אלטע היים

 

Where unknown memories come back

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Prague - Praha is one of the most recognized cities not only in Europe but worldwide as well. It is usually listed among the ten most beautiful cities in the world, and if it isn’t it’s definitely among the next ten. No one that has seen this city can say any less than “beautiful” as a description. It’s located on the gentle hills surrounding the Vltava river where it’s the most west positioned capital of the Slavic nation. Prague has over a thousand years of Jewish history; in fact, Jews were present in this city from the very beginning of its establishment.

AltNeue Shul (Staro Nova Synagoga) is the oldest synagogue in Europe. Established in 1270, rebuild in 1867, and although it does not serve as a synagogue now, it served the Jewish community for more than 700 years.

Prague was one of the most important centers of Jewish religion for a while, spreading Jewish influence for centuries to come. Virtually, all of the streams of contemporary Judaism claim being influenced by one of the most prominent individual in the Prague’s history - Rabbi Yehuda Leib ben Betzalel - the Maharal.

The Maharal was a Rabbi for his flock, and a Poisek for legal Jewish authorities, he also had a leader writing status for communities, he was a recognized scientist in several subjects like chemistry, physics, mathematics and astronomy. When it was necessary, he was a politician and defender of his people on the king’s court. But with all of this, he never ceased to be a family man. His legendary love and respect to his wife is known from many stories, and now they rest side by side in Jewish cemetery, in a rather uncommon arrangement. We will not dwell on the “stories”, but on historical fact that actually accrued.

Prague was a home for Halachic authorities of the most importance as well as cabalists and philosophers. Rabbi Yechezkel ben Rabbi Yehuda haLevi Landau (the Noda Beyehuda), Rabbi Ephraim Shlomo ben Aharon Luntschitz (the Keli Yakar), Rabbi Avigdor Kara, Rabbi Abraham Reuven ben Hoshke haKohen Katz (the Yalkut Reubeni), Rabbi Elazar ben David Fleckeles (the Teshuva meAhava) and Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Rappoport. Their graves can be found on the two of Jewish cemeteries located in the city of Prague.

But the city has more to offer than Kevurim - graves of holy Tzadikim. Besides the AltNeue Shul there are still operating synagogues serving the present community consisting of almost 1,000 people.

We will visit all the most important places were Jewish history took place, mostly in Yosefov – an old Jewish district of town. 

One can definitely satisfy their sense of beauty by visiting Prague’s Hradcany, one of the most beautiful Old Town district in Europe.

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Brezalauspurc – Preßburg – Pozsony - Prešporok = Bratislava – Preshburg, also known as Istropolis, Prešpurk, Posonium, Požun; which is a capital of Slovakia. Not too many cities in the world could present such a long list of names, especially a city with only one thousand years of history.

In a general scale, the thousand years is not a large number, however in this part of Europe it makes the city one of the oldest.

In its history, Bratislava was already a capital of another country – Hungry. It is the only capital city in the world bordering two other countries - Hungary and Austria. It is also the only capital located so close to the other capital – Bratislava and Vienna are distanced by only a little more than 30 miles. The list of names for this city is long, but the list of different governments’ ruling over this land is much longer.

The history of the Jewish community of Slovakia is almost the same as their Hungarian neighbor’s history. However, due to the fact that Slovakian Land was always predominantly Slavic, the Jews of Slovakia were later distinguished for their customs, scholarships and even their language.

Without doubt, the greatest son of Bratislava was Rabbi Moshe Schreiber – the Chasam Sofer.

He was born in Frankfurt am Main but his active years were spent in this City, Bratislava.

He was a commentator, a Posek – (Halachic authority), and a Rosh Yeshiva. His influence was not limited to his time only. The Chasam Sofer’s name is forever imprinted on Jewish history as the one of the supreme.

His Yeshiva produced such luminaries of Talmudic study as: Rabbi Moshe Schick - Maharam Schick, Rabbi Dovid Schick - Imrei Duvid, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Gottlieb of Stropkov, Rabbi Yoel Unger - Teshuvas Rivo, Rabbi Naftali Sofer - Matei Naftali, Rabbi Yehuda Aszod - Yehudah Ya'aleh, Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer - Ksav Sofer – son of  Rabbi Naftali, Rabbi Shimon Sofer -  also a son, Rabbi Dovid Zvi Ehrenfeld - son-in-law, Rabbi Shmuel Ehrenfeld - Chasan Sofer’s – grandson, Rabbi Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Spitzer - Tikun Shloime, son-in-law of Chasam Sofer, and the Rabbi of the Schiff Shul in Vienna, etc.

His battle to separate from the reform community is known as an example of an active struggle for the preservation of the true Torah Judaism. The struggle was continued by his son and grandson. The battle of separation began after the failure of congress, when they were called by the government in 1869, to unite the Jewish communities. 

The Ksav Sofer was one of the leaders of European Jewry and among 389 other Rabbis, in petition to Austro-Hungarian parliament in 1872 signed a most significant document. The Rabbis were requesting recognition of traditional Judaism as identity separate from the “reform” community, and from any other group calling itself Jewish but not submitting to the rules of the Shulchan Aruch.

The story of the Chasam Sofer’s tomb is one of the most fascinating tales. 

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Budapest – Know also by some as Yudapest.

Hungarian Jewry went trough one of the most twisted history the Jewish community in this central European Country had endured.

The oldest Jewish presence within Hungarian land can be dated as far as to the time of the Roman Empire; it is proven by the Archeological findings in the Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dacia that Jews were there long before the Magyars invaded this Slavic land.

The first written documents describe a small and rather persecuted community only beginning to exist from the late 11th century. Most of the Jews of that time were of Ashkenazi descent.

The Muslim – Ottoman conquer in the beginning of the 16th century brought some improvement to the situation of the Hungarian Jews, that was also when the community became predominantly Sephardic.

After reinvading this part of Europe by Christian Armies and establishment of the Habsburgs Empire, the Sephardim were to leave the land together with their Muslim hosts. The new Jewish community began to plant their roots; they were mostly immigrants from the north, predominantly from lands within Poland. The restrictive character of the Hungarian anti Jewish law however, did not allow them to grow strong.

Only after the Spring of Nations in 1848, when the atmosphere changed in Europe, did the Jews of Hungary gained in numbers and in influence. Due to the influence of the Haskala and Reform, this process was slowed significantly.

In such a divisive environment the Hungarian community gained their immunity to other influences and allowed themselves to maintain the strength so necessary for the future in the settlement of the American shores.

Within hundred years Hungary produced leaders such as Rabbi Moshe Schreiber – Chasam Sofer who was born in Frankfurt am Main but was mostly known to be active and influential in the Habsburg Empire.

He was followed by his son, Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer - Ksav Sofer and later by his grandson Rabbi Shmuel Ehrenfeld  the Chasan Sofer. Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried – who wrote the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and Rabbi Moshe Shick – Macharam Shick are two other representatives of classic orthodoxy. Chassidism entered the Hungarian dominion relatively late and were never popular in Proper Hungary (which soon was known to be within the borders of the Trianon Treaty), where most of the Jewish population assimilated or at least didn’t maintain their language.

In Carpathian Russia, there was the Munkatcher Rebbe- Rabbi Yitschok Elimelech Shapira followed by Rabbi Chaim Eliezrer Shapiro – Minchas Eliezer. Other Chasidic centers of Hungary are Chust, Shopron, Galanta, Sherdahely and Pupa.

The most important one, at least from the historic point of view, was Ujehly - Sighet - the Satmar, where Chasidic dynasty was established by Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum – the Ismach Moshe. This student of the Chozeh of Lublin brought Chasidism to Hungary. His great grand son - Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, he reestablished the European style of the Jewish Community to the United States of America after the Holocaust. His influence on modern American Jewry is beyond description.

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Vienna – Wien, at its peak had more than two million of the inhabitants and contained a third large Jewish population in Europe. In 1921, the number of Jewish residents in the city was more than 200,000. It should be expected that such large Jewish population was very prominent and influential.  However the kind of influence it truly was, I will describe below.

From all of the capitals that we are planning to visit, Vienna is the oldest one. It was a Celtic settlement going back to the 6th century. However the first information about Jews living in the city dates back to seven centuries later.  Vienna became a leading center of German Jewry in the 13 and 14 centuries. This period ended with Vienner Gezera -1421, when the Jewish inhabitants of Vienna were put on to boats without ors on the Danube River and later were burned in Budapest, down the river.

The Jews were allowed back into the city in 1624; however they were enclosed within a ghetto, only those who can prove to be wealthy weren’t. Several prominent Jewish figures found their refuge in Vienna after the Chmilenitzki’s I-SH pogroms in Poland including Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller – the Tosefofs Yom Tov.

A town nearby, Eisenstadt, was another significant center of Jewish life where Meir of Eisenstadt – the Maharam Ash was a Rav of the city from 1717 to 1774.

In 1851 Rabbi Ezriel Hildesheimer took position as the Rav of the city and established his Yeshiva. There were not many prominent Jewish leaders within those two cities considering the long history and the size of the community. The history of the Jews of Vienna is now displayed in a modern exhibit in a museum building located at Dorotheergasse 11.

Vienna was predominantly the center of the Haskala and assimilation. However it was also the first city where the faithful Jews separated themselves from any organizational structures of assimilators. Under the leadership of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Spitzer and the alliance of almost 400 rabbinical authorities from allover the Europe, Vienner Jews disassociated from non Orthodox structures.

As one of the European cultural centers, Vienna, with its institutions and media centers, it became a source of spiritual destruction. From the Haskala to reform, from assimilation to Zionism, destructive propaganda spread toward east European Jewish centers. The books and leaflets printed in Vienna were read in Shteitlech of Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania. The harvest of this seed was disastrous for European Jewry.

The Haskala resulted with assimilation and intermarriage which proved to be the death for Jewish societies within a few generations. So too was the case of the reform movement. Rejection of Jewish codes of law brought annihilation in a spiritual and physical sense. And although it is not the holocaust we speak of, the same results were observable in America and even parts of Asia and Africa.

The fatal transformation of the Jewish People to a national movement resulted from the Zionist philosophy, and it turned the spiritual progress ages back. The Ticun, – the spiritual advancement resulted from the existence of the holy people of Israel was canalized to an activity entirely antithetical to our beliefs and our mission in History.  

©2005