At the age of twenty-two, when he was as yet unmarried, Rabbi Shamshon Rafael was appointed rav in Oldenburg, Germany. This was subsequent to two-and-a-half years learning under the author of the Oruch LaNer, who sent off his student with an outstanding heter horo'oh.
In Oldenburg began his bitter struggle against the leaders of Jewish Reform.
He published his famous sefer Iggeres Tzofun (Nineteen Letters), written as an exchange of letters between Binyomin, a young Jewish boy who is at a crossroads in his life, not knowing what to choose between the haskalah and Orthodox Judaism, and his friend Naftoli, who is true to masores avos.
Binyomin raises his questions and doubts and Naftoli gives him the correct answers.
R' Shamshon Rafael Hirsch's talmidim note that the sefer was successful beyond all imagination. It truly created a storm in its time, because it was the first presentation of the Torah view in a modern and very powerful format. Many Jewish souls were saved through its pages of wisdom. In fact, HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt"l, asked that it be translated into Russian in order to strengthen the emunoh of the Russian Yidden.
Soon after that he published the longer Chorev to give reasons and explanations for the mitzvos of the Torah.
Sara Schenirer later said that it was these two works that inspired her to found the Bais Yaakov movement.
Rabbeinu's words were written for his generation, yet they are ever applicable to Jews until the end of time.
An example is the ta'amim and intentions he wrote regarding the mitzvah of tzitzis. The strings of the tzitzis are partly tightly tied and partly loosely falling down. Rabbeinu explains that a Jew must be tightly bound to the Torah and mitzvos in order to do the will of Hashem, but he notes that most of the strings are hanging loose; a Jew is not locked in a prison. The Torah does not fetter him and restrict him completely. He is free to do everything as long as the top is bound to the Torah.
From Oldenburg, R' Shamshon Rafael Hirsch became rav in Emden, and subsequently in Nicholsburg, where he was responsible for the entire province of Moravia.
Prior to his arrival in Nicholsburg, the battle against the maskilim had been fierce, particularly because the latter were the majority. They had to appoint one rabbi who would be chosen by all unanimously. Rabbeinu fit their criteria; the Orthodox Jews knew that R' Shamshon Rafael Hirsch was a paragon of yiras Shomayim, and the maskilim knew that he wrote fluent German, and mistakenly took him for a German and only then a Jewish Rabbi.
However, after Rabbeinu's settled in Nicholsburg, the Reformers realized — too late — their mistake.
R' Shamshon Rafael Hirsch founded a yeshiva in the city to educate the youth al taharas hakodesh. He ruled with a firm hand, not allowing the maskilim to change the order of tefillos as they had done in other communities.
The heads of the Reform community were not satisfied to gnash their teeth and remain silent and at every opportunity they tried to harm Rabbeinu. Nonetheless, he was successful there although not as much as he would have liked. It was the largest rabbinate position in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with some 50,000 Jewish members.
Nonetheless, in a move that stunned the community of Nicholsburg, when one hundred families of Frankfurt who worked to separate from the main Jewish Kehilla and start their own independent one, asked him to be their rov, Rabbeinu accepted.
He left the great town of Nicholsburg and went to serve as rav in the humble breakaway kehilloh in Frankfurt, numbering only one hundred families.
They called the new community Adas Yeshurun, and it eventually grew to be the famed Adas Yeshurun Kehilla, eventually sending out branches to communities the world over in our days which carry the name and traditions of Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch. Rabbeinu's was the first one in Germany of its kind — that separated off from the main mixed Jewish community to keep the nation pure.
In Germany of those days, and in Frankfurt specifically, there was only one official Jewish community. If one was a Jew, he was a member of that community. It was a difficult task to gain recognition from the government to establish a separate community. In Frankfurt the Reform Jews had gained control of the community early in the nineteenth century, and they laid down the rules, backed and enforced by the government. For example, for 19 years they completely outlawed any public learning of Torah.
It was one of the key principles of HaRav Hirsch that there could be no mixing between Torah-true Jews and heretics. This situation caused great problems for the fledgling kehilloh.
It was only through the endless toil of R' Shamshon Rafael Hirsch that they in the end succeeded in obtaining recognition as an independent community, as the Chasam Sofer zt"l did in Hungary.
His struggle was not only against the outside reformers. Some rabbonim held that one could or should remain within the official community and fight the Reformers from the inside.
The subject was a source of great controversy among German gedolim of the time.
In the book Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, written by HaRav Klugman (page 124 in the footnote), it is told that HaRav Nachman Bulman zt"l related the following:
After world War One, the Admor Reb Sholom Ber of Lubavitch zt"l met a woman from Frankfurt who was eighty years old, yet looked forty.
She related that soon after his arrival in Frankfurt, HaRav Hirsch called a meeting of women to increase awareness of taharas hamishpocha and to discuss matters related to the mikveh. This woman, then a young bride, took upon herself to serve as a sort of secretary for the group, and after she did so, Rav Hirsch took her to the next room which was the temporary shul, directed her to the Aron Hakodesh and told her that he promised her that the zchus of her willingness to serve, she would merit to live a long life without any worries of parnossoh or health. She told the Rebbe that she had never been ill in her life, and had never had any financial worries.
When Rabbeinu started off in Frankfurt, there was no operating mikveh in town at all, for the Reformers had closed it down and even filled it in.
Although his new congregants wanted to build a shul right away, HaRav Hirsch insisted that first they would build a mikveh and then a school. After that, they could build a shul.
Among Rabbeinu's talmidim were many of the founders of Agudas Yisroel. They said that the basis of the principle of Agudas Yisroel — to unite Orthodox Jewry under one flag — was taken from their Rebbe, Rabbi Shamshon Rafael Hirsch zt"l. This was coupled with full support and aid for the yishuv in Eretz Yisroel al pi Torah along with the general principle of not having anything to do with heretics.
In Frankfurt, Rabbeinu wrote his other seforim on Torah, Tehillim, and on the seder Hatefillah.
Shemesh Marpei, a sefer of chiddushei halochoh and Shulchan Oruch taken from his handwritten manuscripts, was published.
Rabbeinu received payment in advance of his wages from the kehilloh every quarter. Before his petiroh, Rabbeinu asked that part of his wages should be returned, since his end was drawing near and he had therefore not served his full quarter-year. However he was in fact niftar on December 31 of that year (1888).
After his passing, many hespedim spoke of the fact that Yiddishkeit in Germany would not have been the same without Rabbeinu. After he met him (in 1873) and read his sefer Nineteen Letters, Rav Yisroel Salanter zt"l said, "Where is there a Gan Eden big enough for Rabbi Hirsch!"
HaRav Shlomo Zalman Spitzer zt"l said in his hesped of Rabbeinu, " . . . Sanctified for Hashem and to keeping His mitzvos, he never feared a human being, but had the fear of Hashem Yisborach all his days."