Several months ago – in the columns of December, January, February, and March – we dealt with the early life of Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, his studies in Telshe and Mir, his serving as a rabbi in Bavaria, his leaving Germany due to threats on his life by the Nazis, his escape to America, and his serving as rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Baltimore from 1936 to 1958.
In 1958 Rabbi Schwab was invited to join Rabbi Dr. Yoseph Breuer, zt”l, as associate rav of the German-Jewish community in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, Khal Adath Jeshurun. This community is widely regarded as the spiritual “continuation” of the pre-war Frankfurt kehilla.
With Rabbi Breuer’s increasing age and infirmity, Rav Schwab took on many leadership roles. After Rav Breuer was nifter in 1980, Rav Schwab led the community until his passing in 1995.
This month we look at Rav Schwab’s values and views.
Well Prepared for His Role as Rav
“Rav Schwab combined the ideals of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, architect of Torah Orthodoxy in the Western world, and the intense commitment to limud ha Torah that is the legacy of the great Lithuanian yeshivas.
“Rav Schwab was not a bridge between two worlds, between East and West –bridges are not for living on. He was rather the embodiment of the Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim Chaim…. He embodied in one person two diverse Torah cultures: the glorious Frankfurt tradition of Rav Hirsch, with its emphasis on adherence to the emes and insistence on putting the stamp of Torah on every area of public and private endeavor…combined with unwavering devotion to intense Torah study, which was the hallmark of the great yeshivas of Lithuania. On the one hand, he absorbed the Chofetz Chaim’s caress; on the other, he observed the admonishment of the alter Gerrer Rebbe who characterized Rav Hirsch as ‘a lebedige mussar sefer.’
“His mission was to make this heady blend the reality of authentic Torah life in America. He wished to set an example for the American ben Torah, whether engaged in full-time Torah study or as a working man. Rav Schwab was convinced that Torah im Derech Eretz offers a vision of Judaism ‘in a way that can be accepted…by the five-and-a-half-million uncommitted Jews in the vast spiritual wasteland that is today’s America in a language they can understand.”[i]
The following is from “Rav Schwab on Chumash,” written by his son Rabbi Myer J. Schwab who has kindly permitted me to quote from it.
Master Orator and Teacher
Rav Schwab was a master orator, and many looked forward to his talks at Agudah Conventions. He invariably spoke in English, although I recall being at one talk which he began in Yiddish. Many of the attendees were clearly disappointed and surprised that he was speaking in Yiddish. However, about 5 minutes into his talk, in Yiddish, he said that one must speak in the language people understandand. There was thunderous applause, and he continued the rest of his address in English.
Rav Schwab was at his best when he was lecturing or giving a shiur. As is well known, the Rav offered numerous unique interpretations of Chumash and Tanach, many of which have been recorded in his Ma’ayan Beis Hasho’evah. Posthumously, a series of books – Rav Schwab on Prayer, Rav Schwab on Iyov, Rav on Yeshayahu, Rav Schwab on Ezra and Nechemiah – was published which contain many new insights that were previously unknown to the general public.
“These insights resulted from his da’as Torah, his instinctive feeling for the inner meaning of the words of Torah and Tanach. This sense grew from his thorough knowledge of the language of the Torah and its rules of dikduk, his thorough grounding in Talmud and Midrash, and most of all from his deep piety, all of which were enhanced by his superb and clear mind.”