Hagaon Harav Yosef Rosenblum, zt”l

Yosef Rosenblum
The levayah of Harav Yosef Rosenblum, zt”l. (Inset) Harav Rosenblum. (JDN/Aharon Baruch Leibovitz)

BROOKLYN - Thousands of mourners attended the levayah on Wednesday for Harav Avraham Yosef Rosenblum, zt”l, the revered Rosh Yeshivah of Boro Park’s Yeshivah Shaarei Yosher.

Rav Rosenblum, who passed away at the age of 89 on Monday night, acharon shel Pesach, was respected throughout America’s Torah world as a source of pure daas Torah and a father figure who always had the right advice. From his humble home in Boro Park, he guided the klal and the individual with a clarity and purity; he intimately understood the generation’s challenges.

(JDN)

“I’m afraid,” Harav Ephraim Wachsman, the Rosh Yeshivah of Meor Yitzchok in Monsey, said tearfully at the levayah, “that we will have to tear kriah many times in the future when problems will come up and nobody will be available to answer [them].”

Several maspidim emphasized that the Rosh Yeshivah gave his time and energy to people even when he would become ill from it. He would ask family members to follow up on people who came to him for brachos or advice on health issues.

(JDN)

While Rav Rosenblum was known to the broader public for his fiery shmuessen, his overarching distinguishing feature was his astonishing hasmadah and dedication to learning. He was a baki in all facets of Torah, including practical halachah.

A family member related that the Zutchke Rebbe of Bnei Brak told him that while he was in Boro Park, he had on more than one occasion seen the Rosh Yeshivah walking with his hands behind his back, deeply immersed in some topic in Torah — only to realize after a short while that he was in the middle of a store.

Even in recent years, when he was ravaged by illness and barely able to talk to others, those around him often saw his lips were moving, reviewing the vast wealth of sugyos he had committed to memory.

Born in 1928 in Antwerp to Reb Dovid and Chaya Sarah Rosenblum, the Rosh Yeshivah was the only boy in a family of three children. His father, an ehrlicher businessman who had set times to learn every day, was a Radomsker Chassid and his wife came from a family of Gerrer Chassidim. Although Rav Rosenblum studied in litvishe yeshivos, he kept his family’s minhagim with tenacity. Even in his final years, when Parkinson’s disease made putting on a gartel extremely difficult, Rav Rosenblum insisted on it.

“Everyone must adhere to the minhagim of his zeides,” he once emphasized at a family bar mitzvah.

Reb Dovid sent his son to a local cheder under the tutelage of Rav Shraga Shapiro, Hy”d, whom Rav Rosenblum later credited with instilling in him a love for learning.

Seeing that his son was gifted with above-average intelligence and a thirst for Torah, Reb Dovid planned to send him to one of Europe’s great yeshivos when he got older. Sadly, his father’s hopes were dashed in 1941, when the Germans overran Belgium and occupied its cities. Shortly after Rosh Hashanah of that year, the bar mitzvah-aged Avraham Yosef witnessed two SS officers storm into his house and arrest his parents and grandparents.

On Simchas Torah, an uncle took Avraham Yosef and another relative and escaped to safety in Switzerland, and the young boy began learning in a yeshivah in Montreux. He never saw his parents again.

In Monterrey, Avraham Yosef learned together with an older bachur, who later gained fame as Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, with whom he remained close throughout his life. Harav Avrohom Erlanger, Mashgiach in the Mirrer Yeshivah, remembered that the young Rav Rosenblum would regularly spend 16 hours a day learning.

Rav Rosenblum learned there until 1950, when he resolved to travel to learn in the relatively new yeshivah in Lakewood, in America.

Arriving in Penn Station, the 22-year-old Rav Rosenblum knew only one word in English — “Lakewood.” Somehow, this was enough to get him to the yeshivah in New Jersey and to Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, the legendary Rosh Yeshivah whose every word and action governed his life to his last day.

“We never heard him say, ‘Rav Aharon,’ or even ‘my Rosh Yeshivah,’” related Rav Yitzchok Goldberg, a son-in-law, at the levayah. “It was never about him. It was plain that whenever something came up he would consider, ‘What would the Rosh Yeshivah have said? ’”

Upon his arrival to the office of Harav Nosson Wachtfogel, zt”l, the longtime Mashgiach of Lakewood’s Beis Medrash Govoha for his farher, the Mashgiach’s first question was, “Did you eat yet?” Rav Rosenblum hadn’t; Rav Wachtfogel served him breakfast, not commencing the testing until the bachur was fed.

Rav Rosenblum threw himself into learning, immersing himself in every single section of Torah and mastering it. He was able to answer questions on the entire Shas and all four parts of the Shulchan Aruch. He knew all major sifrei Mussar and Chassidus fluently. His familiarity and clarity in halachah led Rav Aharon to encourage him to enter the field of psak and made it clear that he considered Rav Rosenblum, then in his 20s, a reliable posek.

The bachurim in the yeshivah once organized a chaburah to bake matzos. When a she’eilah arose, they called Rav Aharon to decide on the matzos’ status.

“Reb Yosef isn’t among you?” queried the Rosh Yeshivah. Informed that he was, Rav Aharon responded, “So I’m not answering — ask him.”

When Rav Aharon was preparing to leave to Eretz Yisrael in 1953 for the Knessiah Gedolah of Agudas Yisrael, Lakewood’s first mikveh was in its final stages of preparation. The askanim working on the mikveh approached Rav Aharon, who had involved himself in every phase of it, asking to whom they could turn with halachic issues that would inevitably crop up.

“Reb Yosef,” the Rosh Yeshivah said firmly. “You can ask him.”

In the mid-1950s, Rav Rosenblum was suggested to Rachel Leah Davis, the daughter of Harav Yehudah Davis, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshivah of Zichron Mayir in Mountaindale and one of the leading Roshei Yeshivah of the era.

On the day of his chasunah, Rav Rosenblum learned regular sedarim in yeshivah. He arrived at the hall by bus — together with the other bachurim from yeshivah.

The attachment and caring the Rosh Yeshivah had for his devoted Rebbetzin over their more-than-60-year marriage was remarkable.

As a young wife living in Lakewood, the Rebbetzin endured months of caring for her small children by herself as her husband stayed in Brooklyn for the week in his early years as a Maggid Shiur in Shaarei Yosher. Later on, she took care of the finances, allowing him to come to the chasunos of his own children “like a mechutan,” marveled Rav Goldberg, the son-in-law, at the levayah.

Before his children were born, Shabbos seudos for Rav Rosenblum meant singing zemiros, then spending the rest of the time immersed in a Sfas Emes. In later years, as he would partake in the seudah, those who knew him say it was obvious that he was in a different sphere. He would be thinking about a kushya, a svarah. He would sometimes jump up to take a look at a sefer.

“Mommy,” declared Harav Eliyohu Rosenblum at the levayah, “just as Rabi Akiva said about his wife — whatever Tatty did was all yours.”

In 1958, Rav Rosenblum became a Maggid Shiur in the fledgling Shaarei Yosher which opened in Williamsburg and later moved to Boro Park — doubling as its Mashgiach. He served under the venerated Harav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman, zt”l, until the latter’s move to Switzerland in 1963 to take the helm of the Yeshivah of Lucerne. Rav Rosenblum then became the Rosh Yeshivah, a position he held for more than 50 years.

As a Maggid Shiur, Rav Rosenblum could have thrown his mastery of Shas into his shiurim, weaving intricate pilpulim. His derech halimud, however, emphasized knowing the Gemara, Rashi and Tosafos in depth before moving on to Rishonim. He would then introduce the talmidim to the lomdishe aspects of the sugya, all the way to the “reid” of Rav Chaim and Rav Baruch Ber.

A master mechanech, Rav Rosenblum delivered passionate drashos to the talmidim, emphasizing that olam hazeh is only necessary to use to gain olam haba. Whatever is not needed for ruchniyus is extraneous.

Rav Rosenblum’s own life was a living example of this, stated Rav Wachsman. He related that a certain person wishing to gift a sum of money to Rav Rosenblum asked the yeshivah administrator to add it to his weekly salary.

The administrator refused.

“Do you know whom we are talking about?” he said. “Just two weeks ago, the Rosh Yeshivah consummated a shidduch for a bachur in yeshivah and was given $300. He told me that that week he will not accept payment from the yeshivah since he has enough money for the week already. And you think we could just add it to his salary?”

His dedication to his talmidim was extraordinary. He always had a yearning to go to Eretz Yisrael to daven at the mekomos hakedoshim. Yet, aside from one trip — for the chasunah of his Rebbetzin’s brother — he never flew there.

“When I was last there,” he said, “it took me a week to get back to learning.” He felt that the hisorerus gained from davening at mekomos hakedoshim was not worth the lost energy taken from his talmidim.

Rav Rosenblum constantly instilled in his talmidim the requirement for hakaras hatov, particularly to one’s parents. In no uncertain terms, he would say before every bein hazmanim that bachurim can show their parents that they’re learning during the zman by helping out during bein hazmanim.

Above all, the Rosh Yeshivah consistently spoke about the importance of maintaining the highest standards of kedushah and tznius. He was one of the leaders in the battle against technology, deriding smartphones as “the wings of Amalek” in one of his first fiery drashos against it.

Rav Rosenblum believed that cellphones may be used only if they had no capabilities other than voice, and he went to great lengths to ensure that “kosher phones” would be available. He took out large loans, which he personally guaranteed, to fund the kosher-phone project.

His first kosher phone became available more than a decade ago. On the Motzei Shabbos before Pesach, one of the askanim working with him on this project went to bake matzos. The Rosh Yeshivah needed him urgently because he wanted the kosher phones to be on the market before Pesach. When the Rosh Yeshivah called the man’s home, and his wife said he was baking matzos, the Rosh yeshivah thundered, “He’s worrying about matzos? You’ll have matzahs for Pesach — now we have to save Yiddishe neshamos!” Due to Rav Rosenblum’s mesiras nefesh, the kosher phones were available before Pesach.

Once, Rav Rosenblum had to travel by train to Manhattan with one of his sons to a doctor. Emerging from the station, they were immediately confronted by the street’s spiritual challenges. He immediately searched for a stand that sold sunglasses and bought a pair for himself and for his son, which they wore the whole way to the doctor’s office.

“These dark glasses,” Rav Rosenblum commented later, “are only good for someone who truly doesn’t want to look. But if you still want to see, even the darkest glasses won’t help.”

As the years progressed, Rav Rosenblum became known as an address for sage advice. Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshivah often consulted him with issues facing the mosdos or the tzibbur as a whole and referred individuals facing challenges to him. His dedication to helping those who called on him in person or on the phone knew no bounds.

For many years, he first became available for these appointments at 11 p.m., after he had finished night seder and the yeshivah day had ended, and often kept him awake deep into the night. Appointments for 3 a.m. were not uncommon.

Sleeping at his father-in-law’s house one night, Rav Goldberg recalled awakening at 2 a.m. to the sound of screaming from his shver’s office. What happened? There was a person with challenges who required constant uplifting. Since the man was a talmid chacham, Rav Rosenblum invited him to his house for a daily seder in a lomdishe sefer — from 1 a.m. until 2 a.m.

“It was known that people could pop in any time at ‘Rav Rosenblum’s house,’” Rav Goldberg said. “The word ‘ich’ — me — didn’t exist in his dictionary. Whatever we know about him is from others.”

Rav Eliyohu Rosenblum, the Rosh Yeshivah’s son, recalled not knowing that his father was any different than other fathers until he turned 30.

Rav Rosenblum first took ill with Parkinson’s disease about 15 years ago, though he struggled mightily for it not to affect his learning and avodah. His disease wracked his body, but he kept learning until his final hospitalization about ten days ago. His holy neshamah was summoned to Yeshivah shel Ma’aleh Monday night, surrounded by family and talmidim.

Kevurah was at the Vizhnitz beis hachaim in Monsey.

Yehi zichro baruch.