Moses Sofer

Hungarian rabbi who fought against the influence of Reform.

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Words of the Covenant"), attacking Reform innovations. Sofer and his father-in-law, the Talmudist, Rabbi Akiba Eger, contributed to this protest well-reasoned essays in defense of total adherence to traditional forms.

Forbidding Innovation

Sofer's application of a Talmudic ruling became the slogan of Hungarian Orthodoxy.  The Talmud, discussing the law of Hadash ("New"), the corn harvested before the Omer (Leviticus 23: 14), rules that "Hadash is forbidden by the Torah," meaning, it is a biblical, not only a Rabbinic, law that the prohibition of Hadash stands even after the destruction of the Temple and, even outside the land of Israel. Sofer's pun on this ruling is that anything new (hadash), any innovation in Jewish life, is forbidden by the Torah. It is ironic that this slogan itself, in the way it is understood in the Sofer-Hungarian school, is an innovation. Orthodox Rabbis, including Sofer himself, have always been ready to take into account in their decisions new conditions requiring fresh legislation. Sofer held, for instance, that improved communications made it easier for a wife whose husband was lost at sea to be released from her married status on the grounds that it can nowadays be assumed that if he were alive he would have got in touch with her, even though it was not so assumed in Talmudic times. Also Sofer, more than any other authority of his day, placed the Rabbinate on a proper professional footing, giving details of Rabbinic contracts and saying that these should be drawn up to be as binding as any other business contract, even though the Talmud frowns on a scholar receiving any payment for his services. Sofer writes (Responsa, Yoreh Deah, no, 230): "Nowadays, where a Rabbi is appointed and he moves residence to settle in the town and they fix his salary, just like any other employee, and included in his stipend are the fees for officiating a weddings and divorces and so forth, he does not act in anyway unlawfully by receiving his salary."

A Separatist Legacy

Sofer's strong opposition to the Reform movement was continued by his son and grandson and their disciples. Every practice that seemed to have been influenced by Reform or by Christian practices was declared taboo, for instance, to have the bimah at the end of the synagogue near the Ark, or to have weddings in the synagogue with an address by the preacher to bride and bridegroom, or for the Rabbi and Cantor to wear canonicals. To this day Hungarian Orthodoxy, influenced by the Sofer school, is separatist in tendency, though, few, nowadays, would go so far as Sofer's foremost disciple, Moses Schick (1807-59), Rabbi of Huszt, who asked his Rabbinic colleagues to declare openly that if the imposition of a herem were permitted in Hungarian law, it would be essential to impose the ban on the Reformers. In any event, declares Schick, we must make it clear that the Reformers are not Jews (sic); that it is forbidden to intermarry with them; and that it is forbidden to pray in their Temples. This separatist attitude was adopted by Samson Raphael Hirsch in Frankfurt.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.