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Hillula of the Chatam Sofer!

Published on Thursday December 2nd, 2021

On the occasion of the Hiloula (anniversary of passing), tonight, of our master Rabbi Moses Sofer, the Torah-Box team is delighted to offer you a very brief insight of his life journey. He will pray for those who speaks of him on the day of his Hilluula! Light a candle and say “Lichvod ha'Chazon Ish, zechouto taguen aleinou” and then pray. That his merit protects all of Klal Yisrael, Amen! Now 175 years have passed since our blessed master, Rabbi Moses Sofer, better known by the name of Chatam Sofer, left this world.

Moses Sofer was born in the city of Frankfurt, in Germany. His father was Rabbi Shmuel Sofer, and his mother, Rayzel. His father was a Sofer Stam (scribe), hence his family name – Sofer (in Germany, the custom was to carry the name of one’s profession).

At the age of nine, he was sent to Rabbi Meshulam Zalman HaChasid to study at the Yeshiva of Rav Natan Adler; it was a very well-known Yeshiva in Frankfurt. The Rav noticed the child’s great skills in Torah learning, and treated him like a son.

Moses, already a child, was a prodigy in Torah, and, once he reached Bar-Mitzvah, he already knew how to write his Torah portion and even tackled issues of Halacha. Shortly after, he studied under the auspices of Rav Pinchas Horovitch, the author of the book “Sefer Haaflaa”. Alongside his Torah study, he also studied general history, mathematics and astronomy.

He received the honorific title of Rav by two greats in Torah: his master, the Rav Nathan Hacohen Adler, and the Rav Mordechai Bennet.

At the age of 24, he was sent to the town of Prosnitz, where he directed the local Yeshiva.

Later, he married Sarah Malka, the daughter of Rav Moses Yrvitss, the Rav of the town of Draznitz in Moravia. He received a new qualification from Rav Mordechai Bennet, even more honorable than the first, for his current role. In 1798, he was elected Rav of the community of Mattersdof in Hungary (today in Austria), where he founded, and was head of, a Yeshiva.

In 1807, he was named Chief Rabbi of Presburg (today Bratislava, capital of Slovakia). At the time, Presburg had the biggest and most important of the communities in Hungary. As the head of the Yeshiva, he presided over it for thirty-three years. His exemplary attitude and his Torah classes attracted hundreds of Avrekim from all over Europe, who came to study Torah.

The nickname of Chatam Sofer was given to him after his written works; Chatam being the acronym of Chidush Torah Moses.

His disciples and sons (he had four of them) all became great Rabbanim and founded Yeshivot all over Hungary, people reached out to them in all sorts of halachic domains.

Even some non-Jewish judges approached the Chatam Sofer for advice and direction on issues related to Jewish laws.

The Chatam Sofer lived with the fact that he had a Yeshiva in the diaspora, a punishment for the mistakes made by some Jews who tarnished the Land of Israel. The people of Israel is only considered a ‘living people’ in Israel, and those abroad are considered ‘dead’. Such was the interpretation of the Hatam Sofer in his text ‘Eretz Hachaim’. He was convinced that the most essential element of Torah practice and of its Miztvot carried more value in Israel. In one of his written works he noted: ‘The sun of the Land of Israel is more sacred than the sky of the diaspora’. He encouraged his students to move to Israel. Thanks to this, some were able to establish some Yeshivot in Petah Tikva.

The Chatam Sofer favored and relied upon a method of study based on the original meaning of the text in order to increase his general knowledge of the Talmud. He was against the method of ‘Pilpul’ (a method which involved debating on a given topic), which, for him, was moving away from the essential part of studying. He was in favour of studying the Kabbalah and could even at time use it for Halachic issues..

The Chatam Sofer passed away on the 25th of Tishrei 5600 (1839) and was buried in the Jewish cemetery of Presburg on the banks of the Danube. His tomb is a place of pilgrimage for numerous Jews living in the diaspora and in Israel. 

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