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The sixteenth of Shevat is the yahrzeit of Rav Sholom Mordechai HaKohen Schwadron (1835-1911), also known as the Maharsham or the Brezhaner Rov (not to be confused with his grandson of the same name, the famous maggid). Born in Galicia, his father owned a successful winery, and was known for learning at every possible moment. Known as a budding Torah scholar in his youth Rav Sholom Mordechai was approached by maskilim who attempted to sway him to their path. His father brought him to Reb Meir of Premishlan, who encouraged him to only read books approved by his father.

As a teenager he was learning in a bais medrash with a chavrusa when Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson entered and asked them a question. He gave them half an hour to come up with an answer. Rav Sholom Mordechai thought about it for a few minutes and then returned to his regularly scheduled study. His chavrusa spent the entire half hour trying to find an answer. When Rav Yosef Shaul returned the chavrusa tried to offer an answer, but it was to no avail. He then asked Rav Sholom Mordechai who responded, “After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that it was a difficult question. I felt that my time would be better spent learning a few blatt of Gemara, rather than trying to answer your question.” Rav Yosef Shaul told his father that he was convinced that Rav Sholom Mordechai would become a great talmid chochom.


At the age of sixteen he married Yenta Yakir, who came from a family of Strettiner Chassidim. He spent many years learning with and being supported by his father-in-law. After his father-in-law’s passing, he returned to his hometown of Zlotochov and, reluctant to enter the rabbinate, worked as a timber dealer. His fame as Torah scholar spread and he was offered semicha by both Rav Shlomo Kluger and Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson but he refused. Eventually, Rav Sholom Mordechai relented to Rav Yosef Shaul. He lost his business as a result of the Austrian-Prussian war and, consequently, entered the rabbinate. He served in a few communities before coming to Brezhan where he would remain for thirty years.

In Brezahn the Maharsham opened a yeshiva. Among his students was Rav Meir Shapiro. He constantly reviewed what he had learned. On the cover of his Tur he wrote every date that he began to review it. By the time of his passing there were over 400 dates written. Every Shabbos he would review the entire mesechtos of Shabbos and Eruvin and would make a siyum at melave malka. Due to his recall of the entirety of Shas there were many instances when he would resolve a difficult halachic question on the basis of a seemingly unrelated gemara which others would not have thought had relevance to the issue at hand.

During his years in the rabbinate, he composed over 3,800 responsa to Jewish communities all over the world, which are collected in the nine-volume Teshuvos Maharsham. He also wrote commentary on various sections of the Shulchan Aruch. Many of his writings were published by his eponymous grandson. Rather than relying on later poskim, his rulings always went back to the original sources in the Gemara. There were many who disagreed with his approach, primarily Rav Tzvi Hirsch Shapiro of Munkacz.

Despite being Chassidish, he ruled that machine matzah was kosher for use at the Seder. He was of the opinion that since electricity was not used in the mishkan, it could not constitute one of the forty melachos. He ruled on many questions involving medical issues. He was fluent in several languages and would consult with specialists before issuing his medical rulings. Every time he ruled in a Din Torah, he was always very careful to explain clearly to the one who lost the reason why he lost. He would explain the entire thought process starting from the Gemara through the poskim. If the person was uneducated and had difficulty following, he would tell him to send a friend or relative who is educated and he would explain to them.

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The seventeenth of Shevat is the yahrzeit of Rav Chaim Palagi of Izmir (1788-1868). Born into a rabbinic family, he started his career as a prolific author at a young age. At the age of seventeen he published a commentary on Pirkei Avos. Each time he published a sefer he made a seudah to commemorate the completion, and distributed the sefer to the attendees. He never sold any of his publications. He married when he was nineteen and received semicha a few years later.

He refused to accept a rabbinic position while his father was living, but after his passing he was named to the local Bet Din as well as appointed Rosh Yeshiva in 1828. In 1837 he was named the head of the Bet Din of Izmir and in 1857 he received the title of Chacham Bashi. Due to opposition from some of the members of the community, his position as Chacham Bashi was not solidified until the government sent emissaries from Constantinople to settle the matter. He was then given government sanction to issue judicial rulings.

Some years later he became involved in a political dispute over the collection of a tax on Kosher meat and alcohol. As Rav Chaim sensed that there were certain abuses being perpetrated by those who had the concession to collect the tax, he tried to have the funds diverted to support the local school. When that met opposition, he decided to abolish the tax. When those holding the concession complained to the government, the head of the commission of inquiry decided to replace Rav Palagi with himself. This led to protests which resulted in his being reinstated.

He was very sensitive to the needs of others and spoke frequently about being respectful of others’ feelings, including children. People would frequently come to him for advice, or just for a listening ear. He found it very difficult as it interrupted his study schedule, however, “When a man or woman comes before me and speaks for a long time in order to pour out their sorrow… I don’t push them away as I don’t want to embarrass them or make them feel like I don’t care about their pain.” A rumor spread that a wealthy man had pledged a small fortune to the community in Teveria. He denied it and refused to pay. An emissary from the Teveria community brought him before the Bet Din in Izmir where it was proven that he had never made such a pledge. A few days later Rav Palagi called the man to come meet with him. He explained that even though he had done nothing wrong, since there was such a rumor about him, he should make the donation anyway. He explained to him how important of a mitzvah it was, and the man agreed and made the donation.

He involved Baron Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore in the building of a local hospital and the creation of other welfare organizations. He publicly opposed the smoking of tobacco as he believed it was the cause of health problems. He created an organization that oversaw the quality of the schools in Izmir and instituted a rule that no child was allowed to leave school until he was literate and knew how to daven. He also prohibited children from being apprenticed until they completed their schooling. He founded and supported several yeshivos for older students and responded to halachic inquiries from all around the Sephardic world and Europe.

He published seventy-two seforim on many different topics, including, Tanach, Kabbalah, Talmud and Halacha. Many of his manuscripts had been destroyed in a fire in 1841 and he reproduced fifty-four of them. He finished writing his final sefer the day before he died. Members of the Turkish government and armed forces, as well as diplomats from foreign countries attended his funeral. He had been honored during his lifetime by being named to the Order of the Medjidie, an award given to non-Turkish people who had served the Turkish state.


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Chayim Lando is the practice manager at Maryland Neuro Rehab & Wellness Center and has been a Jewish educator for over three decades. His favorite activities are studying and teaching Talmud and spending time with his grandchildren.