The Judge Hirschl, from being lynched by the inhabitants of Arad, to the emperor’s medal.
In Jewish culture education, justice and social responsibility are on the first places. The essence of Judaism is Tikkun Olam, that is, the repair of the world and everyone who comes into contact with it, is required to train his muscles of compassion, responsibility and duty towards his fellow men. The rabbis and the community leaders are the most frantic in this regard. But two of Arad’s Jews took all human qualities to another level. Although there was a difference of 24 years between them, the two bonded with a strong friendship, which helped them overcome all obstacles in their path. Rabbi Aron Chorin and Judge Moises Hirschl are two personalities with features that remind us of childhood stories` heroes. They gathered around them some friends with whom they managed to build a strong community. We already told the story of the wise rabbi and you can find it published on aradjc.org. Here is the story of his friend and ally, the fearless Moses Hirschl.
Moses Hirschl was born on April 3, 1790, at exactly 23 years and 8 months after the birth of his friend Aron Chorin. He was the child of Eva Hirschl, née Spitz and of the merchant Jacob Hirschl, both of whom came from the old Buda, at that time Alt-Ofen. As the custom of the time required, he married as a young man, in 1809, at the age of 19, with the widow Charlote Blau, née Steinbach; described by the family as a woman of rare kindness. Only one year after the marriage their first child, Samuel Hirschl was born, and then came Eleonore Hirschl.
In 1813, when, at the age of only 23, the young Hirschl was elected as a representative of the Jewish Community of Arad, here, the breath of the neolog current is already felt as well as the opposition of the Orthodox Jews. In Chorin’s assent, Hirschl also begins the fight against religious fanaticism. That same year, Abraham Birnstingel and his wife died, leaving 5 orphaned children. Moses Hirschl becomes their guardian and ensures that they benefit from education and all that is necessary for their growth. In 1826, he becomes the judge of the community, the equivalent of today’s president.
In the Arad community, Hirschl’s personality was often shrouded in mythical echoes. His efforts and the efforts of other choriners, that is to say, close to the rabbi, eventually led to the construction of the neolog synagogue and of the Jewish schools. But the judge’s work was perhaps the most laborious. Precisely to dedicate as much time as possible to overcome the obstacles posed by the Orthodox Jews and to overcome the injustices of the authorities, Hirschl resigns from the post of judge only after three years. With much effort he raises funds for the construction of the synagogue, donating huge sums himself and manages to get even the approval of the authorities for the construction. Therefore, he concludes a contract with the master builder in Pécs and gives him an advance of 1000 florins.
In the presence of some Arad officials, a solemn ceremony is held and the digs for the foundation begin, but after three tiring weeks of work, Deputy Lieutenant von Vásárhely ordered that all work should be stopped immediately. Moses Hirschl, submits at once, however, he fails to give all orders for the cessation of the works meanwhile a messenger, with a letter from the authorities, comes telling Hirschl that he must appear before the city court. Hirschl follows him knowing that he has done nothing wrong, but when he arrives at the town hall, he notices that the spirits are hot and he is surrounded by a crowd that is about to lynch him, shouting against him. He walks down the full halls of the town hall and goes up the stairs among people who shout to be thrown from the first floor window. When he arrived in front of the authorities, he was asked to give account why the work at the synagogue had not stopped. Hirschl defends his cause and asks them to go with him to the land to see if the men are still working.
To Hirschl’s luck, all the workers stopped and he escaped alive. The one thousand florins were lost and all the work at the foundation of the sinagogue was destroyed extremely quickly by the villagers who were given drink and food to cover the land.
But the two leaders, Moises Hirschl and Aron Chorin do not give up. After overcoming a series of obstacles, bringing together a battle at each level, they eventually reach the supreme authority. Thus, His Majesty the Emperor Francis, Grand Prince of Transylvania, approved the construction of the synagogue and the school. Now no one can oppose the erection of the edifice. For his efforts in education, Moses Hirschl is decorated by the emperor with a gold medal, receiving the highest honors in the kingdom. He is also made an honorary citizen of Arad.
On March 20, 1851 he takes the oath of citizenship of Vienna, but he continues to help both the Jewish Community of Arad and the many well-established institutions in his hometown. Of course, in the capital of the empire he also does many acts of charity. One of them is the donation of 3600 florins for the orphans’ foundation in Vienna, the other a donation of 500 florins for the clothing fund of needy schoolchildren in Döbling.
If the great Rabbi Aron Chorin is the light that guided the souls and minds of the Arad Jews, Moises Hirschl proves to be the light that leads the Arad Jews, and not only, to social and intellectual progress. Being a good organizer, we owe him the construction of the neolog synagogue with all the related spaces, including those for the small school, then the construction of the school for the girls.
If Aron Chorin is the great reforming rabbi, then Moses Hirschl is the great reforming leader. The two names are still spoken today with devotion by both members of the Jewish community in Arad and by all who know the history of this free royal city.
Margareta Vidorka Szegő
Images courtesy of Devenson families