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2 Adar I, 5782 - February 3, 2022 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Life and Life's Work of HaRav Shimon Schwab

by Rav Yosef Fleischman


Part IV

For Part III of this series click here.

For Part V of this series click here.

Editorial note: The article was written and published in 1995/5755 in the months following the petiroh of HaRav Shimon Schwab zt"l. This year on Purim Katan will be the 27th yahrtzeit.

In the first three parts, we read about Rav Schwab's family and early education in Germany, as well as the eastern European yeshivos: Telshe and Mir. The third part told of his experiences as a young rav in Ichenhausen in the early years of Hitler, ym'sh. This week's installment tells of his first job in the U.S.A. in Baltimore, Maryland.

At the time of Rav Schwab's arrival in the United States in 1936, Baltimore was known as the Yerushalayim of America. After New York, it was the first city to open a day school and, seventeen years later, in 1934, Rav Yaakov Ruderman, one of the prominent talmidim of the famous Slobodka Yeshiva in Russia, chose Baltimore to start his Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. All of the Baltimore shuls except one considered themselves orthodox and even the one conservative shul conducted itself largely in the orthodox tradition.

However, even though Baltimore may have been considered first rate by American standards, America had definitely earned its reputation as the "treif medina." Rav Schwab himself describes the scene in Selected Essays (88): "When I came to this country, Orthodoxy meant the observance of Shabbos and kashrus, which usually involved great sacrifices. But it also meant shuls without proper mechitzos, clothing without tsnius, married women without hair covering, mixed swimming, social dancing and a peaceful relationship between the so-called three branches of Judaism. It also meant membership in country clubs, subscriptions to the opera and the legitimate theater, flags surrounding the Aron Kodesh, Sunday school and Hebrew School in the afternoon, and an annual ball to raise funds for the shul."

Problems in the Shearith Israel Shul

Perhaps the greatest nisoyon facing any American Jew of that time was chilul Shabbos. It was almost impossible for a person to find employment which would be free of chilul Shabbos. Most factories and stores kept regular hours on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The official work week was five-and-a-half days

To compound the difficulties, it was the time of the Depression and employers felt in control. A worker was happy to obtain any work at all. Thus, a large number of Jews who came to America were nichshal in chilul Shabbos. It was only the giborei chayil who, through great mesiras nefesh, were able to remain shomer Shabbos.

Rav Schwab's congregation also suffered with this problem. The shul had already been in existence for about a century and had written in its bylaws that anyone who is a mechalel Shabbos can not be a voting member. Nonetheless, the vast majority of those who attended regularly were, in fact, mechalel Shabbos. They considered themselves orthodox but were mechalel Shabbos nonetheless.

The shul on Glen Avenue

To circumvent the bylaws and be able to participate in the shul, the shul had formed a brotherhood in which anyone who davened in the shul could be a member, regardless of his level of shemiras Shabbos. The only difference which remained was that members of the brotherhood could not participate in elections. The brotherhood consisted of approximately two hundred members.

Shortly after Rav Schwab took up his duties, he was approached by the members of the brotherhood with a request that the bylaws of the shul be amended so as to enable all participants in the shul — including mechalelei Shabbos — to become full fledged members. In addition to the halachic issue involved, Rav Schwab realized that if this request were granted, the shul would go downhill and soon would be orthodox in name and minhag only. He thus requested time to consider how best to respond and turned once again to Rabbi Leo Jung of New York, the man who had helped Rav Schwab obtain the job in the first place.

Rabbi Jung wrote a letter upholding the old bylaws and ruling that it was osur to amend the bylaws. Upon receiving this psak, the members of the brotherhood seceded from the shul and formed a new shul known as Beth Jacob. Thus, in a short time, the membership of Rav Schwab's shul was literally decimated. Rav Schwab himself writes (Selected Speeches 158), "I still remember that when I came to Baltimore, there was a membership of barely two minyanim in our shul but all were shomrei Shabbos."

With such a small membership, the shul often had no minyan during the week. Further with such a small congregation the shul couldn't afford to pay a very large salary to its rabbi either. Thus, Rav Schwab himself couldn't make ends meet and was constantly forced to borrow money.

Rav Schwab received a great deal of chizuk when Reb Elchonon Wassermann Hy'd came to Baltimore. He stayed with Rav Schwab for about a week and was mechazek him that the decision he had made was the proper one. Once when someone pointed out to Reb Elchonon the imposing edifice that housed the shul formed by the mechalelei Shabbos, Reb Elchonon commented, "Nothing will come of a shul formed in order to be mechalel Shabbos."

The shul on Glen Avenue

In later years Reb Elchonon's words were realized. Rav Schwab often noted that his former shul known as The Glen Avenue Shul is bustling with minyanim whereas the Beth Jacob is a now a small congregation.

Rav Schwab's background in the Frankfurt of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch made him singularly qualified to fight such a battle against hisbolelus. One of the major features of Rav Hirsch's philosophy is, as was mentioned previously, austritt: that frum Jews are not allowed to belong to any organization based upon kefirah.

In the Germany of Rav S.R. Hirsch, religion and state were not separate. Thus, if someone was Jewish, he had to be a member of the organized Jewish community. In Rav Hirsch's day, in many cities most Jews were Reform and thus the orthodox Jews had to be part of the community even though it was run by kofrim.

Rav Hirsch fought against this law for about twenty-five years until finally, in 1876, the Prussian Parliament passed a law which granted Jews the right to secede from the main Jewish community and form their own independent community. Even after that, Rav Hirsch had to battle against some orthodox Jews who felt that separation from the larger collective community was not necessary and perhaps even counter productive. (For more background material see Shemesh Marpeh, Biography, Chapter 7, or Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch by Rabbi Eliahu Klugman).

Rav Schwab writes at length in Selected Speeches, Chapter 17 about Rav Hirsch's principles and how he was nurtured on them. One lesson he learned (page 212), "Learn how to withstand animosity and to weather unpopularity, and to carry on the struggle to uphold Hashem's ideals."

The Separation of White from Black

Another principle which guided Rav Schwab and was involved in this battle as well, is the generalized principle of austritt. As stated by Rav Schwab in the abovementioned article, "There can be no compromise with minus. Rather one must seek complete separation from those who deny the authenticity of the Torah... One must therefore separate oneself from such movements as secular Zionism, which promotes the concept that the Jews can be like any other nation. One must secede from any organization that includes such movements."

Thus, although the battle to keep people who weren't shomrei Shabbos wasn't exactly the same type of battle as that waged by Rav Hirsch, it was still in a similar vein since someone who is a mechalel Shabbos befarhesya is considered to be a mumar since Shabbos is so central to Judaism.

A third message which Rav Schwab took from Rav Hirsch is that just like Eliyahu, who was known as mekanei leHashem Zevokos, saw, that before the kol demomo dakko came the fire and the wind, so it is with Hashem's battles: before peace can reign sometimes fire and storm must precede. Those who fight for Hashem are always labeled divisive, and said to be people who breed sinas chinom and the like, but Hashem taught otherwise. When one fights for Hashem, one must fight lesheim Shomayim and true peace will come at last but one does not start with peaceful complacency.

Rav Schwab continues by explaining how he was nurtured on Rav Hirsch's philosophy. He writes, "In my parents' household, Rav Hirsch's presence and influence were still strongly felt. There was a picture of Rav Hirsch on the mantelpiece and my grandfather had written under it: Ho'emess vehasholom ehavu. After all, this was the crux of Rav Hirsch's philosophy."

He continues, "The period of my adolescence still reverberates with the thunderous speeches of Rav Shlomo Breuer zt'l who continued to uphold the principle of ein sholom omar Hashem laresho'im. As a young man I read all the pages of the Jeshurun and the essays of Rav Hirsch have become part of my consciousness."

One more principle which Rav Schwab doesn't mention directly, but also probably was gleaned from Rav Hirsch, is that battles aren't won in one day. Battles are won through perseverance. Rav Hirsch could stick to his battle for twenty-five years until success was his. Shlomo says, "Sheva yipol tzaddik vekom," the tzaddik may fall seven times but yet rise up.

Rav Schwab saw himself as a successor to Rav Hirsch: a fighter for Hashem. At the end of his days he would remark, "I have fought many battles and I feel I have won all of them." The fight over membership for non-shomer Shabbos was thus one of the first, and in a sense one of the most difficult, battles which Rav Schwab waged on behalf of Hashem.

The principle of austritt as well kept on being a subject of Rav Schwab's battles even into the twilight of his career. He fought in his own kehilla as well as amongst the greater Orthodox community against joining in any way with non-frum organizations. In his own kehilla of Washington Heights in New York City he was preceded by Rav Hirsch's grandson, Rav Yosef Breuer zt'l who already had set the tone by refusing to join — and by speaking out against joining — any organization that even included non-frum elements.

Rav Breuer's kehilla never had been part of an organization like the RCA. Rav Schwab was very proud that his yeshiva would not take any money from the Federation (the general Jewish charity of New York City that is controlled by non religious Jews). In fact, he felt that taking money from the Federation would hinder a school from producing proper talmidim.

We find in the gemora Bava Metzia 85B the famous story of Rav Chia who prevented Torah from being forgotten from Klal Yisroel by making all the proper preparations for students to learn Torah. Thus, he felt, one would be doing the opposite by taking money for a yeshiva from a non-frum organization like the Federation.

He would speak at the Aguda convention and say (Essays 89), "We address ourselves to our chaveirim bede'ah, our achim bemitzvos of the Orthodox rabbinate of America. Ad mosay? How long do you want to remain a branch, without becoming a part of the tree? For how long would you like to be a member of a joint brotherhood with the meisisim and <>medichim?"

He goes on to explain that this is what our generation must take from Hashem's command to those congregated near Korach, and Doson and Aviram's tent, "Separate yourselves from the tents of these wicked people."

Support for Agudas Yisroel

This guided Rav Schwab on a personal level as well. We will see later that Rav Schwab was a staunch Agudist but when the Agudas Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948, Rav Schwab cabled Rav I.M. Levin to say that he is immediately resigning from the organization.

Later on, when the question of the Aguda's joining the government arose, he stood firmly opposed. Even when in his later years Rav Schwab would be the keynote speaker at the convention of Agudas Yisroel of America he would not speak at the same session as any representatives of the Israeli Aguda. He saw all the above as being a violation of the principles of austritt and not in adherence with the Aguda's original goals.

On the other hand, Rav Schwab was not one who said kablu da'ati. He recognized that the Aguda had other gedolim on which to base their actions. But he saw himself and his kehilla as being talmidim and followers of Rav Hirsch's derech and thus he had to be honest to Rav Hirsch and himself and act accordingly.

He even saw Rav Hirsch's opponent in the battle for Austritt, Rav Seligmann Ber Bamberger, the rav of Wurzburg, as being a person who was a big tzaddik and likewise a locheim lesheim Shomayim and, therefore, had the highest respect for him (cf. Speeches 209-210). However, one has to have a certain derech in hashkofo and, for himself and his kehilla, it was the derech of Rav S.R. Hirsch.

Of course, when his opponents had no proper hashkofo on which to base their actions as was the case with the shita of Torah umada then Rav Schwab was outspoken and unequivocal but in a case such as the Aguda in Eretz Yisroel Rav Schwab kept his opposition mostly to himself.

Continued ...


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