Moses Sofer

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Template:Infobox Person Rabbi Moshe Sofer, (German: Moses Schreiber), also known by his main work Chasam Sofer, (trans. Seal of the Scribe), (1762 - 1839), was one of the leading rabbis of European Jewry in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Early years

Moshe Sofer was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on September, 24 1762 (8 Tishrei 5523 on the Hebrew calendar) and died in Pressburg (now Bratislava) on 3 October 1839 (25 Tishrei 5600).

His father's name was Shmuel (Samuel) (d. 1779, 15 Sivan 5539) and his mother's name was Reisil (d. 1822, 17 Adar 5582). Shmuel's mother was a daughter of the Gaon of Frankfurt Rabbi Shmuel Schotten, known as the Marsheishoch (died, 1719, 14 Tamuz 5479), his namesake.


At the age of nine Moshe entered the yeshiva of Rabbi Nathan Adler (1742-1800, d. 27 Elul 5560) at Frankfurt, and when only thirteen years old he delivered public lectures. He was so extraordinary that Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz of Frankfurt asked him to become his pupil. He agreed, but remained under Rabbi Horowitz for only one year, and then left in 1776 for the yeshiva of Rabbi David Tebele Scheuer (1712-1782, d. Shmini Atzeres 5543) in the neighboring city of Mainz, which gladly welcomed him. There he studied under its Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Mechel Scheuer (1739-1810 d. 27 Shevat 5570) son of Rabbi Tebele during the years 1776 and 1777 until he yielded to the entreaties of his former teachers in Frankfurt and returned to his native city. In Mainz many prominent residents took an interest in his welfare and facilitated the progress of his studies. In addition to his vast Talmudic knowledge, he was also proficient in astronomy, geometry, and history.

Boskowitz, Prossnitz, Dresnitz, and Mattersdorf

In 1782 Rabbi Nathan Adler was called to the rabbinate of Boskowitz (Boskovice), Moravia and Rabbi Sofer followed him. He went, at Rabbi Adler's advice, to Prossnitz (Prostejov), where he married Sarah (d. 1812), the daughter of the deceased rabbi of Prossnitz, Rabbi Moses Jerwitz (d. 1785). Rabbi Moses Sofer became a member of the Chevra Kadisha (Shu"t Chasam Sofer, Y"D:327) and eventually became head of the yeshiva there.

In 1794, Rabbi Sofer accepted his first official position, becoming Rabbi of Dresnitz, after he had procured the sanction of the government to settle in that town. In 1797 he was appointed Rabbi of Mattersdorf (currently Mattersburg, Austria); one of the seven communities (known as the Sheva kehillot) of Burgenland. There he established a yeshiva, and pupils flocked to him. His prime pupil in Mattersdorf, was the future Gaon Rabbi Meir Ash (Maharam Ash) (1780-1854), Rabbi of Ungvar.

Pressburg (Bratislava)

He declined many offers for the rabbinate, but in 1806 accepted a call to Pressburg. In Pressburg, he established a yeshiva which was attended by as many as 500 pupils. Hundreds of these pupils became the rabbis of Hungarian Jewry. Among them were:

  • Rabbi Avrohom Schag, (1801-1876)
  • Rabbi Moshe Schick (Maharam Schick), (1807-1879)
  • Rabbi Chaim Zvi Manheimer, (1814-1886)
  • Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein (Kolomea), (1815-1891)
  • Rabbi Avraham Yehuda Hacohen Schwartz (Kol Aryeh), (1824-1875)
  • Rabbi Meir Perles, (1811-1893)
  • Rabbi Chaim Sofer (Machne Chaim), (1822-1886)
  • Rabbi Menachem Mendel Panet (Maglei Tzedek), (1818-1884)
  • Rabbi Menachem Katz, (1795-1891)
  • Rabbi Aharon Singer, (c. 1806-1868)
  • Rabbi Yisroel Yitzchok Aharon Landesberg, (1804-1879)
  • Rabbi Aharon Fried, (1813-1891)
  • Rabbi Aharon Duvid Deutch (Goren Duvid), (1813-1878)
  • Rabbi Yehuda Modrin (Trumas Hacri), (1820-1893)
  • Rabbi Yoel Unger, (1800-1886)
  • Rabbi Naftali Sofer, (1819-1899)
  • Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer (Ktav Sofer), (1815-1872) (son)
  • Rabbi Shimon Sofer, (1821-1883) (son)
  • Rabbi Dovid Zvi Eherenfeld (d. 1861), (son-in-law)
  • Rabbi Shmuel Eherenfeld (1835-1883), (Chasan Sofer) (grandson)

Rabbi Sofer's first wife died childless. Afterwards, he married Sarel (Sarah) (1790-1832, d. 18 Adar II 5592), the widowed daughter of Rabbi Akiba Eiger, (1761-1837) Rabbi of Posen, in 1812 (23 Cheshven 5573). She was the widow of Rabbi Avraham Moshe Kalischer (1788-1812), Rabbi of Piła, the son of Rabbi Yehuda Kalischer, author of Hayod Hachazoka.

Fight against changes in Judaism

File:Chatam Sofer colour.JPG
The Chasam Sofer led the fight against the Reform Movement

From the late 18th century onwards, movements which eventually developed into Reform Judaism began to progress. Synagogues subscribing to these new views began to appear in centres such as Berlin and Hamburg. Rabbi Sofer was profoundly opposed to the reformers and attacked them in his speeches and writings. For example in a responsum of 1816 he forbade the congregation in Vienna to allow a performance in the synagogue of a cantata they had commissioned from the composer Ignaz Moscheles because it would involve a mixed choir. In the same spirit he also contested the founders of the Reformschule (Reform synagogue) in Pressburg, which was established in the year 1827.

In response to those who stated that Judaism could change or evolve, Rabbi Sofer applied the motto Hadash asur min ha-Torah (Template:Lang), "Anything new is forbidden by the Torah," (homelitically based on the Biblical law, in Leviticus 23:14, that new grains are forbidden to be used before Passover, see Yoshon). For Rabbi Sofer, Judaism as previously practiced was the only form of Judaism acceptable. In his view the rules and tenets of Judaism never changed — and cannot ever change. This became the defining idea for the opponents to Reform, and in some form, it has continued to influence Orthodox response to innovation in Jewish doctrine and practice.


He is one of the most important figures in the development of Haredi Judaism, where his influence is still felt today. He is also the patriarch of the Sofer family of rabbis. His son Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer (1815-1872) (the Ktav Sofer) succeeded him as rabbi of Pressburg, and his son Rabbi Shimon Sofer (1821-1883) became rabbi of Kraków. One of his descendants is the Grand Rabbi of the Erlau sect, which is a Hasidic-style sect in Jerusalem that follows the customs of Rabbi Moses Sofer, as opposed to Hasidic customs of prayer.

In Orthodox Jewry, he is an often-quoted authority. Many of his responsa are required reading for semicha (rabbinic ordination); his novellæ on the Torah sparked a new style in Torah commentary, and some editions of the Talmud contain his emendations and additions.

His students included many rabbinic leaders, including Rabbi Hayyim Joseph Gottlieb of Stropkov.


Interior of the memorial, (the grave of Moses Sofer at the left)
A modern Jewish memorial, containing Moses Sofer's grave and those of many of his associates and family, is in Bratislava (underground, below Bratislava Castle at the Danube), and the nearby tram station is named after him.

The preservation of these graves has a curious history. The Jewish cemetery in Bratislava was confiscated during the regime of Josef Tiso in 1943 to build a roadway. Negotiations with the regime enabled the community to preserve the section of the cemetery including Chatam Sofer's grave, enclosed in concrete, below the surface of the new road. The regime complied either (according to one story) as a consequence of a large bribe, foreign pressure (according to another) or (according to yet another) for fear of a curse if the graves were destroyed. After the independence of Slovakia in 1992, new negotiations were undertaken to restore public access to the preserved graves. In the mid-1990s the International Committee for Preservation of Gravesites of Geonai Pressburg was formed to support and oversee relocation of tram tracks and building of a mausoleum. In 1999 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the then mayor of Bratislava Jozef Moravcik, Chairman of the Committee Romi Cohn and Chairman of the Bratislava Jewish Religious Community Peter Salner. Construction of the mausoleum was completed after overcoming numerous technical and religious issues and opened on July 8, 2002. Access to the mausoleum can be arranged through the local Jewish community organisation.

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External sources

Rabbi Hatam Sofer & Jewish Bratislava

The guide to the Chatam Sofer Memorial in Bratislava (Pressburg), synagogues and other Jewish heritage sites in Slovakiaru:Хатам Софер sk:Chatam Sófer yi:חתם סופר