Bratislava Before the Holocaust
The Pressburg Yeshiva
At the beginning of the 18th century a beit midrash (religious study hall) was established in the Schlossberg quarter. At the end of the century, under the auspices of Chief Rabbi Meir Barbi, the beit midrash grew into a yeshiva and was counted among the important rabbinical centers, alongside Prague and Nickelsburg. In 1806 Rabbi Moses Sofer (The Chatam Sofer) was elected chief rabbi of the city. His period of office inaugurated the golden age of the Pressburg Yeshiva, which became one of the leading rabbinic institutions in Europe. Rabbi Sofer set down new rules for the running of the yeshiva and drew up study guidelines for the students. Under his tutelage each tractate of the Talmud was studied from its beginning to its end – his in-depth style of study was used to delve deeply into the roots of every Talmudic problem. Students between the ages of 18 and 19 were accepted, provided they had previously studied in a yeshiva recognized by Rabbi Sofer.
The Pressburg Yeshiva was run as an autonomous institution, without the intervention of the community. When Rabbi Sofer assumed his office, the yeshiva boasted several dozen students, but within a short time their number had increased to more than 250. The Pressburg Yeshiva succeeded in producing first rate rabbinic scholars, who went on to become the leading Rabbis of the generation. Under Rabbi Sofer’s influence, dozens of similar yeshivas, utilizing the format established at the Pressburg Yeshiva, were established across Hungary.
During the second half of the 19th century the financial situation of the Jews of Bratislava improved. Under Rabbi Abraham Samuel Benjamin Sofer, the Chatam Sofer’s son, the yeshiva continued to grow, reaching a total of some 400 students. In 1857 the civil authorities recognized the Pressburg Yeshiva as an institute for rabbinic training, and all its students were exempted from military service. Most of the military rabbis who served in the Austro-Hungarian Army were graduates of the Pressburg Yeshiva, and held officers’ ranks.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim Sofer inherited the leadership of the Pressburg Yeshiva from his father, Rabbi Abraham Sofer. He continued running it along the guidelines set down by his predecessors, he also established a cafeteria, so that the students would not have to take meals with a different family each day of the week. During this period the civil authorities required that rabbinic candidates acquire formal education in a German speaking high school. In order to meet this requirement, students of the Pressburg Yeshiva would take private lessons in the secular subjects, on which they would be tested at the end of the year by qualified teachers.
At the end of the 19th century the Pressburg Yeshiva reached the height of its growth; at this time it held more than 500 students. During the Czechoslovakian republic the Pressburg Yeshiva was recognized as an institution of higher learning, but the number of students gradually declined. From 1912 the Yeshiva was run by the chief rabbi of the city, Rabbi Akiva Sofer, the great grandson of the Chatam Sofer. In the 1920s and 1930s between 250 and 300 students attended the yeshiva.
Government of the Federal Republic of Germany