The Rogatchover Gaon zt”l: Genius in a Generation of Giants, On His Yahrtzeit, Today

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rogatchoverBy Rav Yaakov Feitman

The obviously weary young woman tremulously entered the room. She had already been to all the “experts” – doctors, wet-nurses – even to Chassidic Rebbes for a brachah. All to no avail. Her infant son, premature and underweight, strangely refused to nurse on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Formula was out of the question for the impoverished family, and the long Succos holiday was approaching. Her neighbors terrified her with old wives’ tales, and well-meaning relatives thrust assorted amulets open her. Nothing seemed to help and this was her last desperate hope.

The imposing-looking rabbi, with the head that seemed too massive for his frail body, looked up from his Gemara and listened patiently to the bizarre problem. Without a moment’s hesitation, he counseled her: “Wear your weekday clothing when you nurse the infant on Shabbos and Yom Tov.” A few days later, the woman’s husband came back beaming: “Rabbi, you’re a prophet, you have ruach hakodesh! Your advice worked!” he exclaimed.

The rabbi seemed amused. “This matter is explicitly recorded in a Tosafos in Bava Kamma 37a” he explained. “The Mishnah states that an ox can be considered a mu’ad (needing extra guarding because he has gored a number of times) on Shabbos, but not on weekdays. Tosafos explains that on Shabbos an ox may not recognize those usually familiar to him because they are wearing different clothing. We see from Tosafos that intelligence at its simplest stages identifies people by outer factors such as color and shape. This poor woman had changed her garment in honor of Shabbos and her particularly sensitive infant mistook the change of clothing as a change of person.”1

The Universe of Halacha

Such was the universe of Rabbi Yoseif Rosen – known as the Gaon of Rogatchov (his birthplace). A world where no phenomenon, no problem – cosmic or infinitesimal – is beyond the realm of the Torah. And not simply Torah, but halachah. It is far from unique in Jewish history to discover gedolim who found answers to all social, communal, and domestic problems in the Torah. Since Sinai, the only genuinely Jewish orientation has been Istakel B’Oraisa U’Bara Alma – the understanding that “the Torah is the blueprint for the world.”2 Yet, often that very Torah has been divided into ostensibly separate branches – Halachah, Aggadah, Mussar, Kabbalah, etc. The uniqueness of the Rogatchover was that he recognized no barriers within that G-d-given Torah. He perceived virtually everything that exists in terms of the living imperatives of halachah – the legal aspects of Torah.

Thus, in his commentary on Chumash, no “story” is interpreted simply in humanistic or even moral terms. Every sentence, word, and letter in the Torah is related to the eternal verities of halachah … The fate of Sodom and Amorah is understood in the light of the laws of Ir Hanidachas3 (the totally corrupt city that earns destruction) … the serpent’s curse of being the eternal enemy of mankind is reflected in the halachah that a snake can be put to death without a bais din, a formal court proceeding, unlike other animals4 … Jacob set up stones to sleep because he was legally laying claim to the land; and in order to do so, it is not enough to simply sleep there, but one must “make the bed” as well.5

A universe of Torah and only Torah. For over seventy years, he virtually never stopped studying Torah. It is said that since early age he would not allow his hair to be cut for he could not stand the few moments he would be bareheaded, unable to learn. Over and over: he reviewed the familiar works of the Talmud he so revered. He rarely consulted works published later than the 17th century, never quoting anyone later than the Rambam (1135-1206). In the Rambam, he found his “Rebbe” and mentor, and he could often be seen pacing his room, copy of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah in hand, murmuring “dear, dear Rebbe.”6

The Road to Dvinsk

How did the Rogatchover become the genius in a generation of giants? Undoubtedly, he was born with the makings of greatness. Born in the Latvian city of Rogatchov in 1858, he was fluent in a sixth of the entire Talmud by the time he was eight years old,7 and by the time of his Bar Mitzvah, no one in his own city was qualified to teach him. Recognizing the young boy’s potential for greatness, his father, Reb Fishel, sent him to Slutsk to the famed Rabbi Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik, author of the Bais HaLevi. There he studied with another future luminary, Reb Yoseif Ber’s son, Reb Chaim, future Rav of Brisk. Eventually, he was also to study with the incisive Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, and drink deeply of the Chassidic founts of Ger and Chabad.

A Life Beyond Earthly Time

Even though he was blessed with genius, the Rogatchover’s unique development could never have taken place without his almost superhuman diligence. The dates of his life (1858-1936) were fixed; his lifelong identification with Rogatchov and Dvinsk placed him within geographic boundaries; yet, he seemed unencumbered by conventional limitations of time and space. Time had meaning only in relation to halachah – now is the time of Shacharis … soon we will be blowing Shofar … today is the 14th day of the Omer etc. Space, too, was irrelevant unless it was related to the laws of succah, eruv, or the like. With the Gemara before him, his mind deeply engrossed in the world’s only reality, even personal danger was not worthy of notice.

The Rogatchover had been forced to leave Dvinsk because of pogroms sweeping the area. When he was staying in Minsk, word of a wandering anti-Semitic band reached the community. Major towns and villages had suffered great damage to life and property, and local rabbis called a fast day because of the dire situation. The entire Jewish community was evacuated and hid in the mountains. In the flurry of activity, it was several hours before the Rogatchover’s absence was noticed. The two shelters were searched with no trace of the rabbi. Finally two brave young men volunteered to search the abandoned city for the Rav.

Going directly to his modest lodgings, they found him immersed deep in thought before the ever-present Gemara and Rambam. When he noticed the young men, he laughed and said: “Isn’t it odd that the rabbis have declared a fast day? Undoubtedly, they were thinking of the Gemara in Ta’anis … and the Rambam … but, of course, you realize that they forgot the Yerushalmi and Tosefta…”

The young men realized with a jolt that the Rogatchover was not thinking at all of his personal safety, but of the halachic implications of the situation.9

In the Rogatchover’s tens of thousands of responsa to rabbis and laymen all over the world, the Torah’s power to transcend time – even to control time – manifests itself in startling ways… In a letter from the Rogatchover, virtually every facet of the responsum is intimately involved with halachah, even the date.

A letter answering two difficult questions in different parts of the Torah is dated the 11th of Tishrei. For other letter-writers of the past twenty generations, the date – as a simple mechanical device for recording the time – would be sufficient. Not so for the Rogatchover. This date immediately conjures up for him the Mishnah in Krisus 25a: “It is said that Bava ben Buta would offer an asham taluy (a conditional sacrifice for a possible transgression) every day, except the day after Yom Kippur – the 11th of Tishrei.” The Rogatchover then explains the unique status of this day as based on a statement in Me’ilah 14b that one need not worry about an unwitting transgression if only one day is involved. The 11th of Tishrei is but one day after the atonement of Yom Kippur, so no such sacrifice could be brought.10

The Rogatchover surely did not seek to impress his readers with his erudition, or look specifically for such recondite references. He thought of 10 Tishrei in terms of Krisus 25a, and he understood Krisus 25a in terms of Me’ilah 14b. Perhaps, like that of the rishonim or the gaonim, the Rogatchover’s entire thought processes were attuned purely to Torah and therein found their entire sustenance.

A Rogatchover Sampler

Bereishis 19:20 – Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. Why was she punished in so strange a way? Her sin was that she did not hearken to the edict of G-d as transmitted by His agent, the angel. The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 89a) tells that “Whoever disregards the word of the prophet…his death is in the hands of Heaven.” Her punishment therefore had to be one that obviously came from G-d.


Torah: A Source of Worldly Knowledge

Total immersion in the universe of the Torah does not blind one to the physical aspects of the world. The Rogatchover, through his unique ability to view the entire world through the tele-microscopic lens of the Torah, saw everything in the world around him – and infinitely more, as well. Although he had never been to Israel, he impressed a visitor with his familiarity with every detail of the Holy Land’s topography. When the visitor was relating the course of his travels through Israel, the Rogatchover stopped him and inquired why he had not taken a certain shortcut and saved an hour’s travel time.”11

A secular Jewish poet once acknowledged that “many Einsteins would never equal one Rogatchover” and the comparison gained much currency in both Torah and general intellectual circles. Interestingly, the Rogatchover deals with problems of time and relativity in their halachic context.12 An example of the Rogatchover’s philosophic concept of time is reflected in one of his references to the date of a responsum. Writing on Erev Rosh HaShanah 5687 (1927), he notes that the precise moment is rapidly arriving when two years meet each other in the stream of time. The Rogatchover notes that the Yerushalmi pointed out this phenomenon, referring to the microsecond as “the moment when two years kiss each other.” He then closes with the wish for a befittingly smooth and happy entrance into the new year.13

Outside the stream of worldly time, the Rogatchover was totally involved in the river of halachic time. His every letter between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur reflected the awe of the season. A letter dated this period in 1927 responds to the query whether one may wear glasses on Shabbos when one is not totally dependent on them. The letter begins with a short aside, “Tuesday, 8 Tishrei 5688, may we, G-d willing, merit receiving the Second Tablets this coming Yom Kippur” – not a unique expression in responsa literature. But then he launches into a deep exploration of the differences between the first and second luchos (Tablets of the Law given to Moshe) and sundry aspects of the giving of the Torah … Of a responsum of 38 lines, three are devoted to an answer to the question (if they help the wearer in walking, wearing them is permissible) and 35 to an exposition on the date.14

A Rogatchover Sampler

Bereishis 22:6 – Before the Akei’dah, Abraham loaded the wood on Isaac, but not the knife, because there is a disagreement between the Talmud Bavli (Pesachim 66a) and the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 6:1) if it is permissible to lean the knife on the sacrifice once it has been sanctified. Abraham wanted to make sure that every detail of his precious korban was perfect, and was scrupulous to fulfill all halachic opinions.


Moments of Amusement

Unusual? Definitely. Yet, the Rogatchover’s unique style should not be dismissed as a simple curiosity. The torrential flow of Torah explanations, the apparent digressions and excursus grant us a glimpse into a world of greater purity where every phenomenon, every event, every concept reverberated loudly and clearly with Torah implications and halachic nuances. It is only a short 40 years ago, but it is already hard for us to conceive of a time when even light moments for “amusement” were amusements in Torah.

Once a year, on Simchas Torah, the two Chief Rabbis of Dvinsk, Reb Meir Simcha and the Rogatchover, would daven together. Watching the rejoicing with the Torah, Reb Meir Simcha would remark, “I have just completed a study and Rav [–] is mentioned in the Talmud but seven times.” The Rogatchover would smile and answer, “You know, of course, that the sixth time, in Zevachim, is a mistaken text, and that you made up the seventh to test me.” Such were the “light” moments of our sages of the last generation.15

The “Alarm” Telegram

Once the magnitude of a life completely immersed in Torah takes hold, many references in the Rogatchover’s letters begin to be clear. In one letter, he writes that he cannot elucidate the problem in detail because of a bout with asthma, and instead, he writes the usual myriad of citations to passages throughout the Talmud which will answer the problem. When we carefully study the references, the first one – to Bechoros 44b – does not seem to make sense, having nothing to do with the subject at hand.

Further examination, however, leads us to the Talmudic description of the devastating symptoms of asthma. When we think of an illness, we think of the latest known remedy, someone who has it, or sympathy for the sufferer. The Rogatchover’s thought went immediately to Chazal’s comments on the subject.

Immediately after the 1927 earthquake in Jerusalem, the Rogatchover sent a concerned telegram to the inhabitants. In a letter to his grandson, Tzvi Hirsh Citron, he explains the reason for the telegram: “I was very worried about the tremors in Jerusalem, but thank G-d I received a letter that in Petach Tikvah (where the boy’s parents lived) all is well. I sent a telegram because the Yerushalmi states that the alarm is sounded because of earthquakes, and the Rambam explains that the reason for the alarm is that when adverse events befall a community, an alarm must be raised to notify all that adversity has come upon them because of their evil ways. Thus they will repent and the adversity will leave them. My telegram is in the way of an alarm.”16

His Sense of Humor

From his earliest youth, Rabbi Rosen exhibited a wit and sense of humor which also was channeled totally into the world of Torah. When ten years old, he was learning in Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin’s Yeshiva in Shklov. One of the older students once asked him, “How much of the Talmud do you know?”

The young genius answered with a twinkle, “Half of Shas (the Talmud).”

The elder responded with “Which half?” To which he replied, “Any half you ask me.”17

This penchant for the witty reply later stood him in good stead with the thousands of would-be “experts” who came to him for haskamos – approval for their meager endeavors at Torah publications.

Once as he was reviewing a book brought to him for a haskamah, he repeatedly murmured, “Amazing, wonderful.”

The eager author could not contain himself and asked, “What does the rabbi find so wonderful and amazing?”

The Rogatchover replied with a smile, “Wonderful … amazing … I did not now that there was a publishing house in Pyetrikof. Now I know.”18

His gentle yet caustic wit was often even felt by his friends.

Once, a woman entered the study when a close friend and famous rabbi in his own right was present. The woman asked the Rogatchover to bentch (bless) her. As was his wont, he refused, saying, “I am only a simple man; I bentch only after eating.”

The visiting rabbi then asked, “Why not bless her? The Mishnah states that ‘Even the blessing of a simple man should not be light in one’s eyes,’ a kal v’chomer (all the more so) your blessing, Rabbi.”

The Rogatchover responded, “Why wait for me to deliver the blessing with the aid of a kal v’chomer? You can do it even without a kal v’chomer.”19

His wit was finely attuned to the least hint of avarice, even “holy” avarice.

An aged Jew once came to him and signed over his entire will to the Rogatchover, saying he had no heirs and that he was confident the rabbi would allocate the funds to the most needy and deserving charities. The man passed away, and before long the rabbi’s house was full of people claiming to know the best way to use the funds. One proposal came from the Chevrah Kadisha, which was responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery: the cemetery needed a fence to keep stray dogs from wandering into the consecrated area. “I’m amazed,” replied the rabbi, “at the dogs’ keen sense of smell, perceiving that the money was in my trust.”20

Despite the bite of the Rabbi’s rejoinders, no one left him feeling slighted or embarrassed. On the contrary, the penetrating sense of truth in his every utterance often solved otherwise irreconcilable differences and acrimonious disputes.

A couple who had not been getting along with each other asked him if they should move to the Holy Land. The Rogatchover gave them a soul-piercing look and inquired, “Is there not enough controversy in the Holy Land?” The simple, razor-sharp words were just what the unfortunate couple needed at that moment.21

A Rogatchover Sampler

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 25:6) states that the Patriarch Abraham was a Kohen Gadol (high priest). What difference was there if he was a regular Kohen or a Kohen Gadol? It is clear that Abraham had to be a Kohen in order to perform any sacrifice. Yet, the Akeidah was unique, because in the process of performing the sacrifice, the Kohen would become an onan (one whose immediate relative has died that day), and only a Kohen Gadol can bring a sacrifice as an onan. Therefore it was crucial that Abraham be a Kohen Gadol, to complete the sacrificial order after Isaac’s demise.


The Gemara and the Contested Kvitentzia

There was a period in Czarist Russia when, for a large sum of money, one could be freed from military service. Upon receipt of the money, the government granted the purchaser a kvitentzia, which was transferable. The government eventually stopped this policy, but honored any kvitentzia still in circulation. The waiver then became a rare and expensive item, and its owner could obtain a fortune for it during times of maximum conscription.

A wealthy man had purchased a kvitentzia and passed away. His will specified that the waiver go to his youngest son. The young man had a physical disability and decided to risk taking his physical. If freed because of his condition, so much the better. If not, he could always fall back on the kvitentzia. The boy was freed and when his brothers learned of this, they demanded a share of profits from the sale of the kvitentzia. They claimed that their father had only left him the waiver to protect him from conscription, but once that was no longer a threat, the document became part of the general family inheritance. The boy, on the other hand, claimed that their father had given it to him. It was no one’s business how he had been freed from the draft. All members of the family agreed to consult the Rogatchover, and to abide by his ruling.

After listening to the story, the Rogatchover called over the young man and said kindly, “Come let us study a bit of Gemara together. ”

The Rabbi opened the tractate Nazir to 24a and read: ” If a woman made a vow to become a nazir and had set apart her cattle for the korban (offering) and her husband then revoked her vow, if the cattle were his, then … if they were hers, then …” He then showed him that the Gemara asks upon this Mishnah, “What difference does it make if the cattle had originally been hers or not? Even if they were her husband’s and he gave them to her, in the end, they belonged to her.” The Gemara answers, “He only gave her the cattle for something she would need and since he revoked her vow, she does not need the cattle. It is as if they were never hers. “And so it is with you, my friend,” the Rogatchover continued: “Clearly, your father only designated the kvitentzia for you because he feared for you should you be drafted. Now that you are free without the kvitentzia, the halachah views it as if it never belonged to you.”

The decision seemed so logical and self-evident once the Rogatchover had explained it, that the young man accepted it with a glad heart and no remorse at all.24

A Rogatchover Sampler

When Yoseif visited his ailing father, Yaakov, he “took his two sons with him” (Bereishis 48:1). The reason? There are halachic opinions (see She’iltos d’Rav Achai, Parshas Acharei, 93) that one should not visit the sick alone.

When Yoseif’s brothers went to Egypt, the Torah (Bereishis 48:8) tells us that he recognized them but they did not recognize him. Rashi explains that when they had separated they already had had beards, but Yoseif did not. Another reason might be that they did not gaze directly at his face because the Talmud (Chagigah 16a) states that staring directly at a monarch is damaging to the eyes.

The Gap Between Speech and Pen

The above incident illustrates a strange paradox in the Rogatchover’s powers of explanation. When the Rogatchover spoke to elucidate the Torah, even the most esoteric explication seemed simple and inevitable. Thus, the young man who lost his rights to the kvitentzia left Dvinsk satisfied that justice had been done. Yet, in print the story was entirely different. For a number of reasons, the works of Rabbi Rosen read like those of no other gadol, except perhaps the Vilna Gaon.

Primarily, this difficulty is because the Rogatchover uses very few words. Citing pertinent Talmudic references, he felt, was sufficient. Unfortunately, not many others of the last few generations can approach a letter with as many as 2500 Talmudic references as if reading an expository letter from a friend.

Another reason for the difficulty in understanding the Rogatchover’s printed works is that he created a new halachic vocabulary to convey his profoundly original thoughts. His terminology is, interestingly enough, familiar to students of the Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim (The Guide for the Perplexed), but largely unknown to Torah scholars of more conventional background. To the Rogatchover, the entire Guide is a key to halachah. The Rarnbam does not deal in mere philosophy or theology to convince those unsure of their religion. He has presented us with a map through the byways of the Talmud, and the Rogatchover uses that map to transverse the entire Torah.

To overcome these difficulties, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher, with a group of Torah scholars, has unlocked the key to this great treasure. In his work, Mefa’ane’ach Tzefunos, Rabbi Kasher details each new term used by the Rogatchover and explains their philosophic meaning and halachic content.

0f Heroism and Kiddush Hashem

An immense debt of gratitude – so meager a word for so monumental a debt – is due for the incredible heroism of the Rogatchover’s daughter, Rebbetzin Rochel Citron, and the Rogatchover’s successor in Dvinsk and talmid muvhak (major disciple), Rabbi Yisroel Alter Safran-Fuchs. When the Rogatchover passed away on the 11th of Adar I, 5696 (1936), Reb Alter was chosen as his successor although he was only 25 and as yet unmarried. From the moment of his acceptance until the last day of his life, he spent every moment in dedication to the writings of his great Rebbe. Amazingly, during the most difficult of times, the war years of 1940 and 1941, he managed to publish two volumes of Responsa from the Rogatchover. During this desperate period, the Rogatchover’s daughter, Rebbetzin Citron – by then widowed – left Palestine to help Rabbi Safran-Fuchs in his work in Dvinsk.

But of course, times got worse. The end was coming closer and the Nazis w””ny were nearing Dvinsk. Rabbi Safran-Fuchs and Rebbetzin Citron had many opportunies to escape to America where they had relatives, but they recognized an eternal purpose in remaining in Dvinsk to save the writings of his Rebbe. Thus began the great race against time. For two years, Reb Alter and Rebbetzin Citron, against great and dangerous odds, made micro-photographs of the Rogatchover’s writings – the glosses on the sides of his Gemaros, Churnashim, and other sefurim – and sent them to his uncle in America. Every two weeks, he faithfully mailed his precious cargo.

All in all, he miraculously managed to send one entire Gemara (Makos and mesichtos ketanos), 2500 pages of Talmudical glosses, 1500 pages of commentary upon the Rambam, and 1200 more covering assorted parts of the Torah. The last package was sent one week before the Nazis entered Dvinsk; undoubtedly, by the time the invaluable package arrived in the United States, the young rabbi had already offered up his life to his Maker Al Kiddush HaShem.26

A Rogatchover Sampler

In the prophet Yeshayahu’s descriptions of the age of Moshiach (Chapter 11), we find the passage, “And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard … with the kid, and the calf with the young lion … and a little child shall lead them.” These last words are often taken to reflect the state of utter docility which will prevail during the Messianic Era. Yet, there are no mere metaphors in the Torah. In truth, only “a little child” would be allowed to lead these combinations of animals, for their joining constitutes the prohibition of k’layim (forbidden combinations), and thus not even a child of educable age would be allowed to lead them, but only “a little child.”23

Why (in Bircas Harnazon) do we say Magdil during the week and Migdol on Shabbos and Yom Tov? The Gemara (Shabbos 116b) tells us that on Shabbos from Minchah onward we must not read from Kesuvim (Holy Writings), but we may read from Nevi’im (Prophets). Therefore, on Shabbos we make sure to say Migdol, which is quoted from Prophets (II Shmuel 22:51), maintaining a distinction from the weekday version, which comes from Holy Writings (Tehillim 18:51), which may be recited any time during the week.25


The Treasure in Miniature

HaKol Taluy B’Mazal Afilu Sefer Torah She’BiHeichal, Even the Torah needs good fortune. From June, 1941, when the last package of the Rogatchover’s Torah writings was sent to America, until June, 1957, the tiny photographs lay abandoned and unread. Mrs. Yetta Leah Safran, in whose possession the writings have been entrusted, made a number of attempts to bring the manuscripts to the public attention. The organizations with whom she spoke were largely uninterested and claimed that, anyway, there was no way to sufficiently enlarge the miniscule prints. So the matter remained for sixteen years.

In 1957, the hashgachah – the Heavenly Hand – guided the confluence of a number of events to allow the Rogatchover’s writings to finally emerge from obscurity. Rabbi Menachem M. Kasher found out about the manuscripts and, with the aid of several foundations, obtained the funds to initiate the Tzofnas Pa’ane’ach Institute, publishing the writings of the Rogatchover in understandable form. Also, an enlarger had been designed that could produce the pages of the Rogatchover’s Talmud with sufficient clarity to allow faithful transcription of his words. Rebbetzin Citron and Rabbi Safran-Fuchs must know in Gan-Eden that their deaths were far from in vain, and that every letter of the Rogatchover’s Torah studied throughout the world today is the direct result of their noble and heroic sacrifice.

The Last Days

The Rogatchover, too, died a truly Torah death. He had been taken to Vienna for surgery, which proved unsuccessful, and he was in constant, agonizing pain. Yet, amazingly, when someone asked him a Torah question, the pain would seem to disappear and the old color and fervor returned. The Rebbetzin deliberately invited Torah scholars in to take the Gaon’s mind off the excruciating pain, and the Gaon himself begged those in the room, “Ask me questions about the Torah. Ask! Ask!’27

So it was that the holy soul that had spent its entire life on earth studying Torah was in the end soothed and quieted by the healing power of that Torah. And in a quiet moment, that great soul simply went from its earthly Bais Hamidrash to the Mesivta D’Rakiya – the Heavenly House of Study – perhaps more than an end, or even a new beginning, simply … a continuation.


1. Heard from Rabbis Shemaryahu Shulman and Tovia Preschel. []

2. Zohar, Terumoh l6la and see the beginning of Bereishis Rabba. []

3. See Tzofnas Paane’ach (herewith, TP) on Bereishis 18:21-24 and 19:l-20. []

4. See TP on Bereishis 3:15. See also Bava Kamma 15b. []

5. See T P on Bereishis 28:13. The Gemara in Chulin 91b is interpreted as saying that Yaakov was being koneh the land and Tosafos in Bava Basra 53b declares that it is not enough to sleep on a bed that is already prepared; the koneh must make the bed himself. []

6. Quoted by Rabbi Chaim Sapir in Hagaon Harogutchove V’Talmudo, Rabbi Moshe Shlomo Kasher, Jerusalem, 1958, p. 19. []

7. Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Ishim V’shitos. Tel Aviv, 1966, p. 91. []

9 Heard from Rabbi Moshe Greenes who heard it from Reb Leib Furer, a talmid muvhak of the Rogatchover. []

10 Sha’alos Uteshuvos TP, Jerusalem, 1968, 124 (page 96) []

11 D.T. Pincus, quoted by Rabbi Zevin, p. 100 note 10. []

12. See Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher’s Mefa’ane’ach Tzefunos, especially, pp. 87-113 This is a monumental work on the Rogatchover’s unique terminology and provides some historical and philosophical background See also Rabbi Moshe Grossberg’s Tzefunos Harogutchove, Jerusalem. 1958, pp. 1-25. []

13. Sha’alos Uteshuvos TP. Jerusalem, II. 30 (p. 22). The Yerushalmi referred to is in the middle of the 15th Chapter of Yevamos. The ancient and long-debated problem of the nature of Time involves the disciplines of philosophy, physics, mathematics, and, most recently, parapsychology (see J.B. Priestly, Man and Time, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964, pp. 100- 274). Therefore, even a cursory summary of the literature on the subject is beyond the scope of this biographical sketch. However, there are two related, but distinct periods, in the time of controversy concerning the nature of Time. Until the twentieth century, the question was if Time is one indivisible unit measurable in “units of time arbitrarily chosen” (Newton), or if it is composed of a myriad of “time atoms” (see Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim, I 73). With the advent of Einstein’s theory of relativity, the debate has centered around Einstein’s assertion that “absolute time does not exist and … its rate of flow, that is to say, the measure of time differences and increments, is not necessarily equal in different coordinate systems.” In short, this means that the concept of simultaneity is relative. The chief opponents of Einstein in this field are Jacques Maritain and Henri Bergson who maintain that “two events that are simultaneous for one observer are necessarily simultaneous for all others.”

The Torah implications of this controversy are discussed by Rabbi M.M. Kasher in Talpiyos Vol. V (1952). The Rogatchover’s genius and uniqueness is that without concerning himself with the discussions of physicists, mathematicians, etc., he expounds in incredible detail upon these problems purely in the context of halachah. Two excellent chapters on the Rogatchover’s views on the philosophy of time controversy may be found in Rabbi Kasher’s Mefa’aneuch Tzefunos, pp. 87-112, and Rabbi Moshe Grossberg’s Tz’funos hoRogatschove’, pp. 1-25. See, especially, Rabbi Kasher’s note on page 73, where, without referring to Rabbi Grossberg by name, he disagrees totally with his interpretation of the Rogatchover’s position concerning this matter. []

14. Ibid., II. 33 (p. 24). []

15. Heard from Tovia Preschel who heard it from a talmid muvhak of the Rogatchover, who was present at the time. []

16. Sha’alos Uteshuvos TP, Jerusalem, 1965 (ed., Rabbi Kasher), 80, pp. 150-151. []

17. Quoted by Rabbi Isser Frankel, Yechidei Segulah, Tel Aviv, 1956, p. 185. []

18. Ibid., p. 186. []

19. Ibid., and Rabbi Zevin, p. 103. []

20. Rabbi Frankel, p. 186. []

21. Ibid., p. 187. []

23. See Rabbi Zevin, p. 135. []

24. Rabbi Zevin, pp. 97-98. []

25. Sha’alos U’teshuvos TP, Yerushalaim II. 5 (pg. 6).[]

26. Hillel Seidman, Ishim She’hikarti. []

27. Heard from Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Brooklyn. []

This article originally appeared in the Jewish Observer and is also available in book form in the ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Judaiscope Series.

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  1. My Mom was born and grew up in Rogachev. She is a daughter of Holocaust survivers who came back after WW2 was over. In Soviet schools nobody taught her about rav Rosen. When I showed her this article she cried like a baby. Yasher Koach to Matzav.

  2. The Rebbe got smicha from him, and he considerd the fifth lubavither rebbe the gadol of that dor, and he used to study every day chabad chasidus

  3. lol john- dont be a hater. he was very close with the rebbe and there is correspondence proving as such. as #4 said, the rogitchover gave the rebbe smiche. every generation has a nosi, ours bh is the rebbe, zya. no ones forcing you to accept the rebbes nesius- it still is what it is, “v’yameenu bahashem U’VMOISHE (nosi hador) avdoi.

    to #4- the rebbe rashab was nistalek in 1920 after that the frierdiker rebbe became nosi. the rebbe, nesi doreinu held very high of the ragitchover.

  4. >>he used to study every day chabad chasidus

    Even if he did, what does that have to do with the inventions of yourrebbe? He never learned them, and would have vehemently disagreed with them, too.


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