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23 Tammuz 5763 - July 23, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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The Gateshead Rov zt"l
HaRav Betzalel Rakow, zt'l

by S. Bruchi

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 age.

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 Heaven.

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 daas Torah.

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 sugyos.

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 Jerusalem.

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 rebbe.

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 educational institutions.

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 lifetime.


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