This Day in History – 17 Adar II/March 19

In 5677/1917, British troops conquered Baghdad, ending the cruel rule of the Turkish Empire. Jews of Baghdad celebrated the day as a Purim.

In 5703/1943, Bulgarian Commissar for Jewish Affairs Alexander Belev signed an agreement permitting Germany to deport 26,000 Jews to extermination camps. Hy”d.

In 5708/1948, the Jewish quarter of Old Yerushalayim was besieged by Arabs, cutting off the inhabitants from their brethren in New Yerushalayim.


 

Yahrtzeiten

5677/1917, Harav Yitzchak Friedman, zt”l, the Pachad Yitzchak of Boyan

5702/1942, Harav Meir Shlomo Yehudah of Mezritch, zt”l

5722/1962, Harav Yisrael Ze’ev Mintzberg of Yerushalayim, zt”l

5765/2005, Harav Avraham Menachem Danziger of Alexander, zt”l


 

5643 (1883)

Harav Shimon Sofer, the Michtav Sofer, zy”a

Harav Shimon, the second son of Harav Moshe Sofer, the Chasam Sofer, zy”a, was born on the thirteenth of Teves 5581/1821 in the city of Pressburg, where the Chasam Sofer served as Rav. He was named Shimon after the mechaber of Yalkut Shimoni, a forbear of the family. As a child he was always sickly and weak, and it was a wonder that he survived. His great father held him on his lap as he delivered intricate shiurim on the parashah, and even as a youngster, Shimon would understand and keep up with the shiur. In one instance, he interrupted one of his father’s shiurim to offer a pshat.

As a child he learned under Harav Fishel, a prime talmid of the Chasam Sofer, under whom he grew immensely in Torah and yirah, becoming especially well-versed in the works of the Akeidas Yitzchak and the Shelah. Eventually, Shimon entered his father’s yeshivah, where he excelled even further. He had a very close relationship with his father, and he is often mentioned in his many sefarim.

When Shimon turned 17 he married Miriam, the daughter of Harav Dov Ber Sterinberg, from the city of Krule. After his chasunah he settled in Krule, where he continued striving  and growing in Torah.

Before the Chasam Sofer was niftar in Tishrei of 5600 (1839), he blessed his sons. He told his son Reb Shimon, “Tana Ekra Ka’i,” hinting that his son’s ultimate destination would be Cracow.

In 5604/1844, Reb Shimon was asked to accept the rabbanus of Mattersdorf, which he did. The parnassim of Mattersdorf supported him and his fledging yeshivah as well. Reb Shimon led the yeshivah and stood by the community as a beacon of light and a pillar of chessed and selflessness.

During these years he was offered many prominent positions, including the esteemed kehillah of Nikolsburg, but he rejected them all, claiming that he did not merit such honor. In 5621/1861 he was asked to accept the rabbanus of Cracow, a community that was highly esteemed in those days. After lengthy negotiations, Reb Shimon reluctantly agreed and moved to Cracow, where he was welcomed with great honor.

Reb Shimon headed Cracow’s rabbanus until his petirah in 5643/1883, leaving a strong impression for many years to come. At the pinnacle of command in the battle against the maskilim, he stood at the helm of the Machzikei Hadas faction that vigorously fought them. In 5639/1879, he was chosen to represent the frum Yidden in the Austrian Parliament, where he engendered great honor for the Jewish people. He was personally displeased to have to waste his precious time serving in the parliament, but for the sake of Klal Yisrael he willingly made this sacrifice. The Kaiser Franz Joseph came to visit the Rav in Cracow, and, as he wrote to his son, the Kaiser bowed in honor of the sefer Torah that Harav Shimon held.

He was greatly revered by all the Rabbanim and Rebbes of his generation, who saw him as their representative on vital issues of Yiddishkeit. He authored the responsa, Michtav Sofer. Additionally, he was known for his power to daven for people in need.

When Harav Shimon was niftar, the entire city of Cracow went into mourning; the workshops and markets were closed while everyone attended the levayah.

He was buried in Cracow’s old cemetery, where his kever was renovated after the Holocaust. He was survived by many descendants.

Zecher tzaddik livrachah.


 

March 19

In 1687, French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle — the first European to navigate the length of the Mississippi River — was murdered by mutineers in present-day Texas.

In 1863, the Confederate cruiser Georgianna, on its maiden voyage, was scuttled off Charleston, S.C., to prevent it from falling into Union hands.

In 1918, Congress approved daylight saving time.

In 1920, the Senate rejected, for a second time, the Treaty of Versailles by a vote of 49 in favor, 35 against, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed for approval.

In 1945, 724 people were killed when a Japanese dive bomber attacked the carrier USS Franklin off Japan; the ship, however, was saved.

Adolf Hitler issued his so-called “Nero Decree,” ordering the destruction of German facilities that could fall into Allied hands.

In 1993, Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White announced plans to retire. (White’s departure paved the way for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to become the court’s second female justice.)

In 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the start of war against Iraq. (Because of the time difference, it was early March 20 in Iraq.)