Rabbi Akiba Eger was one of the greatest scholars of his time, who had a great influence on Jewish life. He was 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 scholars and Rabbis. His family name was Gins, but he was called after his grandfather, the father of his mother, Rabbi Akiba Eger, who was Rabbi in the famous community of Pressburg (also Hungary, but since 1913 it belonged to Czechoslovakia and was called Bratislava).
Rabbi Akiba Eger, of whom we are speaking, attended the Yeshiva of his uncle, Rabbi Benjamin Wolf Eger in Breslau. Later be became the dean of the Yeshiva in Polish Lissa and of other Yeshivoth, and became known as a brilliant scholar.
After his marriage to the daughter of a prominent and wealthy Jew, he was elected Rabbi of Markish Friedland, in Prussia. He was not very happy about this appointment, for he was a modest man, devoted to study, 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 Rabbi of the famous city of Posen, and in fact became the chief rabbi of the entire Posen province, though he did not carry that title.
Many stories are told of Rabbi Akiba's great modesty and humility, one of them' in connection with his new appointment. Rabbi Akiba Eger was approaching the outskirts of Posen in a coach, accompanied by his famous son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Sofer (known as the 'Chassam Sofer'), Rabbi of Pressburg, who had married Rabbi Akiba Eger's daughter two years earlier. The whole community turned out to welcome the two great scholars. 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 congregation paying -tribute to the new Rabbi. 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.
Rabbi Akiba Eger'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. Rabbi Akiba Eger 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 rabbi and honored him with a special medal.
Rabbi Akiba Eger was recognized as a great authority on Jewish law, and many well known rabbis and Jewish leaders turned to him for advice and decisions on points of law. His legal decisions (Tesbuvoth) are of great value even today. They were published, in part, in his lifetime.
Rabbi Akiba Eger's writings are many, mostly on the Talmud, in which he analyzed and explained the most difficult and complicated problems of the Talmud and Jewish law in his own way (Chiddushim). His brief remarks and notes on the Talmud are part of every standard edition of the Talmud, and his writings are ardently studied by most students of the Talmud, because difficult passages are so closely explained and simplified.
Rabbi Akiba Eger'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 traditions and institutions of orthodox Judaism, a fight which was carried on untiringly also by his famous son-in-law, the Chassarn Sofer.
The work of Rabbi Akiba Eger was carried on by his many disciples among whom the most famous were Rabbi Tzevi Hirsch Kafischer, and Rabbi Israel Lipschitz of Danzig, the author of "Tifereth Israel," the popular commentary on the Mishnah.
Rabbi Akiba Eger passed away at the age of 77, and his tombstone was inscribed with the epitaph: "He was a servant of G-d's servants."