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12 Cheshvan 5765 - October 27, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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HaRav Yosef Hacohen Roth, zt"l
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 simile.

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 Bnei Brak.

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 him.

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.


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