Rabbi Moshe Schreiber (Sofer), known as the Chatam Sofer, was the preeminent leader of Judaism in the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the first part of the 19th century.

Based in Pressburg (today Bratislava, Slovakia), he founded a yeshivah that produced learned, confident, and pious rabbis and laypeople who led successive generations of Orthodox Jewry in Central Europe.

Moshe Schrieber was born in 1762 in Frankfurt am Main, where he received his primary education. He was taught by Rabbi Nathan Adler, a known kabbalist and mystic, and Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, a Chassid and rabbi of the city. Although not officially aligned with the Chassidic movement, the Chatam Sofer’s teachings contain many Chassidic elements (he was one of the earliest non-Chassidic writers to quote Tanya by name).

His rabbinic career took him to Rezhnitz (Strážnice, Czech Republic), Mattersdorf (Mattersburg, Austria), and finally Pressburg, where he gained international acclaim as the undisputed leader of traditional Judaism in the region.

A brilliant Torah scholar, he penned erudite and well-reasoned responsa on virtually every area of Jewish law, as well as novel explanations on the Torah and Talmud. Published under the title Chatam Sofer (“Sign of the Scribe”), his responsa and Torah novellae are classics in their respective fields, widely studied and parsed to this very day.

As the Enlightenment and then the Reform movement grew in Western Europe, the Chatam Sofer stood as a bulwark of faith and fealty to tradition. He stridently battled against changes in synagogue architecture and other “improvements” proposed by the movement and its adherents, and famously stated, “chadash assur min hatorah,” “innovation is forbidden by Torah”—an approach that continues to guide Hungarian (and other) Chassidic groups until this very day.

Even after the Chatam Sofer’s passing in 1839 at the age of 77, his influence was keenly felt through the institutions he built, the students he guided, and the Torah thoughts he wrote—each of which has indelibly left their mark on Jewish life.

The grave of the Chatam Sofer is on the left. (Photo by Wikimedia)
The grave of the Chatam Sofer is on the left. (Photo by Wikimedia)