Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was a Tzaddik who led G-d’s battle against the Reform movement and other ideas foreign to Judaism that were rampant in Germany. He was Rabbi of several cities, brought numerous people back to G-d, built up many exemplary Jewish communities, and wrote several books on Torah and Judaism that were accepted by all the Jewish people. We shall speak a little about the city of Frankfurt, of which he was rabbi. He rebuilt the city’s Jewish community after its spiritual destruction. In Frankfurt, the city of the Shlah and the Pnei Yehoshua, the spirit of the French Enlightenment movement had broken down the walls of the ghetto. Following the collapse of the old community’s bulwarks, the Reformists had taken control. The teaching of Torah was prohibited and enforced by the local police, so much so that those who had been faithful to G-d studied like Marranos – in hiding. A fine of 50 gulden was imposed on anyone who supported the study of Torah. In the name of the public authorities, the committee that represented the Jewish community decided that all its members would be chosen from among Reform Jews. This would abolish the Chevra Kadisha and deliberately neglect those synagogues that had maintained traditional customs. The Orthodox of the city were forced to use the mikvehs in the city’s suburbs, for those in town had been blocked up. When the Chatam Sofer was asked why he didn’t return to Frankfurt to repair these breaches, he answered that a special neshama was called to go there, and he specified what his role would be.

The Chatam Sofer repeated his remarks five days before his death. He was already very weak and confined to bed when he whispered with all his remaining strength, “In my mind, I see a great savoir for German Judaism. Some good will still come out of Germany.”

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch invested all his energy so that the good, in fact, should appear. He led a frenzied effort to reestablish prayer, the study of Torah, and the observance of kashrut into the community, but the status quo was very difficult to change. This is why he came to Frankfurt. He wanted to infuse it with Jewish warmth, a task that had nothing easy about it. Those opposed to his efforts silently allowed the construction of an orthodox synagogue to go ahead, however when the Rav decided to establish a school even before the synagogue was completed, a storm erupted. The Reformists thought that the ancient community, with the study of Torah and the Shulchan Aruch, had been completely laid to rest, and yet here, before their very eyes, an ancient, “outdated” Judaism was being revived! Yet Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch had no intention whatsoever of relinquishing his stance on education, which he saw as the essential task of his mission. The following incident relates a wonderful example of this.

One day in Frankfurt, a young woman from the orthodox congregation of Adath Yeshuron came to see him. She also brought along her six year old son. She wanted to raise the child, who had just reached school age, according to the principles of the Torah and tradition, and so she asked him what she should do.

A slight frown appeared on Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s forehead. “Now?” he asked surprisingly. “Now the child is six years old? It is already far too late. The education of a child begins on the day of his birth. One must know why a baby cries – if it’s because of hunger or another reason. From the cradle, the development of his character must be directed. Now, let’s see what we can still do.”

This is what Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch demanded of himself. For 24 years, he personally directed the school that he founded. He delved into the children’s world, even playing with them in the courtyard. The children recounted to their parents that he even took an interest in their stamp collections. Faults can develop even on the playground, so one should be conscious of this in order to halt these things in time and guide students in the right path.

The members of the community became ever more numerous from year to year. Only a small number of those that joined the initial core group were native to Frankfurt. The Jews of the surrounding towns that had settled in the city because of its economic development had become the majority. At the end of 25 years, the community consisted of 325 families. Thus when Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch climbed the platform of the synagogue to announce that money was needed to expand the synagogue, almost 50,000 gulden, an enormous sum at the time, was collected by the end of three days of fundraising. The number of kosher butchers increased to three, and the mikvehs had reopened. On Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch experienced a moment of satisfaction. From his apartment that was situated over the Main, he could see just how many people from the community went to practice the custom of Tashlich. This number increased every year, and the example of Frankfurt began to spread to communities near and far.

His Hilloula is on Tevet 27




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