Photo Credit: Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Rav Shimon Schwab

Many years ago I agreed to speak at a Shabbaton that was to be held at a Conservative synagogue under the auspices of an Orthodox organization. Sometime after I had agreed, I realized the majority of those in attendance would probably have driven on Shabbos to hear me speak. Feeling uneasy about the Chillul Shabbos that would result from my speaking at such an event, I called Rav Schwab. He immediately sensed my dilemma and replied with his characteristic wisdom and candor. He explained that according to his sheetas he would never step into a Conservative synagogue, not even during the week.

He then went on to make it clear that he was not going to pasken that I should follow his approach. Instead, he outlined the opinions of other poskim who did permit such events and left the decision to me. The end result was that I went and spoke, because it was too close to the time of the event to back out. However, based on what Rav Schwab told me, I never again accepted such a speaking engagement.

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There was an active chapter of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists in Elizabeth. Rav Schwab once agreed to address this group, and I had the privilege of picking him up in Washington Heights. When I went to his door, he greeted me with his friendly smile. He had a special way of making you feel he was truly pleased to see you. In the car we chatted about all sorts of things, and I had a rare chance to discuss with a gadol a number of issues I was concerned about.

At one point I told him that a friend of mine, who was a yeshiva katana rebbe in Brooklyn, had told me of the difficulty he was having covering the required amount of material. The yeshiva insisted that Chumash be “teitched” into Yiddish as well as English. Since the vast majority of the boys in the class did not come from Yiddish-speaking homes, teaching them Yiddish slowed the pace of learning. The rebbe wanted to teach exclusively in English, but the yeshiva’s principal would not allow it. I asked Rav Schwab what he thought.

“It is unfortunate that in Brooklyn they are still going down this road,” he responded.

I am sure he knew that his reply would not be welcome in some circles. Nonetheless, Rav Schwab did not flinch from standing by his principles. He was committed to emes and did not deviate from what he considered to be the correct path.

Such is the way of a true gadol. Rav Schwab passed away in 1993. He is, of course, sorely missed. Where are the Rav Schwabs of our time? I know of no rav alive today who is anywhere near the man he was.

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