding on
a certain apartment. HaRav Rakow would then prevent other
prospective buyers from making contact with the owner unless
the original bidder decided he was no longer interested.
In order to maintain unity he waged a campaign to maintain
only a single talmud Torah for boys and a single Bais
Yaakov for girls, which instilled in the children the
importance of achdus among Jews with differing
backgrounds as part of a single kehilloh. Nonetheless
he gave every yeshiva gedoloh his blessing, saying
that there is no such thing as a monopoly on Torah.
HaRav Rakow was famous for his steadfast adherence to every
matter of halocho, never budging from the Shulchan
Oruch and never hesitating to voice his stance. In a
struggle with one of the rabbonim who tried to introduce
compromises in matters of halocho and hashkofo he
demonstrated his prowess as a fighter of Hashem's battles,
exemplifying the tenet lo soguru mipnei ish.
Gedolei Yisroel placed their trust in him, recognizing
that all of his pursuits were solely for the sake of
HaRav Rakow's doors were always open and many people would
come to ask him halachic questions and consult with him on
both communal and individual matters in order to receive
The kashrus seal of the Gavad of Gateshead earned wide
renown. HaRav Rakow personally inspected every factory that
received his seal. Every week he would pay a surprise visit
to beis hashechitoh in order to oversee the
shechitoh and bedikoh process firsthand.
In addition he delivered daily shiurim, some of which
were compiled in a sefer called Bircas Yom Tov,
which contains 120 separate in-depth sections on Talmudic
In recent years he agreed to become head of Agudas Yisroel in
order to increase brotherhood among all of England's chareidi
communities. Every year he would appear at the annual Agudas
Yisroel of Europe convention in Bournemouth, delivering
shiurei Torah and mussar talks to the many
participants on hand, transmitting his great ahavas
Hashem and ahavas Yisroel.
He had special bonds with gedolei Yisroel,
particularly Maran HaRav Shach zt'l, and ylct'a
Maran HaRav Eliashiv, as well as Maran HaRav Shlomo Zalman
Auerbach, zt'l, and HaRav Y. Y. Weiss, zt'l.
Following a month-long hospital stay Sunday morning he
returned his pure, refined soul to his Maker.
All of Gateshead came to participate in the levaya on
Sunday. Before the procession set out ,divrei hesped
were delivered by HaRav Zeev Cohen, Menahel Ruchani of
Yeshivas Beis Yosef of Gateshead; HaRav Avrohom Gurwicz, rosh
yeshivas Beis Yosef; HaRav Binyomin Zeev Kaufman, Rosh Kollel
Manchester; HaRav Mendel Shneibalg, rov of Machzikei HaDas of
Manchester; HaRav Pesach Eliyohu Falk, moreh horo'oh
and author of Machzei Eliyohu; HaRav Ezriel Yaffa,
rosh yeshivas Tiferes Yaakov; HaRav Dov Sternbuch, one of the
city's leading rabbonim, and his sons HaRav Lipa of
Manchester, HaRav Chaim of Gateshead and HaRav Yaakov of
The levaya passed by all of the city's Torah
institutions until reaching the edge of town leading toward
London. Fifteen buses from Manchester joined the procession
at a crossroads, where hespeidim were given by HaRav
Lipa Rabinovitch and HaRav Yitzchok Weiss. The aron
was brought into the large heichal of Beis HaKnesses
HaGodol Adas Yisroel in the center of London, where thousands
arrived to participate and to part from their
The first of the eulogizers was HaRav Yosef Tzvi Halevi
Dunner, Ravad in London, followed by HaRav Efraim Padwa,
Gavad of London, HaRav Elchonon Halperin, rov in Golders
Green, and his nephew, Rav Lipa Rakow, a ram in
London. The levaya then headed toward Heathrow Airport
for the flight to Eretz Yisroel.
Monday morning the aron arrived at Beis Medrash
Chanichei HaYeshivos in Jerusalem's Romemah neighborhood.
Rav Ezriel Rosenbaum, a ram at Yeshivas Beis Yosef of
Gateshead began by leading the recitation of three chapters
of Tehillim. The first hesped was delivered by
HaRav Yitzchok Tuviah Weiss, the new Gavad of the Eida
Chareidis, who cried out, "Torah, Torah chigri sak,"
and called HaRav Rakow a warrior in the battle for Torah.
HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, Ravad of the Eida Chareidis, who
learned bechavrusa with him during their youth, said
even then HaRav Rakow stood out in his learning and
hasmodoh, and even after he dedicated himself to
leading his kehilloh, he continued to devote all his
spare time to Torah study.
HaRav Mattisyohu Salomon, mashgiach of Yeshivas
Lakewood in New Jersey, knew the deceased for decades during
his tenure as mashgiach of Yeshivas Gateshead and made
a special trip from the U.S. to participate in the
levaya. He said the deceased was as moro
de'asra according to the standards of bygone generations
and felt bound to each and every individual, leading the
kehilloh superbly. When he assumed the post there was
just a single yeshiva and talmud Torah, and since then
the town has flourished and grown, opening many more
HaRav Dovid Menachem Schneider, mashgiach of Yeshivas
Grodno Yismach Moshe, said his grandfather, HaRav Moshe
Yehuda Schneider, was very fond of his talmid HaRav
Rakow, adding that the late Gateshead Rov fought for the sake
of Shabbos and the pure Torah tradition.
HaRav Chaim Kaufman, one of the roshei yeshivos of Yeshivas
Tiferes Yaakov in Gateshead, noted that HaRav Rakow worked to
bring young talmidim and children closer to Hashem
just as he did among bnei yeshiva and baalei
batim, with warmth and love for all.
HaRav Moshe Kopshitz, the rov of Beis Medrash Chanichei
HaYeshivos, spoke of his greatness as a Torah scholar, saying
he was a tremendous masmid.
Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Zimmerman, chairman of Agudas Yisroel of
England, offered words of parting in the name of Agudas
Yisroel of Europe, in which the late Gavad of Gateshead
served as a member of the nesius.
Other hespedim were given by his sons, HaRav Yehuda,
HaRav Avrohom, HaRav Binyomin and HaRav Naftoli, who lamented
the loss of their father, saying he had not just eight
children but that all the members of the Gateshead
kehilloh were his children, and that he made himself
and his home available to them at all times.
The levaya then set out to the new Chelkas HaRabbonim
at Har Hamenuchos, where HaRav Rakow was buried near HaRav
Chaim Kreiswirth, the late Gavad of Antwerp. After the grave
was covered, final hespedim were given by HaRav
Mordechai Yosef Karnovsky, the mashgiach of Beis Yosef
of Gateshead, and by his nephew, HaRav Yisroel Rakow, a
ram at Yeshivas Shaarei Torah in Manchester.
HaRav Betzalel Rakow, zt'l, is survived by his wife
and eight sons and many grandchildren, all of whom are
engaged in Torah study in Eretz Yisroel and abroad,
preserving the spiritual legacy he bequeathed them during his