Thousands streamed in from around the country Erev Shabbos
Parshas Noach to lay to rest HaRav Yosef Hacohen Roth,
zt"l, one of our generation's leading talmidei
chachomim, the av beis din at HaRav Nissim
Karelitz' beis din, and the head of the Beis Dovid
institutions in Bnei Brak, who passed away following a short
illness, at the age of 74.
HaRav Yosef Hacohen Roth was born in 5691 (1931) to HaRav
Yitzchok Isaac in the city of Lontzk, Galicia, where he
served as rov, shochet and mohel. An
exceptional talmid chochom, HaRav Yitzchok Isaac lived
a life of mesirus nefesh for Torah and mitzvas, a
legacy he passed on to his children.
Young Yosef acquired the core of his Torah learning from his
father. They would study together regularly and whatever the
son learned from his father was carved into his pure heart.
Throughout his lifetime, he would assess every matter
according to the example his father set.
When the family was exiled to Siberia while Yosef was small,
despite the terrible hunger there, he refused to eat any food
whose kashrus was uncertain, following the example his
father set. When the young boy contracted a severe case of
typhus, his doctors recommended he eat butter made from
cholov akum. "I'll only eat it if I see my father eat
it," he said. Even when his father put a bit in his mouth the
boy refused, saying, "He didn't swallow, so I won't either."
This ability to make fine distinctions was to serve him
throughout his life.
He learned to talk with great care in his father's home,
where every word was measured judiciously before being
uttered. He always spoke of the Torah's prudence in avoiding
the use of the word "tomei" unnecessarily in
Parshas Noach and the gemora about two
kohanim who are assessed according to their speech and
how one is rejected because he used a lizard's tail as a
After his parents left Lontzk they stayed in the Russian town
of Tzambol for a period of time. One Shabbos, his father, not
wanting to carry despite the great risk involved, left for
shul without his identification papers that proved he
was a local resident. When he was caught, he and his
household were sent to Siberia. Although their exile seemed
to be a disaster, it proved to be their salvation, for during
the war all of the Jews in the town were killed.
After the war, the family went to France, where the young
gaon, Yosef, began studying under HaRav Mordechai
Pogramansky and HaRav Avrohom Eliyohu Maizes. Although he was
the youngest of the lomdim, his rebbe, HaRav
Pogramansky, said that he understood the shiurim
thoroughly. In 5710 (1950) he sent the young man with a
glowing letter in hand to Yeshivas Ponovezh to study under
HaRav Kahaneman and the roshei yeshiva.
Studying with great intensity, he soon became one of the
yeshiva's leading bochurim. During this period, every
Shabbos morning, he would visit the Chazon Ish, who would
guide him in analytical reasoning. Once Maran asked one of
the bochurim to summon Roth. When asked which Roth,
the Chazon Ish replied, "The one who knows how to learn!"
At Yeshivas Ponovezh he cleaved to the roshei yeshiva, HaRav
Y.D. Povarsky and HaRav S. Rozovsky, who had great fondness
and esteem for him. From the moment HaRav Shach assumed the
post of rosh yeshiva, he formed a close bond with him that
lasted until HaRav Shach's histalkus.
In 5715 (1955) he married the daughter of HaRav Avrohom
Eliyohu Maizes and then continued his studies at Kollel
Ponovezh. After years of toil in Torah, a group of baalei
batim who had studied under HaRav Dovid Kahane Shapira, a
dayan in Warsaw, told HaRav Shach they wanted to set
up a place of Torah in his memory. HaRav Shach suggested they
appoint HaRav Roth as their rov. They followed his advice,
building the Beis Dovid institutions on Rechov Ben Zakai in
At HaRav Roth's demand, an outstanding kollel was
begun. Over the decades it has churned out dozens of
rabbonim, roshei yeshivos and roshei kollelim who now
disseminate Torah in places around the globe. Following the
advice of HaRav Shach, a yeshiva ketanoh was set up
under HaRav Tzvi Shenker.
When HaRav Nissim Karelitz decided to set up a beis
din in Bnei Brak, HaRav Roth was among his first
dayanim. HaRav Roth started a beis horo'oh at
Beis Dovid and became the first rov in Bnei Brak to notify
the public he was willing to answer urgent questions that
arose after midnight.
In addition to his role as moreh horo'oh he also
helped the kehilloh members and the avreichim,
who held him in high esteem for his greatness in Torah, his
integrity and his humility. Dozens of ambitious
avreichim gathered around him to gain from his Torah
and yiras Shomayim. He was like a kindly father who
spent much of his time guiding whoever sought his advice.
Once he told HaRav Shach he had never studied dayanus
formally, just the Shas and the Shulchan Oruch.
"That's the kind of dayonim we need," HaRav Shach told
HaRav Roth published a book called Siach Yosef on
nidoh and other subjects in Shas. Another book,
Siach Hayom, provides a profound commentary on
Tefillas Shemoneh Esrei.
In Av, he suffered heart problems and since then his health
declined, until he returned his pure soul to his Maker.
Before the large levaya set out from his home on
Rechov Rashi in Bnei Brak, a moving eulogy was delivered by
HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz. Maspidim at Beis Dovid
were HaRav Nissim Karelitz, who announced the appointment of
the deceased's son, HaRav Moshe Aharon, as his successor,
HaRav Gershon Edelstein and HaRav Moshe Aharon Roth. HaRav
Yaakov Galinsky spoke at the Yeshivas Ponovezh Cemetery.
HaRav Yosef Hacohen Roth, zt"l, is survived by sons
and sons-in-law carrying on the spiritual legacy he instilled
in them during his lifetime.