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History Highlights: Olden-Day Pressburg, Modern Bratislava

Rabbi Meir Goldberg

In History Highlights this week, we take you to the city of Bratislava, once called Pressburg, in the country of Slovakia

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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W elcome to Bratislava! Once known as Pressburg, this city was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that ruled Central Europe for many years. Many important non-Jews lived there, including the Austro-Hungarian Queen Maria Theresa. Famous musicians like Beethoven and Mozart gave concerts there. It had many palaces and big buildings. But as we’ll see, Jews remember Pressburg for other reasons. No Jews Allowed!

The first Jews who came to Pressburg may have come there after the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash. It wasn’t easy for Jews to live in European cities. Every so often, when the non-Jewish leaders decided they hated the local Jews, they’d throw them out of the city and the Jews would have to leave and start their lives over somewhere else.

In 1526, the Austro-Hungarian Empire lost a war with the Ottoman Empire (now known as Turkey) and the non-Jews were so angry, they threw the Jews of Hungary out. Jews didn’t return for almost 200 years.


The Chasam Sofer

One of the greatest Jews of the past 200 years was Rav Moshe Schreiber (Sofer), the Rav of Pressburg. He was known by the the title of the most famous sefer he wrote called Chasam Sofer, which stands for chiddushei Torah Moshe Sofer. Rav Moshe’s childhood rebbi was a great man named Rav Nosson Adler who saw the great potential of little Moshe and poured all of his energy into making little Moshe the best he could be.

The Pressburg Yeshivah

Rav Moshe had one of the biggest yeshivos in Europe. The Pressburg Yeshivah eventually grew to over 400 students, many of who became the rabbanim of the cities in Hungary, Austria, and as far away as Eretz Yisrael. The Chasam Sofer was very careful to only accept students who not only knew how to learn Torah, but also had yiras Shamayim. Once, he decided not to accept a certain very smart boy into the yeshivah. The other rebbeim didn’t understand why. He told them, “I looked out of the window and saw him come into the yeshivah. While he was walking he stepped all over some of the lulavim left on the ground after Succos. If he doesn’t care about stepping on the lulavim, he probably doesn’t have yiras Shamayim and I don’t want him in the yeshivah.”

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