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23 Marcheshvan 5773 - November 8, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Daas Sofer, HaRav Akiva Sofer, zt"l, of Pressburg

In honor of his Yahrtzeit, 2nd Kislev

"Regal" was the word used by gedolei hador to describe Rabbeinu, the rov of Pressburg.

Just like Dovid Hamelech, who was always the king, whether at the height of his rule or as a fugitive on the run, so too Rabbeinu kept his regal bearing and royal manner in both good times and bad.

In Pressburg, where his word was law and all flocked to hear him, he remained the same as when he lived later alone in his remote corner in Yerushalayim. Those who saw him in both places found it hard to believe that a one-time leader of thousands could later just sit on the side unobtrusively, never giving his opinion until he was asked.

Upon disembarking from the ship on the shores of Eretz Yisroel, the Daas Sofer had said, "I hereby take off the mantle of leadership and from today on I'm an ordinary Jew."

When, in his old age, his attendants wanted to post a notice on his door stating times that the Rebbe could receive people, he refused to allow it, saying, "In Pressburg I was rov of the city. Here, however, I'm a poshute Yid and can't dictate to other Yidden when to come and when not."

During his visit to London in 1959, a woman came to the Pressburger Rov, complaining bitterly that the war had robbed her of all her wealth. Rabbeinu tried to console her, encouraging her to trust in Hashem Whose ways are ultimately good. However, the woman refused to be comforted, claiming that her loss was too great to bear. At that point, the Rov said to her quietly, "When Hitler entered Poland, I too lost all my wealth. I had received from my father-in-law shares in the oil wells of Drubitch, a business which was churning out a profit of 18 dollars every hour (a considerable sum in those days). In one fateful night all was swept away and, nevertheless, 20 years have past and Boruch Hashem we're alive and well."

The Pressburger Rov was venerated not only by Pressburg's Jews, but even by gentiles who would stand at attention and doff their hats until Rabbeinu passed by.

His son, Reb Simcha Bunim (Schreiber) shlita, tells an amazing story, to which he was witness as a young boy.

"For the Yomim Noraim, the Rebbe (he was called the Rebbe even by his own children) used to daven in the large central shul of Pressburg, this being one of the conditions made when he was appointed Rov.

"One year on Yom Kippur morning, a wealthy Jew walked into the shul wearing shoes. The Torah and its mitzvos meant nothing to him and he considered his attendance once a year as an interesting custom rather than a religious observance. For some reason, he still recognized the importance of an aliya and was by far the highest bidder when they were sold before leinen. As he was being called up to the Torah, the Rebbe sent the gabbai to instruct him to take off his shoes. The man shrugged his shoulders and continued to the bimah. Again, the Rov sent the gabbai, begging him not to desecrate the Torah's sanctity by saying the blessing while transgressing its commandment on this holiest of days. Blatantly, the man refused and he defiantly ascended the bimah. The Rebbe's face darkened as the man's brochoh rang out loud and clear.

"We all watched the scene with bated breath," continued R' Simcha Bunim. "No one said a word. However, retribution was swift to come. In front of all of us, just as the man completed his brochoh, he turned deathly pale. His eyes rolled upward as he grasped the bimah for support and then crumpled dead in a heap on the floor. Silence reigned as he was carried out and tefillos resumed with a heightened awe of Hashem and his Prince!"


As inconspicuous as he tried to be, the gedolim of his generation recognized Rav Akiva's true value. When the Brisker Rov started to wage his famous battle against Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem, he sent out a strongly-worded letter voicing his opposition. In addition to his own name, he looked for a godol to whom he could turn to sign the letter together with him, and who could be better than the Daas Sofer, continuing the battle of the holy Chasam Sofer, zy"a, against the reformers.


The Belzer Rov (Reb Aaron, zt"l) went to visit Rabbeinu whenever he came from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim. His attendants related that whenever he went, he asked that his shoes be polished in honor of the Daas Sofer. On one such visit, the Belzer Rebbe asked that Rabbeinu bless him, placing his hands on his head. The Daas Sofer refused until the Rebbe begged him a few times, after which he agreed.

A few days later, the Pressburger Rov was walking in Meah Shearim with his shamash, when a beggar extended his hand for a donation. Having received a sum, he lifted his hands, intending to place them on Rabbeinu's head in blessing. In defense of his Rebbe's honor, the shamash pushed off the beggar's hands, but Rabbeinu gently stopped him, saying, "If the saintly Belzer took a brochoh from a lowly person such as me with hands on his head, then I too can take a blessing in this manner from the beggar."


His miraculous escape from the clutches of the Nazi conquerors was a nes nistar. It is known that the Chasam Sofer, his son the Ksav Sofer, and grandson the Shevet Sofer, each served as rov of Pressburg for thirty-three years.

After thirty-two years in his position as rov, the Daas Sofer was unsure what to do. Many rabbonim suggested that he change his place of rabbonus and lead another city. Meanwhile, Rabbeinu traveled in the month of Elul to his son, who lived in Lugano, Switzerland. World War II had just broken out and European Jews faced a future clouded with uncertainty.

In a letter to his uncle, R' Shimon Sofer of Erlau, son of the Ksav Sofer who was one of the oldest rabbonim of the generation, the Pressburger Rov asked whether he should return to Pressburg as his kehilloh needed him, or to stay in Lugano according to the wishes of his family members who were concerned at the outbreak of war.

The telegram from the Erlauer Rov was short. "Stay in Lugano until after Purim." Strange as the instructions were, they were clear and the Daas Sofer stayed in Lugano that winter.

Towards the end of the winter, all plans of returning to Pressburg were suddenly canceled, as the Pressburger Rov received an entry visa to Palestine. Since these were hard to come by, the Rov took it as a sign that his destiny lay in Eretz Hakodesh and, remembering his uncle's telegram, he duly booked a place on the ship that was to leave after Purim.

The large vessel that pulled out of Italy on its way to Palestine was the last to leave Italian shores before the country came under Nazi rule, barring all escape. Thus Rabbeinu ended his rabbonus in Pressburg after thirty-three years!


Towards the end of his life, a Jew from Pressburg who lived in Yerushalayim came to the Daas Sofer with a sheilah. He had no source of income and had been offered a good job as a restaurant manager in a hotel. However, prior to accepting, he had heard that the hotel's proprietor was of doubtful integrity and the hechsher had been removed. The unscrupulous owner was sure that if people heard this Yid was manager, the hechsher would be returned and therefore he offered him a substantial wage.

The Daas Sofer saw the case in its true light, realizing that the hotel proprietor wished to fool the rabbonim.

"Al tischaber lorosho," he warned the Yid. "And I promise you in the zchus of my grandfather, the Chasam Sofer, you will shortly be blessed with a good parnossoh."

Relieved of his burden of doubt, the Yid obeyed the Rov. His reward was soon to follow, when he was offered a prestigious job earning him a better wage than that he had been promised by the hotel.


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