This Day in History – 16 Shevat/January 17

16 Shevat

In 5701/1941, a torpedo, apparently fired accidentally by a Soviet submarine, sank the Struma, a cattle boat on which 769 Romanian Jews attempted to flee to Eretz Yisrael during WWII. The ship was very overcrowded and lacked the basic necessities; even its engine barely worked. The trip’s organizers misled the passengers, and upon reaching Istanbul, they discovered that they did not have the visas they had been promised that would permit them to enter Eretz Yisrael. The Turkish government first quarantined the ship and its passengers, and later forced it into open water, which led to its sinking. Only one person survived.

Hashem yinkom damam.


5492/1732, Harav Dovid of Kolomai, zt”l, a talmid of the Baal Shem Tov

5520/1760, Harav Yonah Navon, zt”l, mechaber of Nechpah B’Kessef

5577/1817, Harav Asher Tzvi of Ostraha, zt”l, mechaber of Maayan Hachachmah

5641/1881, Harav Yaakov of Zabletov, zt”l

5760/2000, Harav Avraham Biderman, zt”l, the Lelover Rebbe of Yerushalayim



Harav Shalom Mordechai Hakohen Schwadron, zt”l, the Maharsham of Brezhan

Harav Shalom Mordechai Hakohen Schwadron was born on 27 Nisan 5595/1835 in the city of Zlototchov, Galicia. His father, Reb Moshe, made a comfortable living from his winery, in the town of Binov, but as his son attested, even while he was dealing with customers, he constantly learned Torah. He finished Shas six times with Tosafos and Maharsha, and mastered the entire Rambam and Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Zohar and Midrashim.

The Maharsham’s mother was a tzaddekes in her own right, a descendant of Harav Yitzchak of Drohovitz and other great luminaries.

The Maharsham’s exceptional talents and incredible memory became famous when he was still very young, and the maskilim envisioned this precious bachur as one of theirs. They gave him one of their texts on the pretense of requiring his help, hoping to entangle him in their net. Just around that time, his father traveled with his son to Reb Meir’l of Premishlan. The Rebbe turned to the innocent boy and quoted: “‘Bni, al teilech b’derech itam, mena raglecha mi’nesivasam.’ Do not read a single book before your father has censored it and given you permission to do so.” In this way he was saved from the clutches of the maskilim.

At 16 he married Yenta, the daughter of Reb Avraham Yakir, a Stretiner chassid, and spent many years with his father-in-law.

While in his father-in-law’s home, he became a close chassid of the Sar Shalom of Belz, and after his petirah he traveled to Reb Avraham of Stretin. Years later, when the Stretiner Rebbe was niftar, the Maharsham became very attached to Reb Yitzchak Eizek of Ziditchov.  

The years of his financial support ended with his father-in-law’s petirah, and he returned to his hometown, Zlotochov. Since he refused to assume a rabbanus, he worked as a dealer in timber until he was 32 years old. His grandchild later said he had heard from his grandfather that in those two years as a worker he reviewed the entire Shulchan Aruch 400 times!

His fame spread, and he corresponded on halachah questions with many contemporary Gedolim. When he once met Harav Shlomo Kluger, Rav of Brodi, the Rav tried to force him to accept semichah and acquire a position, but the Maharsham refused vehemently. Harav Yosef Shaul Natansohn also tried to convince him to accept a rabbanus, but he insisted that he preferred to continue earning a livelihood as a simple Yid.

In 5627/1867, during the war between Austria and Germany, he lost all his assets and was finally forced to accept a rabbinical post in Potok-Zloti, near Sadigura. He later became Rav in Yoslovitch, Butchatch and then in Berzhan. Over the years he became one of the most profound poskim, responding to over 3,800 she’eilos in halachah, which are printed in the nine volumes of She’eilos U’teshuvos Maharsham.

When the Maharsham was very close to his petirah, the doctor suggested that he be given strong wine to alleviate his pain. The Maharsham refused to drink it, explaining, “A person who has drunk wine is forbidden to pasken halachos, for his thinking may not be totally clear. Since I am reaching the end of my days, I am preparing my drashah to present before the Heavenly Court. How can I drink now and confuse my train of thought? I prefer to suffer physical pain and have a lucid mind to prepare a fitting drashah.”

He was niftar on Tuesday, Parashas Yisro, 16 Shevat.

Yehi zichro baruch.


January 17

In 1893, Hawaii’s monarchy was overthrown as a group of businessmen forced Queen Liliuokalani to abdicate.

In 1945, Soviet troops and Polish forces liberated Warsaw, more than five years after it fell to Nazi Germany.

Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg disappeared in Hungary while in Soviet custody.

In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the rise of “the military-industrial complex.”

In 1991, second and third airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Kuwait were launched.

At least six Iraqi Scud missiles were launched at Tel Aviv.

In 1993, the U.S. unleashed  Tomahawk missiles against a nuclear fabricating plant  8 miles  from Baghdad, delivering the point that Iraq must comply with U.N. resolutions.

In 1995, Japan’s deadliest earthquake in 70 years slammed Kobe and other western cities, killing more than 5,000 people.

In 1996, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman was sentenced to life in prison by a U.S. court for plotting to blow up the U.N. and other New York-area landmarks.