Rav Akiva Eiger zt”l, On His Yahrtzeit, Today, 13 Tishrei


rav-akiva-eigerRav Akiva Eiger was one of the greatest gedolim and talmidei chachomim of his time. Born in Eisenstadt, Hungary, in the year 5521 (1761), nearly two hundred years ago, the city of his birth was a seat of learning for centuries, and his family was a family of talmidei  chachomim and rabbonim. His family name was Gins, but he was called after his grandfather, the father of his mother, Rav Akiva Eiger, who was rov in the famous community of Pressburg (also Hungary, but since 1913 it belonged to Czechoslovakia and was called Bratislava).

Rav Akiva Eiger, of whom we are speaking, attended the yeshiva of his uncle, Rav Binyomin Zev Eiger in Breslau. Later be became the rosh yeshiva of the yeshiva in Polish Lissa and of other yeshivos, and became known as a talmid chochom.

After his marriage to the daughter of a prominent and wealthy Jew, he was elected rov of Markish Friedland, in Prussia. He was not very happy about this appointment, for he was a modest man, devoted to learning, and did not want to use his knowledge of the Torah as a source of income. However, after much persuasion by his father-in-law and family he accepted the position when he was thirty years old, and served there for about a quarter of a century (until 1815).

He was then invited to become rov of the famous city of Posen, and in fact became the chief rov of the entire Posen province, though he did not carry that title.

Many stories are told of Rav Akiva’s great modesty and humility, one of them in connection with his new appointment. Rav Akiva Eiger was approaching the outskirts of Posen in a coach, accompanied by his famous son-in-law, Rav Moshe Sofer, known as the Chassam Sofer, rov of Pressburg, who had married Rav Akiva Eiger’s daughter two years earlier. The whole community turned out to welcome the two great talmidei chachomim. The Chassam Sofer naturally thought that all the honors were meant for his illustrious father-in-law, taking up his new post. So he descended from the coach and walked beside it, to join the kehillah paying tribute to the new rov. Some time later he looked to the other side of the coach, and to his great astonishment saw that his father in-law was also walking alongside the coach, on the other side, for he was certain that the honor was not meant for him, but for his great son-in-law.

Rav Akiva Eiger’s greatness of heart and selfless devotion to his community can be seen from the following event. In the year 1831, a terrible cholera epidemic swept central and eastern Europe. Posen was among the cities stricken with this fatal sickness, and entire sections of the city were quarantined and forbidden to be entered. Rav Akiva Eiger disregarded the danger and went into the stricken sections of the city to care for the sick. King Frederick III of Prussia heard of this heroism of the famous rov and honored him with a special medal.

Rav Akiva Eiger was recognized as a great authority on Jewish law, and many well known rabbonim and Jewish leaders turned to him for advice and decisions on points of law. His teshuvos are of great value still today. They were published, in part, in his lifetime.

Rav Akiva Eiger’s writings are many, mostly on the Gemara, in which he analyzed and explained the most difficult and complicated problems of the Gemara and halacha in his own way. His brief remarks and notes on Shas are part of every standard edition of the Gemara, and his writings are ardently studied by talmidei chachomim.

Rav Akiva Eiger’s great knowledge and authority were very helpful in stemming the flood of Reform and assimilation which threatened to undermine Orthodox Jewry. He was ever watchful to strengthen and protect the mesorah and institutions of Yiddishkeit, a fight which was carried on untiringly also by his famous son-in-law, the Chassam Sofer.

The work of Rav Akiva Eiger was carried on by his many talmidim, among whom the most famous were Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kafischer and Rav Yisroel Lipschitz of Danzig, the author of Tiferes Yisroel, the popular commentary on the Mishnah.

Rav Akiva Eiger passed away at the age of 77.

Yehi zichro boruch.

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