Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Maskil reviews ShuT Chasam Sofer, and some Rabbinic autographs

Kerem Chemed 9 has a review of ShuT Chasam Sofer from the Hungarian reformer Leopold Low (Yavam is identified as Low in Shaul Chajes's useful Otzar Bduyei Sheimos in which he highlights the "critical" side of Chasam Sofer's work.

In HaAsif we also find a biographical sketch of Chasam Sofer that highlights the aspects of Chasam Sofer's thought that the Maskilim found attractive.

Followin is a great quote from L. Ginzberg, Students Saints and Scholars describing a necrology of Chasam Sofer written by I. H. Weiss ממזרח וממערב (unfortunately, only Vol. 4 is currently available online):

"Take, for instance, the last-mentioned scholar. R. Moses Sofer combined all the great virtues of the old Jewish scholar with fighting courage and determination, and therefore he was not only the head of a Yeshibah, but also the leader of a strong party, especially strong in Hungary, which opposed the new tendency in Judaism with success. It was not lack of comprehension of the new tendency that made Sofer its violent opponent; his keen vision gave him insight sooner than anyone else into the radicalism into which it would degenerate. And it was Weiss who, in his sketch of Sofer in the Hebrew monthly Mi-Misrah umi-Ma'arab (Vienna, 1896) meted out full justice to this great personality, although Weiss did not adopt Sofer's conception of Judaism as his own.

Moreover, Weiss did not descend to the manner of the so-called historians who are incapable of appreciating a great personality or a spiritual movement in its totality, but lose themselves in details and designate as characteristic the most insignificant points if they are bizarre, and the most unessential minutiae if they are curious. They judge accordingly, and as a result we hear opinions of the Jewish past and of certain tendencies in Judaism which, if the same logic were applied to the interpretation of general history, would give something like the following: Aristotle was a fool; he believed that the heavenly spheres were animated. Kepler understood nothing at all of physics, because he did not know so much as the law of gravitation, which is now known to every school-boy. And the fathers of the Dutch Republic were mischievous reactionaries, for in their political program they did not adopt universal suffrage"

I think this praise is overstated as Weiss throws in an attack on Chasam Sofer for being too pilpulistic in his Memoirs.

For those with an interest in Rabbinic graphology, I found an interesting collection of Rabbinic autographs from a periodical called Menorah (February 1927).


Anonymous said...

Interesting handwriting. Seems to me, from reading haskamos, there is not a single american born rabbi who writes hebrew that neatly or that stylistically today, other than chassidim. It's because our primary language is english. If I am right, the Chassidim should still have the same type of handwriting.

Also intressante that P. Ginzberg wrote what he wrote so honestly, even though he himself was part of the movement that descended into radicalism. A credit to him.


S. said...

I don't know if Chassidim are taught penmanship or not, but we certainly weren't. I don't think English has anything to do with it, because it isn't as if most of us have a decent English handwriting either. I can't explain why Chassidim or anyone else would have style today, but I suspect that the ballpoint pen is responsible as much as anything else for the slackening of standards in writing nicely.

Re Ginzberg, he didn't think CJ was radical. He thought it was the only sustainable American traditional Judaism. Don't forget, when he was writing that (1920s) most Orthodox Jews and many Americanized Orthodox rabbis couldn't really tell the difference. He wasn't stupid, but the same way you can dismiss a psak by Rav Elyashiv with a wave of a hand, he could consider Agudas Harabonim type not really relevant halachically speaking.

Even something like no mechitzah, while it seems like a no-brainer today, probably seemed like a stuffy chumra then. Perhaps some of this changed, as he died in 1953, but it's hard to see why he'd have thought what he was involved in was radical in the 1920s. In terms of his personal honesty, it is to his credit, but it's also feature born of necessity by all those who stray from their roots. You basically have two choices, learn to hate your roots or learn to overlook things about them.

Creative Commons License
Ishim V' Shittos by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at