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The eleventh of Adar is the yahrzeit of Rav Yosef Rosen of Dvinsk, better known as the Rogatchover Gaon (1858-1936). Born in Rogatchov (today in Belarus) into a family of Chabad Chassidim, when he became bar mitzvah, his father took him to Slutsk where Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was the rav, and he learned with Rav Yosef Dov’s son Chaim for about a year. In 1876 the Rogotchover married Perel Garfinkel of Warsaw. She died in 1881 and a few years later he married her younger sister Rivka.

For a time he learned in Shklov with Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskind until Rav Yosef was appointed the Chabad rabbi in Dvinsk in 1889. The rabbi of the misnagdim in Dvinsk was Rav Meir Simcha HaCohen. During WWI Rav Yosef was forced to run to St. Petersburg, but he returned to Dvinsk at the war’s end. At some point during the war there was shooting going on near where he was living. Someone who was caught in the street when the shooting started was looking for a house into which to run. He saw the Rogotchover stick his head out the window and call to him, “Hurry, come in here.” As soon as he ran into the house, Rav Yosef said to him, “I’m so glad you came in, I have a chiddush on the Rambam and I was looking for someone with whom I could share it.”


The Rogotchover was described by Rav Yosef Shlomo Zevin as, “A topic unto itself that cannot be included in the general category of gedolim. He was not merely larger than the category, he was not part of it. There was no one remotely like him in his time, or for many generations before or after who had the same expertise in the entirety of Torah.” His seforim which were called Tzafnas Paaneach are written very tersely. They are replete with references but without any explanation of the point of the references. Recently, they have been republished with footnotes that endeavor to explain his intent.

He would learn Torah even on Tisha B’Av when it is forbidden, explaining that he had no doubt that he would be punished for learning then, but he would rather be punished than cease his diligent Torah study. He would also cite a comment in the Talmud Yerushalmi that indicates that if one requires Torah study for his very essence, he may learn on Tisha B’Av. His colleague Rav Meir Simcha would quip that the Rogotchover didn’t have a good memory, but because he reviewed the entirety of the Torah every day it was no surprise that it was at his fingertips. Rav Yosef would not take haircuts, but his reasons for not doing so are unclear. It may have been because he felt it would waste his time when he could better be learning, or, possibly, because he had a skin ailment which made it uncomfortable.

The Rogotchover’s philosophical basis followed the approach of the Rambam, both in Mishne Torah as well as Moreh Nevuchim. He made extensive use of Tosefta and Talmud Yerushalmi in his psak halacha and was wont to turn to agada for halachic direction as well. Similar to the Brisker derech he examined each aspect of a mitzvah to understand the distinctions between them, and to categorize them, but unlike the Briskers he used this approach for halacha lemaaseh. He did not utilize any achronim, nor was he adverse to disagreeing with rishonim. Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg criticized the Rogotchover for this, pointing out that despite his genius, the fact that he doesn’t give credence to many of his predecessors requires us to see if any of them disagreed with him before deciding if we should accept his opinion. Rav Avraham Aharon Yudlovitz wrote that, “He thinks that until he came to the world there was no Torah… no one understood Torah whatsoever, and it all starts and ends with him.”

As a rule he was known as a machmir. One of his interesting positions is that although he held that civil marriage did not constitute kiddushin, he still held that a gett was required if the marriage dissolved. When SY Agnon visited him when the Rogotchover was ill the Rogotchover told him that his illness was a punishment for the fact that he ignored all the other rishonim and only focused on the Rambam. But he then said that if he was being punished because of his great respect for the Rambam, then it was worth it.

In 1936, suffering from kidney disease, he went to Vienna for surgery, but passed away before the surgery was performed. He had two daughters who were murdered along with their families during the Holocaust.

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The thirteenth of Adar is possibly the yahrzeit of Rav Yehuda HaChasid of Regensburg (1150?-1215. Other sources say he died two years later on the ninth of Adar, everyone agrees he died on Shabbos Parshas Zachor). He was a descendant of the rabbinical Klonymous family that had come to Germany from Italy in the 10th century. He studied under some of the Baalei Tosefos and learned Kabbalah from his father. He originally lived in Speyer and moved to Regensburg in 1195 where he founded a yeshiva. Among his students were Rav Eliezer of Wurms, author of the Rokeach, Rav Yitzchok ben Moshe, author of Ohr Zarua, and Rav Moshe of Coucy, author of the SMaG. He was the central figure of a group known as the Chasidei Ashkenaz.

His most famous work is the Sefer Chasidim, a compendium of halacha, minhag, Jewish thought and mussar which reflected the worldview of the Chasidei Ashkenaz. Both in his writings and oral teachings he made very strict demands of his followers. He wished to create communities that were free of any outside influences, only populated by members of his group.

Rav Yehuda HaChasid’s will contains many instructions and customs that have evoked great controversy over the ensuing centuries. Among the things it teaches are that a man may not marry a woman with the same name as his mother, and prohibitions against living in certain communities. Some of the customs he records are brought down by later poskim, such as the idea that a person should not be sandek for two children from the same family. Others seem to have not been accepted. Some understand that these were instructions only for his children and not meant for the community at large. The Noda B’Yehuda felt that as the customs he records have no Talmudic basis, and indeed occasionally contradict the Talmud, there is no reason to give them any consideration. Rav Yehuda HaChasid writes that people should not name their sons Yehuda or Shmuel. At a rabbinical conference where issues were raised about the will the Maharsha said that he was a descendant of Rav Yehuda HaChasid and his name was Shmuel and his father’s name was Yehuda.

Additionally, Rav Yehuda authored a number of halachic works and there is a commentary on Chumash that is attributed to him, though its authorship is questionable. He also composed a number of Kabbalistic works.

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Chayim Lando is the practice manager at Maryland Neuro Rehab & Wellness Center and has been a Jewish educator for over three decades. His favorite activities are studying and teaching Talmud and spending time with his grandchildren.