יום שישי ט' בניסן תש"פ 03/04/2020
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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בראי היום

  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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Reflections

The Ancient Community of Bratislava – Pressburg

‘Spiritual capital of Hungary’: the beautiful city of Bratislava, better known by its name ‘Pressburg’. In this ancient Jewish community many renowned Torah personalities lived and lead their people, and its famous Yeshiva drew thousands of students from all corners of Europe

Motty Meringer 06/12/2009 10:56
The city Bratislava – today capital of Slovakia, is more widely known by its older name, Pressburg. The city sits at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, on the banks of the Danube River, and has undergone numerous changes over the years of its existence. Memorials to these turbulent events are the various names the city has been known by: the Germans who conquered it called it Pressburg, the Hungarians called it Pozoni, the Slovakians – Bratislava, whilst the Jews called the city Pressburg.

The Jewish community of Pressburg dates back many centuries and there are those who claim that Jews have lived there since the destruction of the Second Temple. However the earliest evidence of a Jewish presence in the city is found only from the 10th Century. In those days the continent of Europe was drenched in blood; tens of thousands were cruelly slaughtered by the Crusades on their bloody rampage through Europe, as they made their way to the holy city of Yerushalayim which they planned to conquer from the ruling Moslems. In the tempestuous winds of the pogroms, the hapless Jews were thrown from place to place as they were forced to flee the path of the Crusaders. Some of these Jews arrived in the city of Pressburg, where they took shelter and settled down to live. However Pressburg itself was neither spared the sword of the pogroms and in historic manuscripts there is much mention of ‘the slaughtered and burnt martyrs of Pressburg’.

In the year 5051 (1291) the Hungarian king Andius III presided over Pressburg, and the Jews of the city requested his protection. The king agreed to their appeal, and publicized a letter proclaiming his protection of the Jews in the face of libels from their Christian neighbors. He also allowed them to deal in commerce and trade. The existence of this letter encouraged the development of the Jewish community in the city, as Jewish tradesmen began to move to Pressburg from where they based wide networks of trade throughout Europe. The expanding Jewish community was located in the Jewish Quarter, by the ‘Fish Gate’ – one of the entrances in the city wall. Here Jewish community life thrived, and institutions of Torah and charity sprouted up in quick succession.

The Christian residents of Pressburg were not happy with the growth of the Jewish presence in their city, and they searched for ways to conspire against the Jews and harm them. Historians have found an ancient letter from the Pope to the residents of Pressburg, in which he discusses a complaint raised by the Christians of the town that the Jewish house of prayer was built too close to the Christian mosque, thereby disturbing the Christians in the worship of their deities. The Pope Benedikt XII responded to this complaint by affirming that the Jews certainly must destroy their House of Prayer. It remains unknown as to whether the instruction of the Pope was ever carried out, but it is reasonable to assume that this is indeed what transpired.

The Christians continued to hound their Jewish neighbours, and in the year 5120 (1360) an edict of expulsion was issued on the general Jewish population of Hungary, including the Jews of Pressburg. The prime factor contributing to this decree was the debts that had accumulated when Jewish subjects were unable to pay the high taxes that were levied on them. The expulsion decree was carried out, and for the duration of seven years Jews were forbidden to live in Pressburg.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger  

A short while after the expulsion, the rulers of the city began to feel the effects of the edict on their coffers. The expulsion of the Jews caused a significant decline in commerce in the city, which in turn was felt in the taxes paid to the authorities. Eventually the city leaders turned to the Jews with the request that they return to the town, albeit without the privileges they had been granted by King Andeus III. The Jews returned but remained unprotected citizens, exposed to any and every oppressor. However despite repeated schemes employed by the Christian residents to harm them, the Jewish community developed and thrived once again. In those days the city of Pressburg became a renowned Torah center that spread its glow over the entire region. The Rav of the city then was Rav Yitzchak Eizik of Tyrno zt’l, author of ‘Sefer haMinhagim’. From scattered evidence in various Sefarim we learn of other great Torah scholars who lived there at the time – such as Reb Yaakov who was a frequent correspondent with Rav Yisrael Ashkenazi Isserlin, the ‘Terumas Hadeshen’, and Rav Hertz, who was famous for arranging divorce decrees (as seen in the responsa of the Rema).

The Noda B'Yehuda[]

the Chasam Sofer  

As always, the golden era did not last for long. In the year 5286 (1526) the decree of expulsion over the Jews of Pressburg was re-enacted, but even before that many of the Jews fled in fear of the Turkish battlefront that was approaching the city. A battlefield has never been a safe place for a Jew to be, since they are invariably targeted by both warring sides. Thus the Jews decided to ‘take the cure before the disease’, and even before the sounds of fighting reached them they fled. A short while later the expulsion decree was issued and Jews were not seen in the city for the next hundred years.

Many of the exiles of Pressburg chose not to travel far, and settled in villages nearby which eventually would become part of the suburbs of Pressburg. However even there the Jews did not find rest and the king instructed that they be banished from these small villages, too. But the town Mayor succeeded in delaying the edict, and even when the edict was finally announced it is not known for sure that the Jews were indeed driven out from their homes.

In the year 5430 (1670), the Jews of Vienna were expelled, and many arrived to the environs of Pressburg and joined the community there; however it was still forbidden for Jews to live in Pressburg itself. In addition, Jews were not even allowed to enter the town, aside for Market days so that they could maintain their trade. The expulsion of the Jews of Vienna had a positive effect on the community of Pressburg – particularly from a spiritual point of view, as many famous Rabbanim arrived from Vienna and enriched the lives of the Jews of Pressburg. Amongst them was Rav Binyamin Zev Pollack zt’l, who served as head of the Beis Din in Pressburg.

Over the years many other famous Rabbanim graced the community of Pressburg with their towering presence. Amongst them we find Rav Mordechai ben Rav Yeshaya the ‘Mochiach’, who arrived in Pressburg from the Alsace region in Germany and was a grandson of the Tosfos Yom Tov, and son-in-law of the Maharam Shif. Another renowned personality was the grandfather of Rabbi Akiva Eiger of Posen, who was also called Rabbi Akiva Eiger. He served for a while as Rav of the community, but passed away at a young age. In the year 5519 (1759) Rav Yitzchak Segal Landau served as Rav, he was a relative of the Noda biYehuda. After him served Rav Meir b’Rebi, zt’l. In the year 5549 (1789) Rav Meir b’Rebi passed away, and Rav Meshulem Igra was appointed as Rav – he was known to all as a tremendous Torah scholar and an ardent opponent of Chassidus. Rav Meshulem served as Rav for thirteen years, until his passing on Succos of the year 5562 (1802).

the Ksav Sofer []

 


After Rav Meshulem’s death the presidents of Pressburg’s community began to search for a Rav who did not fall far from the spiritual heights of their previous leader. They raised their eyes to the city of Mattersdorf, where resided the revered Rav Moshe Sofer zt’l, who served as Rav of Mattersdorf and leader of the Yeshiva he had founded there. However not all the people of Pressburg were happy with the arrival of the Chasam Sofer to their town; the Maskilim (Enlightenment) heard about the imminent appointment of this great Tzadik, and sent him a detailed letter where they outlined the ‘customs’ of the community: ‘...We are exceedingly glad that such a prominent personality is to be appointed as leader over us, and all the greater was our happiness when we heard that you are a wise man ...here in Pressburg most of our trade involves dealing with gentiles and the aristocracy, and thus many of us are forced to wear gentile garb, to shave our hair and beards even during the Omer and Chol haMoed; our wives and daughters apply color to their eyes and wear human hair wigs, and are accustomed to go out on the streets whether to pass the time or for purposes of livelihood; and these matters and customs, if they do not appear in the eyes of our leaders as entirely correct, [know that] these things cannot be changed in such a large city... the esteemed Rav may not rebuke us with harsh words... and all the more so not to punish people with ‘Cherem’. The community must remain in the state it was until now’.

The Chasam Sofer was not deterred from the letter of the Maskilim, and agreed to be appointed as Rav of Pressburg. On Erev Yom Kippur in the year 5567 (1807), he received an official letter of Rabbanus from the community of Pressburg. Rav Moshe remained in Mattersdorf for Succos, and three weeks afterwards, on the Tuesday of Parshas Lech Lecha, the Tzaddik arrived in the city of Pressburg.

Together with the Chasam Sofer, the great Yeshiva of Mattersdorf also moved and relocated to Pressburg, where it merged with the local Yeshiva that had graced the city for many years. The Yeshiva drew many students from all over Europe, amongst them choice Torah scholars who would go from there to serve as prominent Rabbanim in communities all over the continent. The arrival of the Chasam Sofer in Pressburg had a profound impact on the identity of the Jewish community, and the spiritual lives of the townspeople blossomed. This was largely due to the Yeshiva that blossomed so fruitfully in the days of the Chasam Sofer; in its prime it was home to five hundred students.

As mentioned, not all the residents of the town were happy with Rav Moshe’s arrival – the Maskilim hounded Rav Moshe and persecuted him at every turn. However Rav Moshe did not break, and did not veer one iota from the fine points of Halacha, nor from the Minhagim (customs) that were passed down from previous generations. The phrase ‘Chadash assur min haTorah’ (Novel ideas are forbidden from the Torah), was constantly on his lips, and from the point of this perspective the Chasam Sofer waged a fierce war against the Haskala movement – not just within Pressburg but also beyond the borders of Pressburg and Eastern Europe.

The Chasam Sofer served as Rav in Pressburg until his passing at the beginning of the year 5600 (1840). His son Rav Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer succeeded him – the ‘Ksav Sofer’. He continued his father’s ongoing battle against the Maskilim, and like his father before him harboured a great love for the Holy Land. It was during his time that the ‘Kollel Ungarin’ was founded in Yerushalayim, and he convinced many of his townspeople to travel there and join the Kollel.
The period during which the Ksav Sofer served as Rav in Pressburg was the era of the ‘Spring of Nations’, when many revolutions rocked the continent of Europe; Pressburg was not spared either. In the course of these revolutions many of the Jews in the town were forced to flee for their lives, leaving behind their homes and money and surviving with barely the clothes on their back. The Ksav Sofer led his community for thirteen years, until his passing.

The Ksav Sofer left behind him six sons and four daughters. His position as leader of the town was filled by his son Rav Simcha Bunim Sofer, the ‘Shevet Sofer’, who like his father and grandfather before him fought against the Reform and Haskalah movements. In his days a number of families separated themselves from the traditional community of Pressburg, and established a ‘Neolog’ community which was similar in nature to the Reform and Haskalah. For many years a bitter struggle persisted between the religious community and the modern Neolog group, and it was only the Nazi scourge that extinguished the flame of these conflicts, together with the rest of the community of Pressburg - may Hashem avenge their blood.

During the First World War many of Jews from Pressburg served in the Austro-Hungarian army, and tens of these Jews were killed in battle. After the war the face of the European map was transformed entirely; a new state was formed from the union of Czech and Slovakia, and was given the name Czecheslovakia. The city of Pressburg was considered one of its prime cities, but its Jews did not benefit from these changes as a wave of fierce anti-semitism reared its ugly head. This hatred was directed largely towards Jewish tradesmen, and continued for over ten years until the Czecheslovakian authorities succeeded in calming the winds.

As the Second World War approached, Slovakia was once again separated from Czech and under the German-Nazi influence, Slovakia became a separate autonomy. This political swing brought a downturn in the situation of the Jews of Pressburg, and a short while after the declaration of Slovakia’s independence, anti-semitic incidents began to increase at an alarming pace. During that time the Yeshiva in Pressburg, which was headed by the son of the Shevet Sofer, Rabbi Akiva Sofer, was forced to close its doors. As the ground began to burn under the feet of the Jews of Pressburg, Rabbi Akiva decided that the time had come to depart from his community in Pressburg and travel to Eretz Yisrael. Together with a handful of students from the Yeshiva who escaped with him, he founded the Yeshiva anew in the holy Land – a living memorial to the glorious community of Pressburg that was reduced to ashes.

Concentration Camp []

In the winter of 5701 (1941), the Jews of Pressburg who lived on the main streets of the town were commanded to relocate to the Jewish Quarter, and their houses in the center of town were confiscated. This was the first step in the confiscation of Jewish property, followed by the seizure of Jewish businesses and Jewish-owned land and factories. The Jewish cemetery too was requisitioned for the purpose of building a road, and only a few lone graves remained intact – amongst them that of the holy Chasam Sofer.

At the beginning of 5702 (1942) mass deportations of Pressburg Jewry began, as the Jews of the city were herded onto trains in the direction of extermination camps in Poland. Over the course of three years the Nazis deported over fifteen thousand Jews from Pressburg – men, women and children, most of whom were sent directly to the ovens of Auschwitz where they died sanctifying Hashem’s Holy Name.

Bratislava-[]

After the war only a few hundred lone survivors remained in Pressburg, having succeeded in hiding under false identities amongst the gentiles of the city. Amidst the rubble the community sprouted once again, and eventually numbered almost four thousand Jews who united under one community following the traditions of old. With the founding of the State of Israel, most of Pressburg’s Jews emigrated en masse. The approximately one thousand Jews who remained continued to live Jewish lives until the early 60’s, when the Soviet regime gripped the country in its vice-like fist. However more recently, since the fall of the iron curtain, dormant Jewish sparks have begun to re-ignite in the city of Pressburg, and the local community today numbers a few hundred Jews.