Dr. Moshe Rothschild Z”l founder of Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center
He was a prestigious physician and visionary who transformed his dreams into reality. He was a yungerman from Switzerland who came to Eretz Yisroel and captured the hearts of the gedolim – and, with their encouragement, established a chareidi hospital in Bnei Brak. Dr. Moshe Rothschild z”l passed away on Shabbos Chol Hamoed this past Sukkos, and with that, Bnei Brak lost one of its most remarkable residents. This is a glimpse into the life of the humble man who served as the personal physician of the gedolei hador, and whose levayah was held on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah, when his tzavaah, which instructed the community to refrain from eulogizing him, had to be fulfilled.
On Shabbos Chol Hamoed Sukkos, the city of Bnei Brak and the chareidi public as a whole lost one of its most remarkable figures: Dr. Moshe Rothschild, the visionary who was responsible for the establishment of Maayanei HaYeshuah Hospital in Bnei Brak. Dr. Rothschild was a close associate and personal physician of gedolei Yisroel both today and in the previous generation, and a man of many remarkable accomplishments.
On the first night of Chol Hamoed, Dr. Rothschild suffered a head injury in his home. He was rushed from his home on Rechov Yonah, where he had personally examined and treated tens of thousands of people over the course of many decades, to Maayanei HaYeshuah Hospital. His condition deteriorated steadily, and the public was asked to daven for him. Over the course of the Yom Tov, the gedolei Yisroel also davened fervently for his recovery. Many festive Sukkos events – including the large Simchas Bais Hashoeivah held every year at the hospital itself – began with the recitation of Tehillim for his recovery.
Shortly after sunrise on Shabbos morning, his condition began to deteriorate drastically. His hospital bed was surrounded by his children and many of his grandchildren, who recited Krias Shema and the tefillos for the moment of the yetzias neshamah. At 1:00 in the afternoon on Shabbos Chol Hamoed, Dr. Rothschild passed away. The family of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who had a close relationship with Dr. Rothschild, related that Rav Chaim commented after his vosikin minyan that he had dreamed that Dr. Rothschild was in need of a yeshuah – and in the afternoon, he dreamed that Dr. Rothschild had passed away.
I would like to share a little-known story about Dr. Rothschild’s humility. This took place several years ago. I do not recall if the idea came from the doctor’s son, Shlomo Rothschild, who infected me with his enthusiasm, or if I was the one who first proposed the idea. Either way, we prepared a file for submission to the committee that selects the recipients of the Israel Prize. Our intent was to enter Dr. Rothschild’s name as a candidate for the prestigious award, under the category of lifetime achievement. Maayanei HaYeshuah, a thriving medical center, is the brainchild of one physician, born in Switzerland, who settled in Bnei Brak after immigrating to Israel. How many people in the State of Israel can pride themselves on such an accomplishment? How many people can claim that they realized such a remarkable lifelong ambition?
Shlomo Rothschild, who serves today as the director-general of the hospital, finds his admiration for his father growing steadily as he pursues the task of managing the institution. Today, he reveals, an entire team of workers is needed to perform the tasks that were once handled by Dr. Rothschild alone. Shlomo has discovered that his father was extremely frugal with the hospital’s money, yet he took advantage of every opportunity to make a valuable improvement. From his father’s experiences, Shlomo has learned that dreams sometimes come true – especially if they are the dreams of a man of action such Dr. Rothschild.
In any event, we put together a file that included the enthusiastic recommendations of a wide range of people – doctors and other medical professionals, prominent rabbonim, and influential politicians. We assembled a large number of recommendations, even though we felt that the facts spoke for themselves: Maayanei HaYeshuah is a highly visible landmark in Bnei Brak, the only city in Gush Dan. A motorist on Route 4 cannot fail to see the large sign identifying the medical center. At that time, the foundations were being laid for another building, which was supposed to include a cardiac institute and, potentially, a psychiatric center. But deof the hospital’s reputation and visibility, we collected many recommendations from prominent people in a variety of fields. Officially, the request was submitted by Ariel Attias, the Minister of Housing at the time.
We had no doubt that Dr. Rothschild’s candidacy would earn sweeping support. We were almost certain that he would be selected as the winner of that year’s lifetime achievement award. There was only one thing that we failed to take into account: The only person who was capable of preventing a nominee from receiving the award was the candidate himself. We were not concerned about that eventuality, because we did not envision it happening. But ultimately, Dr. Rothschild himself forced the withdrawal of the application.
That was Dr. Moshe Rothschild. He eschewed awards and fled from honor just as any person would flee from a blazing fire. When I interviewed him 35 years ago, while he was in the process of carrying out his dream to build a chareidi hospital, he even insisted that his name not be mentioned in the article.
Dr. Rothschild was 89 years old when he passed away at the end of a long, rich life filled with accomplishments.
Moshe Rothschild was born in Switzerland. His father, who was known as a “chover” – the term used in the Yekkishe community for a person who observes halacha meticulously and runs a Torahdike home – was one of the most prominent members of the Jewish community of Zurich. His mother was a daughter of Rabbi Nosson Weil, who was responsible for the founding of Torah institutions in Zurich and was also one of the founders of the yeshiva in Aix-les-Baines. As a bochur, Dr. Rothschild was a talmid in the yeshiva near Antwerp (which later relocated to Lucerne) under the aegis of Rav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman. He later went on to learn in Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Monterey, where he came in contact with two illustrious gedolei Torah: Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and Rav Moshe Soloveitchik. Dr. Rothschild went on to maintain close relationships with both gedolim for the remainder of their lives. For decades, the doctor, who lived in close proximity to Rav Shteinman’s home, davened in the same vosikin minyan as the gadol in the Divrei Shir shul. On his way home from davening every Friday night, Dr. Rothschild would visit Rav Shteinman in his home to receive his brocha.
Two other gedolim whom he considered close personal friends were Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the Ponovezher Rov, and Rav Yonason Shteif. After he settled in Bnei Brak, Dr. Rothschild also became close with the Steipler Gaon. He had a unique capacity for earning the affection of the gedolei Yisroel, who recognized his extraordinary character and invested their complete trust in him.
After he settled in Bnei Brak, and even more so after Maayanei HaYeshuah was founded, Dr. Rothschild found himself in constant communication with the gedolei hador. He established a rabbinic committee to oversee every decision that would be made in the hospital. The committee was headed by Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner zt”l and ybl”c Rav Nissim Karelitz. As a result, Dr. Rothschild was in contact with both rabbonim on a daily basis. Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein later joined the ranks of the official poskim of the hospital, and Dr. Rothschild found himself interacting with them regularly as well. Rav Zilberstein also delivers regular shiurim to medical professionals on behalf of the hospital; many of those shiurim have been compiled into a number of seforim that offer fundamental guidance to any observant doctor.
After his stint in Monterey, Dr. Rothschild attended medical school. He became an expert physician, as well as an expert mohel. After his arrival in Eretz Yisroel, he spent a period of time working at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Yerushalayim alongside the famed Dr. Wallach.
When Dr. Rothschild was offered a shidduch in Switzerland to a daughter of Rav Nosson Lang zt”l, he returned to the country of his birth to begin his marriage. Even after he began practicing medicine, Dr. Rothschild maintained an intensive learning regimen; he was involved in harbotzas Torah and kiruv, and was active in Agudas Yisroel. Few people are aware that he was heavily involved in rescuing Jewish children who had been hidden in monasteries and with non-Jewish families during the Holocaust. Most of these children’s parents were slaughtered by the Nazis, and if not for the efforts of the young Dr. Rothschild, they would likely have grown up believing that they had been born into Christianity.
When Dr. Rothschild moved to Israel in 1970, he settled in Bnei Brak and gradually became one of the most highly regarded residents of the city. He began learning in kollel, while he worked as a pediatrician, a family doctor, and a mohel. The years that he spent practicing medicine led him to recognize the need for a chareidi hospital. Eventually, he began speaking openly about the idea, and the rabbonim of Bnei Brak encouraged him to bring his vision to fruition.
During his medical career, Dr. Rothschild served as the personal physician of many gedolei Yisroel, including Rav Shach, the Steipler, and Rav Yechezkel Levenstein. He also traveled on occasion to Netivot, at the request of Rav Yisroel Abuchatzeirah, the Baba Sali, and he became close with two of the other roshei yeshiva of Ponovezh, Rav Shmuel Rozovsky and Rav Shlomo Berman. He cared for both roshei yeshiva throughout their respective illnesses with awe-inspiring dedication. Rav Shach and the Steipler both supported Dr. Rothschild throughout the process of establishing his new hospital, and they remained staunchly supportive after the hospital had opened as well.
He was known for his unique bond with the Ponovezher Rov. Dr. Rothschild often accompanied the Rov on his fundraising trips on behalf of the yeshiva. As a faithful talmid, the doctor would set aside all of his regular activities and join the Rov on his lengthy trips abroad. Dr. Rothschild once commented that the hospital would not have been founded without the influence of the Ponovezher Rov, since it was the Rov who had taught him that it was possible for his dream of building a hospital to come to fruition. “Everyone dreams,” the Ponovezher Rov had told him, “but only a handful of people make sacrifices to turn their dreams into reality.” That was what the Ponovezher Rov did when he rebuilt the Torah world in Eretz Yisroel after it was decimated during the Holocaust, and Dr. Rothschild followed his example with the establishment of Maayanei HaYeshuah. The hospital was the result of the vision of one man, who spared no effort to make his dream come true.
There is much that could be written about the hospital. Today, a visitor to Maayanei HaYeshuah will be impressed by the large, beautifully designed building, and will be equally amazed by its wide corridors and brightly lit, welcoming interior. The hospital is always immaculate. Dr. Rothschild was meticulous about cleanliness and sterility, and his extreme caution radiated to the entire hospital staff. Maayanei HaYeshuah is considered an extremely efficient institution, staffed by a handpicked team of prestigious doctors. Professor Motti Ravid, the director of the hospital today, is an internationally acclaimed expert on diabetes and blood pressure. He is often interviewed by the Israeli media as a medical expert and is the author of many professional articles. He is one of the many reasons that Maayanei HaYeshuah occupies a place of distinction in the world of Israeli medicine.
Despite his age, Dr. Rothschild was never willing to rest on his laurels. He was constantly seeking new ways to improve and develop the hospital’s services. About a decade ago, when he was 80 years old, he decided to open a chareidi psychiatric hospital alongside Maayanei HaYeshuah. A chareidi patient who requires professional psychiatric treatment obviously should be seen by a professional who is likewise religiously observant. There are many aspects of a condition that can be properly understood only by a professional with a religious background. For instance, a person who is compulsive about netilas yodayim will be viewed very differently by a chiloni professional than by a religious psychiatrist, who will recognize the anxiety about halacha that is the basis of his problem. And in some cases, the “solutions” prescribed by secular doctors for patients suffering from mental health disorders are completely forbidden by the Torah. But aside from all that, there is also the simple fact that a chareidi patient will always be more comfortable in a chareidi environment. Dr. Rothschild once said that providing a comfortable religious environment for a chareidi patient is not merely an issue of halacha and religion – which might make it a “luxury” from a medical standpoint – but is also part and parcel of the medical treatment. The healing process itself is advanced by an environment that is familiar and comfortable to the patient, and the reverse is also true; chas veshalom, when a patient finds himself in an environment that is hostile or distressing – for instance, if his roommates engage in chillul Shabbos, or he is under the care of
nurses who do not understand the chareidi sensitivities regarding matters of tznius – it can set back his recovery.
After receiving the brachos of the gedolim, Dr. Rothschild succeeded in bringing that dream to fruition as well. Ten years later, his new mental health institution was established alongside Maayanei HaYeshuah Hospital. Today, thousands of patients are treated in the mental hospital, both in its inpatient facilities and in outpatient clinics, all of which are housed in a magnificent building. Dr. Rothschild celebrated the last Sukkos of his life with even greater joy than usual, thanks to the opening of a new eating disorder clinic within the hospital. This is an area in which adequate resources had never before existed for chareidi patients. Dr. Rothschild was pleased and even planned to travel abroad after Sukkos to raise funds for the facility.
Decades ago, I wrote weekly interviews for Hamachaneh Hachareidi, the weekly publication of the Belzer chassidus. At the time, it was the only chareidi publication aside from the Agudah’s party newspaper. As a result, it was a highly influential and popular periodical. When I was asked to interview Dr. Rothschild, I was excited to do so. I had always admired him, and our families were friendly. He was our doctor, and my father and Dr. Rothschild hailed from similar families and were the same age. The idea for the interview came from people who were interested in promoting the construction of the chareidi hospital in Bnei Brak, an initiative that was in its infancy at the time. The problem was that Dr. Rothschild avoided interviews. This particular one was forced on him and it was difficult for him to accept it. At first, he refused to allow his name to be mentioned in the article, but he eventually realized that it was impossible for him to remain anonymous. He also refused to be photographed.
In my introduction to the article, I wrote the following: “Without any proclamations in bold print, without boasting or self-aggrandizement,
and with an investment of exhausting and awe-inspiring effort – that is, with all the characteristics of all the truly great things that have ever been built – one of the most wondrous and unbelievable visions in history is taking shape before our very eyes. Maayanei HaYeshuah Medical Center, the hospital of Bnei Brak, is on the road to being completed… This hospital, which will serve all the residents of Gush Dan, has been built for several reasons. The fact that a city with about 100,000 residents does not have a single hospital, or even an emergency room, set off a red light before the eyes of certain visionaries. But even more importantly, those men were driven by a problem shared by tens of thousands of faithful religious Jews, who have no choice but to seek medical treatment from doctors whose world views are far removed from the philosophies that we espouse – and who have endured all the hardships, the anguish, and the various problems that come along with that.”
Those words were written 35 years ago. By now, Maayanei HaYeshuah has become a well-established institution, and the population of Bnei Brak has since doubled. When I attributed the initiative to “certain visionaries,” I was actually referring only to Dr. Rothschild himself. The doctor had vehemently adjured me not to praise him in any way, and I was therefore forced to attribute the initiative to anonymous visionaries, rather than mentioning him by name.
I also wrote the following: “That dream is steadily taking shape: a hospital run completely in accordance with the Torah. From the beepers attached to the doctors’ white coats, the familiar beeps are often followed by messages such as ‘We are waiting for you for davening,’ or ‘Rav Zilberstein is waiting for you in the hospital director’s office,’ or even ‘Someone brought cakes without a hechsher; the nurse wants to know what to do.’ The doctors sport tzitzis, there are separate wards for men and women, the food is strictly kosher, and a rabbinic committee oversees every decision made in the hospital.” All these things, which are now routine, seemed at the time like the stuff of dreams.
I concluded the introduction by noting, “This article does not contain the usual profile of the subject of this interview. I did not wish to omit those details, but I gave my word that I would not sing his praises, and I am obligated to keep my promise. If I failed to observe that commitment to the fullest, I apologize.”
I will quote only a few choice excerpts of that interview. From Dr. Rothschild’s answers, we can learn a great deal about the man and his vision, about the extraordinary care he took to preserve the honor and dignity of others – including other hospitals – and about his adamant refusal to speak about himself. From my experience as a seasoned interviewer, I can tell you that this is far from easy for anyone who finds himself in the spotlight.
What is your motivation for building a chareidi hospital?
“Bnei Brak is a city with 105,000 residents, kein yirbu, yet it lacks the vital services of a hospital. That alone is a reason that there is a pressing need for a hospital, even before we discuss the uniqueness of a religious hospital. As for your question, a chareidi patient has specific requirements, some of which are a product of his world view. Such a patient would prefer for the medical staff treating him and for the decision makers in the hospital to share his perspective on the world and on halacha. This affects many things: choosing a medical treatment, deciding whether to operate, consulting with gedolei Yisroel, and, of course, issues such as kashrus, Shabbos, tznius and the like. For these reasons, a religious patient would prefer to be treated in a religious hospital, where every decision is made on the basis of the Torah’s laws.”
Is it feasible to establish a modern, advanced hospital that meets those criteria?
“That is what we are trying to do.”
Is there a precedent in which hospital of that nature has been successful?
“There are other hospitals that have succeeded to a large extent. It will be a miracle if we are one hundred percent successful, but it is still possible for us to succeed to a certain degree. We hope that we will achieve the maximum possible.”
What sort of problems are encountered by a chareidi patient in a secular hospital for which you can provide halachic solutions?
“I don’t want to build my hospital based on the negative aspects of other institutions. But I will tell you a typical story. A prominent individual from our city of Bnei Brak became severely ill and I referred him for hospitalization. He shared a hospital room with several other patients, one of whom was a high-ranking officer in the army. The latter wanted to turn on the television on Shabbos, which was something that the chareidi patient could not tolerate. He insisted that the television must remain off, but his irreligious roommate ignored him and turned on the device. espite his illness and his weakened state, the chareidi patient fled from the hospital and returned to his home; that was how much he was disturbed by this incident. There are other issues as well, including problems of kashrus or tznius…”
In the course of that interview, we spoke at length about his hospital’s interactions with the Health Ministry and about the ministry’s obligations toward every citizen of Israel, including the chareidim. We also discussed how he planned to rise to the challenge of keeping the hospital’s budget balanced. It was clear that he had some negative things to say about the country’s health system, but he held his tongue. I perceived that he had some definitive opinions about the government’s failures in this area, but he refrained from assigning blame, making it sound as if the problems were inherent to the situation in the country, rather than the fault of the establishment. “There is discrimination against the religious hospitals,” he admitted, “but it is not the result of malice directed specifically at religious hospitals. Rather, it results from a poorly conceived approach.” He expressed certainty that the Health Ministry would provide funding for the hospital in Bnei Brak, even though that assistance was not yet forthcoming.
I asked him to contrast his hospital with its religious counterpart in Yerushalayim, Shaare Tzedek Medical Center. “A chareidi hospital must be run completely in accordance with the dictates of its poskim, without any deviation,” he said. The clear implication was that Shaare Tzedek’s lack of success, in his view, was the result of certain actions that the hospital had taken in violation of the wishes of its rabbonim. He described certain things that had been done at Maayanei HaYeshuah at the behest of its rabbonim even during the construction process (such as the construction of a maakeh on the roof and a separate elevator for niftarim), and he spoke about his efforts to reduce expenses. For instance, instead of purchasing cement, which was often imported, at high prices, the hospital purchased machinery that produced cement. The idea was brilliant and the savings were enormous. At the beginning of our interview, Dr. Rothschild made an important comment: “The psychological component is one of the main ingredients in illness and recovery. Today, no one disputes that fact. Therefore, an observant patient will recover much more quickly in a hospital that is run in a manner that suits him.”
Dr. Rothschild spoke about the miracles that he witnessed on a daily basis, and he revealed the source of the hospital’s name. “Our hospital will be named MiMaayanei HaYeshuah Medical Center,” he said. Ultimately, the first “mem” was dropped from its name. “We made this decision several years ago. It is to be named after one of our first donors, Reb Yehoshua Frishvasser. He wanted the hospital to be named ‘Mayim Chaim Ohel Yehoshua,’ and we told him that the word for ‘mayim chaim’ is ‘maayan’ – a spring – and that ‘Yehoshua’ is another form of ‘yeshuah.’ That is the origin of the name.”
Why are you calling it a medical center, rather than a hospital?
“So that the patients who come to this institution will know that it is a place of healing, not a place of sickness.”
After the first day of Sukkos this year, the news quickly spread that the founder of Maayanei HaYeshuah had been admitted to his own hospital. It was only the next day that the public learned that his condition was deteriorating, and over the following four days, people throughout the country davened fervently for his recovery. The gedolei Yisroel monitored his situation closely. On Shabbos Chol Hamoed, Dr. Rothschild davened vosikin – as he had done throughout his life – and in the afternoon, his pure soul ascended to Shomayim.
The levayah was held on the night of Hoshana Rabbah. Because of the timing and the Yom Tov itself, hespeidim were not delivered. This, in fact, was something that Dr. Rothschild had requested in his tzava’ah. He was a man who recoiled from the slightest show of honor, and he asked to be given a “modest” levayah, a request that was fulfilled by virtue of the time when it took place. Nevertheless, his levayah was attended by many participants led by the gedolei Yisroel, including Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Gershon Edelstein. Dr. Rothschild was buried in the Ponovezher bais hachaim in Bnei Brak.
The doctor is survived by his wife and seventeen children. One of his sons, Reb Micha, has been hospitalized in Maayanei HaYeshuah for many years after being critically injured in a car accident that left him unconscious. Reb Micha was a prominent askan and a remarkable individual, who was responsible for many revolutionary developments that benefited the chareidi community in many areas, especially with regard to housing and communications.
Dr. Rothschild’s children married into many prestigious families. One of his sonsin- law, Rabbi Nosson Kessler zt”l, passed away during his lifetime. Dr. Rothschild’s son, Reb Shlomo, is the director-general of Maayanei HaYeshuah today, and has demonstrated tremendous talent and resourcefulness, following in the footsteps of his father.
After Dr. Rothschild’s passing, the poskim of Maayanei HaYeshuah – Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, Rav Moshe Shaul Klein, Rav Sariel Rosenberg, and the rov of the hospital, Rav Yosef Hoffner – published a proclamation that was unusually effusive: “We mourn and grieve following the passing of a pillar of chesed and action, the man who founded Maayanei HaYeshuah Medical Center, the premier institution of chesed, on behalf of the gedolei Yisroel and with boundless dedication, and who cared for it until the end of his life while submitting to the authority of the gedolei hador, Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner zt”l and Rav Nissim Karelitz…. He is to be credited for the proper observance of Shabbos by tens of thousands of people, and, of course, for the preservation of kedushah and tznius.”