Moses Sofer

Moses Sofer
Moses Sofer

Oil painting of the Chasam Sofer based on Ber Frank Halevi's drawing
Born September 26, 1762(1762-09-26) (7 Tishrei 5523 Anno Mundi)
Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Died October 3, 1839(1839-10-03) (aged 77) (25 Tishrei 5600 Anno Mundi)
Pozsony, Kingdom of Hungary
Resting place Bratislava
Residence Pressburg
Nationality German
Other names Rabbi Moses Schreiber, the Chasam Sofer
Occupation Rabbi
Religion Haredi Orthodox Judaism
Spouse Sarah Malka Jerwitz Sofer (1st); Sorel (Sarah) Eiger Sofer (2nd)
Children Abraham Samuel Benjamin Sofer (Ksav Sofer); Rabbi Shimon Sofer, Rav of Kraków; Rabbi Joseph Yuzpa Sofer; plus seven daughters
Parents Samuel and Reizel Sofer

Moses Schreiber, known to his own community and Jewish posterity as Moshe Sofer, also known by his main work Chasam Sofer, (trans. Seal of the Scribe and acronym for Chidushei Toras Moshe Sofer), (1762–1839), was one of the leading Orthodox rabbis of European Jewry in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was a teacher to thousands and a powerful opponent to the Reform movement, which was then making inroads into many Jewish communities in Austria-Hungary and beyond. As Rav of the city of Bratislava, he maintained a strong Orthodox Jewish perspective through communal life, first-class education, and uncompromising opposition to Reform and radical change.[1]

The Chasam Sofer established a yeshiva in Bratislava which became the most influential yeshiva in Central Europe, producing hundreds of future leaders of Hungarian Jewry.[2] This yeshiva continued to function until World War II; afterwards, it was relocated to Jerusalem under the leadership of the Chasam Sofer's great-grandson, Rabbi Akiva Sofer (the Daas Sofer).

The Chasam Sofer is an oft-quoted authority in Orthodox Jewish scholarship. Many of his responsa are required reading for semicha (rabbinic ordination) candidates. His Torah chiddushim (original Torah insights) sparked a new style in rabbinic commentary, and some editions of the Talmud contain his emendations and additions.


Early years

Moses Sofer was born in Frankfurt am Main, (now Germany) on September 24, 1762, during the Seven Years' War. (8 Tishrei 5523 on the Hebrew calendar).

His father's name was Shmuel (Samuel) (d. 1779, 15 Sivan 5539) and his mother's name was Reizel the daughter of Elchanan[3] (d. 1822, 17 Adar 5582). Shmuel's mother, Reizchen (d. 5 May 1731 in Frankfurt am Main),[3] was a daughter of the Gaon of Frankfurt Rabbi Shmuel Schotten, known as the Marsheishoch (died, 1719, 14 Tamuz 5479 in Frankfurt am Main), his namesake.


At the age of nine, Moses entered the yeshiva of Rabbi Nathan Adler (1741–1800, d. 27 Elul 5560) at Frankfurt. At the age of thirteen, he began to deliver public lectures. His knowledge 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.

Boskovice, Prostějov, Strážnice and Mattersdorf

In 1782 Rabbi Nathan Adler was called to the rabbinate of Boskovice, Moravia and Rabbi Sofer followed him. He went, at Rabbi Adler's advice, to Prostějov, Moravia, where on 6 May 1787 he married Sarah,[3] the daughter of the deceased rabbi of Prostějov, 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, Sofer accepted his first official position, becoming Rabbi of Strážnice, 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 Siebengemeinden or 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) (1780–1852), Rabbi of Uzhhorod.


He declined many offers for the rabbinate, but in 1806 accepted a call to Bratislava, Austrian Empire (now capital of Slovakia). In Bratislava, 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 Yehuda Aszod (Yehudah Ya'aleh), (1794–1866)
  • Rabbi Aharon Duvid Deutsch (Goren Duvid), (1813–1878)
  • Rabbi Dovid Zvi Ehrenfeld (d. 1861), (son-in-law)
  • Rabbi Shmuel Ehrenfeld (1835–1883), (Chasan Sofer) (grandson)
  • Rabbi Aharon Fried (Tzel Hakesef), (1813–1891)
  • Rabbi Chaim Joseph Gottlieb of Stropkov.
  • Rabbi Menachem Katz, (1795–1891)
  • Rabbi Yisroel Yitzchok Aharon Landesberg, (1804–1879)
  • Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein (Kolomea) (Maskil El Dol), (1815–1891)
  • Rabbi Chaim Zvi Mannheimer (Ein Habdoilach), (1814–1886)
  • Rabbi Yehuda Modrin (Trumas Hacri), (1820–1893)
  • Rabbi Menachem Mendel Panet (Maglei Tzedek), (1818–1884)
  • Rabbi Meir Perles, (1811–1893)
  • Rabbi Avrohom Schag (Ohel Avrohom), (1801-1876)
  • Rabbi Dovid Schick (Imrei Duvid) (died: 1890) brother of Moshe Schick [4]
  • Rabbi Moshe Schick (Maharam Schick), (1807-1879)
  • Rabbi Avraham Yehuda Hacohen Schwartz (Kol Aryeh), (1824-1883)
  • Rabbi Shimon Sidon (Shevet Shimon) (1815 - 1891), Rabbi of Cifer and Trnava
  • Rabbi Aharon Singer, (c. 1806-1868)
  • Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer (Ktav Sofer), (1815-1872) (son)
  • Rabbi Chaim Sofer (Machne Chaim), (1822-1886)[5]
  • Rabbi Naftali Sofer (Matei Naftali), (1819-1899)
  • Rabbi Shimon Sofer, (1821-1883) (son)
  • Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Spitzer (Tikun Shloime), (1811–1893), (son-in-law), Rabbi of Schiff Shul in Vienna
  • Rabbi Yoel Unger (Teshuvas Rivo), (1800-1886)

Fight against changes in Judaism

Painting of the Chasam Sofer.

The Chasam Sofer led the community of Bratislava for 33 years until his death in 1839. It was his influence and determination that kept the Reform movement out of Bratislava.

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. 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 Bratislava, which was established in the year 1827.

In response to those who stated that Judaism could change or evolve, Sofer applied the motto Hadash asur min ha-Torah (חדש אסור מן התורה), "Innovation (of the Torah) 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 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.[6]

Second marriage and progeny

Rabbi Sofer's first wife Sarah died childless on 22 Jul 1812.[3] He re-married to Sarel (Sarah) (1790–1832, d. 18 Adar II 5592), the widowed daughter of the illustrious Rabbi Akiva Eger, Rav of Poznań, in 1812 (23 Cheshvan 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.

With his second wife, the Chasam Sofer had seven daughters and three sons. The latter were: Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer(known as the Ksav Sofer); Rabbi Shimon Sofer (known as the Michtav Sofer), who became the Rav of Kraków; and Rabbi Joseph Yuzpa Sofer.[7] His sons and daughters produced a line of respected Torah scholars who were named along the lines of Chasam Torah — as, for instance, the Shevet Sofer (his son's son), the Daas Sofer (his grandson's son), and the Chasan Sofer (his daughter's son, whose name is an acronym for Chiddushei Toras Neched Sofer, "Torah Insights of the Grandson of Sofer"). The Chasam Sofer and his family lived on the bottom of Zamocka Street where the Hotel Ibis is now located.

Many synagogues and yeshivas worldwide bear the name and follow the legacy of the Chasam Sofer. Notable among them are the Pressburg institutions in London, England, headed by his descendant, Rabbi Shmuel Ludmir (who has published much of his work),[8] and the yeshiva and institutions of the Erlau dynasty in Israel, headed by his direct descendant, Rabbi Yochanan Sofer. The Institute for Research of the Teachings of the Chasam Sofer, founded by Rabbi Yochanan in Jerusalem, Israel, researches and deciphers handwritten documents penned by the Chasam Sofer, his pupils and descendants and has printed hundreds of sefarim. The Erlau community is Hasidic-style, though strictly follows to the Ashkenaz customs as did the Chasam Sofer.

Death and burial place

Interior of the memorial (the grave of the Chasam Sofer is at the left).

He died in Bratislava on October 3, 1839 (25 Tishrei 5600).

A modern Jewish memorial, containing Moses Sofer's grave and those of many of his associates and family, is located in Bratislava. It is situated underground below Bratislava Castle at the left bank of the Danube). 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 by the anti-Semitic ruler catholic priest Jozef Tiso in 1943 to build a roadway. Negotiations with the regime enabled the community to preserve the section of the cemetery including the Chasam Sofer's grave, enclosed in concrete, below the surface of the new road. The regime complied either as a consequence of a large bribe (according to one story), foreign pressure (according to another story), or for fear of a curse if the graves were destroyed (according to yet another story).

Following the declaration of independence by 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 Moravčík, 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.

See also

  • Pressburg Yeshiva (Austria-Hungary)
  • Pressburg Yeshiva (Jerusalem)
  • Shmuel Ehrenfeld


  1. ^ Great Leaders of Our People: Rabbi Moshe Sofer (The Chasam Sofer)
  2. ^ Crash Course in Jewish History: Pale of Settlement,
  3. ^ a b c d "Shlomo (Fritz) Ettlinger". Ele Toldot - Gedenkbuch für die Frankfurter Juden. Frankfurt am Main: Institut für Stadtgeschichte Karmeliterkloster. . This 32-volume collection of transcribed genealogical records of the Jewish community of Frankfurt am Main, covering the years 1241 to 1824 is available at the Leo Baeck Institute. Additional details about the work can be seen in the December 1996 issue of Stammbaum, the newsletter of German-Jewish Genealogical Research
  4. ^
  5. ^ Singer, Isidore; Venetianer, Ludwig. SOFER, HAYYIM BEN MORDECAI EPHRAIM FISCHL. Jewish Encyclopedia. 
  6. ^ Hildesheimer, Meir (1994). "The Attitude of the Ḥatam Sofer toward Moses Mendelssohn". Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research (American Academy for Jewish Research) 60: 141. JSTOR 3622572. 
  7. ^ "The Chasam Sofer" (Yated Neeman, Monsey).
  8. ^ בית סופרים חלק א' ב' ג' , זמירות וכו

External sources

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Moses Sofer — Moses Sofer, deutscher Name: Moses Schreiber oder Mosche Schreiber, bekannt als Chatam Sofer (* September 1762 in Frankfurt am Main; † 3. Oktober 1839 in Pressburg/Bratislava), war ein führender orthodoxer Rabbiner des 19. Jahrhunderts. Der Name …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Moses Sofer — Hatam Sofer La représentation traditionnelle du Hatam Sofer Le Hatam Sofer (Rabbi Moché Schreiber de son vrai nom, né le 26 septembre 1762 à Francfort sur le Main (en Allemagne) et décédé le 3 octobre 1839) es …   Wikipédia en Français

  • SOFER, ḤAYYIM BEN MORDECAI EPHRAIM FISCHEL — (1821–1886), Hungarian rabbi. An outstanding pupil of Ḥatam Sofer in Pressburg and of Meir Eisenstaedter in Ungvar, Ḥayyim was appointed head of the yeshivah at Mattersdorf in 1844. He served as rabbi of Győmrő in 1852, of Sajoszentpeter in 1859 …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • SOFER — (Schreiber), rabbinical family, descendants of moses sofer . ABRAHAM SAMUEL BENJAMIN WOLF (1815–1871), oldest son of Moses Sofer, succeeded his father on his death in 1839 as rabbi and rosh yeshivah of Pressburg. During the 32 years he occupied… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Sofer (Familienname) — Sofer ist der nach dem hebräischen Berufsnamen Sofer gebildete Familienname folgender Personen: Dalia Sofer (* 1972), US amerikanische Schriftstellerin Jakow Chajim Sofer (1870–1939), charedischer Rabbiner, Talmudist, Posek und Kabbalist Moses… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sofer (disambiguation) — Sofer can refer to:*A sofer is a ritual scribe in Judaism.* Soferet is a documentary about Aviel Barclay, a female scribePeople named Sofer: * Jekuthiel Sofer, an 18th century Jewish scribe from Amsterdam * Moses Sofer, a rabbi, also known by the …   Wikipedia

  • Moses (given name) — Moses or Moshe is a male given name, after the biblical figure Moses. According to the Torah, the name Moses comes from the Hebrew verb meaning to pull/draw out [of water]. The infant Moses was given this name by Pharaoh s daughter after rescuing …   Wikipedia

  • Moses Mendelssohn — (1771, Porträt von Anton Graff, Kunstbesitz der Universität Leipzig) Moses Mendelssohn (* 6. September 1729 in Dessau; † 4. Januar 1786 in Berlin) war ein deutsch jüdischer Philosoph im Zeitalter der Aufklärung …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Moses Mendelssohn — Philosophe allemand Époque moderne Naissance 6 septembre 1729 ( …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Moses Isserles — Moses ben Israel Isserles (* um 1525 in Krakau; † 1572 ebenda) war ein polnischer Rabbiner des 16. Jahrhunderts. Er wird oft mit dem Akronym Rema (hebr. הרמ”א ha Rəma; poln. Remu) bezeichnet, den Anfangsbuchstaben von Rabbi Moses Isserles. Sein… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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