Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Reluctant Rabbi

Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Schwadron (1835-1911) learned modesty and dedication to Torah study from his special father, Reb Moshe, who constantly reviewed different sefarim (holy books) while running a winery in Zlototchov, Galicia. 

Recognized as an exceptional student from an early age, Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Schwadron married his wife Yenta when he was only 16 years old and spent the early years of his marriage being supported by his father-in-law while he continued his Torah studies (a common arrangement at the time). When his father-in-law passed away, Rabbi Schwadron declined numerous offers of rabbinic positions and, instead, followed his father’s mercantile ways. For the next several years, Rabbi Schwadron ran a timber business while pursuing his Torah studies. It was not until he was in his 30s, and war between Austria and Germany (in 1867) resulted in the loss of his business, that Rabbi Schwadron finally accepted a rabbinic position. 

Rabbi Schwadron held rabbinic posts in several different towns before accepting a post in Berzhany (today Ukraine). As his reputation for answering questions on Jewish law grew, he became known as the Gaon (genius) of Brezhan. He is also referred to by the acronym “Maharsham.”

During his over 40 years serving in the rabbinate, Rabbi Schwadron answered thousands of shailot (questions on religious law) from all over the Jewish world. His collected correspondances on these matters were printed in the multi-volume Shailot u’teshuvot Maharsham. He published several other halachic (legal) works as well. 

In addition to his scholastic activities, Rabbi Schwadron was noted for his involvement in communal affairs and for his daily custom of stepping outside to feed the birds. 

Rabbi Schwadron’s yahrtzeit is 16 Shevat. 

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