Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Rabbi of Pressburg

Rabbi Moses Sofer (1762-1839) received his honorific title, Chatam Sofer (Seal of the Scribe), posthumously, after the publication of his acclaimed halachic (Jewish legal) rulings in a book of the same name.

Long before his death, however, Rabbi Sofer achieved great renown throughout the European Jewish community, both for his exceptional Torah erudition and for his dedicated work on behalf of his community in Pressburg (Bratislava).

Born in 1762, in Frankfurt, Germany, Rabbi Sofer assumed the prominent position of Chief Rabbi of Pressburg (formerly Germany, now Slovakia) in 1806, and remained there for the rest of his life.

One year into his new position, the city of Pressburg experienced a period of great upheaval. In 1807, a great fire ravaged the city, leaving many in the community homeless. Then, in1809, Pressburg was besieged and conquered by Napoleon. In 1810 and 1811, two more fires caused additional suffering to the people.

As the Chief Rabbi, the Chatam Sofer was responsible for helping the Jews of the city survive these traumatic events, both spiritually and by assisting with their significant physical needs. His memoirs of Napoleon’s siege and the miraculous survival of Pressburg's Jewish population were published as a book, known as Sefer HaZikaron.

In 1812, the Rabbi suffered his own personal challenge when his wife of 25 years, Sarah, died. The couple had no children. Rabbi Sofer remarried, however, and he and his second wife, Saril, had 11 children together.

The Chatam Sofer passed away in 1839 (on the 25th of Tishrei). He left a legacy of great scholarship and piety, as well as a vigorous commitment to increase the religious devotion of his community, at a time when many were walking away from traditional life.

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