Thursday, May 28, 2015

Pressburg Under Siege by Rabbi Moshe Sofer

This slight (only 93 pages) autobiographical memoir of the French invasion of Pressburg during the Napoleonic wars describes the shelling of Pressburg (present day Bratislava, 40 miles from Vienna) and how the Jewish community and Austrian troops responded to the carnage.

The Chasam Sofer, (synonymous with his Halachic Work) tells his reader about the miraculous saving of the Jewish community and how no one was killed except for one individual cut down by a bullet to his thigh that the doctors kept trimming away muscle until he succumbed to his wound but not before confessing his sins. His confession is a fascinating glimpse into the politics of community and the role of the chief rabbi.  Rabbi Sofer reports that the young man was under the influence of a very manipulative woman.  She swayed the man to raise rents preventing the poor from gaining residence thus creating a housing shortage.  As a result, the chief rabbi had to campaign against such inequality.  The young man in response to the rabbi's campaign hurled false charges against the rabbi!  Knowing his time was up, the young man confesses and dies a penitent.

One can not help but wonder about the miraculous saving of the Jewish community.  Although the Jewish quarter was utterly ravaged by fire with home after home destroyed, no sefer Torah was destroyed and no member of the Jewish community lost his life.  As a matter of fact, the rabbi tells of heroic behavior by some carrying others to safety.

I could not help but wonder about this account.  It reminded me of the 9/11 attacks destroying the World Trade Center.  Scores of Hatzalah first responders were on the scene furiously working hard to save lives and incredulously not one lost.  The Fire Chief when asked how many rescuers were lost and heard that none were lost, replied,"your community is obviously blessed!"  To have such a great personage as the Chasam Sofer who at every opportunity interpreted the goings on prudently and accurately creates an obvious blessed community and makes for a fascinating read.

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