Translated by Melanie Rosenberg
Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Hacohen Schwadron was considered to be the Mashiv, the ultimate rabbinical authority of his generation. He was recognized by the top rabbinical leaders of the day as a giant in the realm of Jewish education, renowned for his greatness in Torah knowledge and spiritual piety. Devoting these talents to the perfection of halachic understanding, the rabbi became the highest authority (posek) on questions of Jewish observance. No less a personage than the distinguished Mashiv, the sage Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanzon, looked upon Rabbi Schwadron as his spiritual successor, saying, I see no one in this generation who is a Talmid Chacham of his caliber.
Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Hacohen became the Mashiv HaDor, the ultimate rabbinical authority not only for the rabbis of Galicia, Poland and even Lithuania, but for the entire Disapora. The reputation of the sage of Barzhan reached far and wide, and from his 6-volume book Responsa from the RASH'AM(Rabbi Shalom Mordechai) as well as Ways of Peace we note that he received difficult, complex questions on educational matters from petitioners as far distant as America, Australia, China and Japan. Leading rabbis of great stature, among them Rabbi Meir Arik of Tarnov, also turned to him, acknowledging his superior authority on educational matters. Rabbi Shmuel Yankel of Radomishlah and Rabbi Nachum Weidenfeld from Dombrova, the Admor ( Hasidic master) of Sanibedg and other celebrated rabbis, also considered Rabbi Schwadron as the highest posek.
In the educational world, great importance was attached to his works Mishpat Shalom (Laws of Peace) on Choshen Mishpat (a section of the Shulchan Aruch), which offered interpretations on the Shulchan Aruch, and Hagahot V'Hidushim al Shas Ohr haChaim(Interpretations of the Talmud, Ohr Ha Chaim), Darchei Shalom (Paths of Peace) on Talmud and its commentators, Hagahot MRRSHG al HaShas (Interpretations of Rabbi Shimon Greenfeld on the Talmud). Yet it was the publication of three additional compositions by Rabbi Schwadron which aroused the greatest notice in the world of Torah and education: Da'at Torah (Torah Wisdom) on the laws of kosher slaughter, Galui Da'at (Manifesto) on sections 61-69 of the Talmudic book Yoreh De'ah (dealing with issues of ritual slaughter) and about the laws of kashrut. Yet a wave of criticism followed the publication of Galui Da'at. Several leading rabbis of the day took issue with Rabbi Shwadron's tendency towards leniency in various matters. One prominent opponent was Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Shapira, author of Darchei Tshuvah (Paths of Repentance), head of the rabbinical court of Monkatch, who claimed that certain of Rabbi Schwadron's rulings were based on very shaky foundations. In a show of great humility, Rabbi Schwadron responded by stating that his publication solely reflected his own personal opinion and that each and every teacher was entitled to make authoritative decisions based on his own conviction. Yet in practice, educators in Israel looked to Rabbi Schwadron for instruction, holding his directives as holy. Further credence was given to his stance with the publication of a special addenda to the book Galui Da'at called The Final Pamphlet. In this work, the rabbi took on his detractors, clarifying the interpretations and directives in question and posturing a firm premise for his positions.
Rabbi Shalom Schwadron was also distinguished in his knowledge of Jewish legend and was well-versed in all sources of research and interpretation. He became renowned for his original ideas in Jewish thought, as presented in his book on Torah, T'chelet Mordechai. Further, he was an eloquent orator, famed for emoting pearls of wisdom which left a lasting impression upon his listeners.
Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Hacohen merited great respect for his activities on behalf of public welfare. As deeply involved as he was in the education world, he would leave the four walls of the yeshiva in order to voice his opinions on matters of importance to the community. He assumed bold stands on issues which he deemed to be crucial to the needs of the time.
In 1902, Rabbi Schwadron issued an appeal on behalf of supporting yeshivot and Talmidei Torah (the school system) which began with the verse, and the Cohen (high priest) went out unto the people. Even at that point, he was keenly aware of the urgency to organize the haredi public to strengthen their educational establishment. He was tapped to come to America to reestablish the post of chief rabbi of the New York Kollel, yet fully cognizant of the significance of that city's large concentration of Jews and future as a major Jewish center, Rabbi Schwadron felt himself too elderly for such a prestigious post and suggested a younger rabbi in his stead.
Rabbi Schwadron established a yeshiva in Barzhan called Tushiah (Wisdom) with the goal of making it the first in a wide network of yeshivot. Indeed, a number of outstanding, erudite Torah scholars emerged from Tushiah to bolster the spirit of Torah in Jewish communities throughout Galicia. The rabbi was committed to the improvement and innovation of education in the heder. Toward this aim, he commissioned a renowned haredi pedagogue, Dr. Yosef Zeliger, to develop a blueprint for a new, more sophisticated educational curriculum. Yet the entire project was squelched due to the rigid opposition of certain noted haredi circles, with the admor (master) of the Belz Hasidim at the helm.
In 1908 a major assembly of rabbis was convened in Lvov devoted to making financial arrangements for the Galician Kollel (yeshiva) of Rabbi Meir Ba'al HaNes in the Land of Israel. Deliberations from this gathering were prominently reported in the Jewish media of the day. Due to the vast spectrum of ideological stands represented among the delegates, the fear of dissention was noticeably present. For this reason, the participants voted unanimously to select a capable chairman acceptable to all: Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Hacohen Schwadron, the sage of Barzhan. So effective was the rabbi's leadership that just before the conference ended, a prestigious admor approached him saying, Please, Rabbi, give me a blessing. To the astonishment of those gathered, Rabbi Schwadron responded by reciting the traditional priestly cohen blessing.
In his behavior and his daily conduct, Rabbi Schwadron showed no hint of favoritism or partiality. In his study of Torah, he was humble and took advantage of no man. At the venerable age of 70, the rabbi himself rose to take books from the shelves, never demanding the services of others. Exhibiting humility and simplicity, he avoided lording authority over others. Each morning he would step outside his home to scatter seeds for the birds and chickens. Rabbi Schwadron was also honored and respected by those outside the Jewish community: judges from the district court would frequently consult with him on particularly complex judicial matters.
His home was the headquarters for the Central Committee, and here he tended to hundreds of inquiries and petitions daily regarding questions of what is permitted and what is forbidden, religion and law, kabbala, ritual slaughter, rabbinic ordination, the freeing of agunot, and more. Great was the rabbi's diligence in addressing these matters, as well as his rigorous tenacity towards learning. He was accustomed to making a schedule each day, assigning hours to the study of gemara, shulchan aruch, and other commentators. He never missed his regular daily lessons which included 25 chapters of Bible (Prophets and Writings), one section of mishnayot, and 18 pages of gemara.
He was born in 1835 in one of the villages in the Zelochov district in eastern Galicia. His father, Reb Moshe Hachoen, a serious scholar in his own right, was committed to securing an outstanding Torah education for his son from very early childhood.
Rabbi Schwadron's first teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Ashkenazi, noted that while he originally related to young Shalom Mordechai as a student, he later became a close friend. Eventually the tables turned completely and Rabbi Ashkenazi acknowledged his former pupil as his own rabbi.
Rabbi Schwadron's first rabbinical post was in the city of Potok-Zloti from 1867-1871. From there he was appointed as head of the Rabbinical Court of Yazlovitch. Seven years later the rabbi became the head of the Rabbinical Court of Buchach. Following that, he served for a period of 30 years as the head of the Rabbinical Court in Barzhan prior to his death in 1911. His predecessor in the post was the distinguished sage Rabbi Yitzchak Shmalkis, the head of the Rabbinical Court of Paramishleh and author of the book of Responza Beit Yitzchak.