RABÍN CHATAM SOFER (1762 – 1839)
Rabbi Chatam Sofer (1762 – 1839)
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Chatam Sofer, whose original name was Moše Schreiber (1762 – 1839), was a striking though in many ways controversial personality, whose opinions influence a significant part of the Jewish community to this day. This article attempts to elucidate at least some aspects of his activity and his period. However, the political and social conditions of that time, and indeed the relationships within the Jewish community, are too complex to be presented comprehensively within the space of a single article. Sofer was born in Frankfurt-on-Main and held positions in several Jewish communities in Central Europe. In 1806 he was chosen for the prestigious post of chief rabbi of the Bratislava community (and simultaneously principal of its famous yeshiva). He retained both functions until his death. His profound piety and religious education were reflected in his personal life and also expressed in his highly regarded commentaries on the Torah and Talmud. While teaching at the Bratislava yeshiva he educated hundreds of rabbis who spread his opinions throughout the Jewish world, ensuring that his influence was not limited to his contemporaries but also reached future generations. Not less interesting is Sofer’s own biography and his psychological reactions (not always comprehensible from a present-day standpoint) to events in his personal life. It is paradoxical that, although throughout his life he affirmed isolationism, struggle against secular education, and opposition to every change in traditional forms in Slovakia, Sofer’s name resonates as a symbol of tolerance and co-operation between the majority society and the Jewish community. The reconstruction of the old cemetery where he is buried contributed to this. The work was done according to halacha rules under the supervision of orthodox believers, and the Slovak authorities and builders respected this in full measure.
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