Throughout the 1800s, observant Jewry in Hungary faced formidable challenges. The introduction of Reform and its official government endorsement brought about legislation requiring every Jew to affiliate with a Jewish community. Each locale was to have only one “community.” This would have forced observant Jews to join the predominant community, which was generally Reform.
Rabbi Moshe Sofer, zt”l (1762-1839) Pressburg Rav and author of Chasam Sofer, vehemently battled the Reform movement. His towering Torah scholarship earned the respect and support of all observant Jewry. His yeshiva was the largest and became the most important and influential in all of central Europe. His son, Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, zt”l (1815-1871), successor Pressburger Rav and author of Ksav Sofer, continued the battle.
Many dynamics were involved in the battle against Reform. After having abandoned the infamous Jewish Congress in 1869, in effect separating themselves from the Reform, the Orthodox won the sympathy of the liberal press, mobilized Jewish opinion throughout Europe in their favor, and joined the liberal left wing in Hungary’s Parliament, voting en bloc for their candidates. In 1871, the Orthodox achieved permission to form a separate national organization of kehillas. Following the Hungarian lead, the Orthodox Jews of Germany achieved separation in 1876.
The decimated Jewish community of post-World War II Budapest endeavored mightily to rebuild. At that time, all Jewish affairs were being conducted by the umbrella of a unified representation, which included the Orthodox and Reform. This went against the adoption of separation of 1869, but because of the prevailing circumstances, permission was given by Rabbi Aaron Rokeach, zt”l (1880-1957), fourth Belzer Rebbe, and by Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt”l (1886-1979), Satmar Rebbe (Igros Maharit 47), upon which fourteen leading rabbis in Hungary in 1950 signed a Kol Koreh authorization to continue working within the unified representation, effectively a reunification.
Among the signatories of that Kol Koreh was Rabbi Yochanon Sofer, Erlauer Rebbe now in Jerusalem. He is the only signatory still alive.
Today’s Erlauer Rav is the son of Rabbi Moshe Sofer, zt”l Hy”d, (d. 1944), Erlauer Rosh Beth Din and author of Yad Moshe; son of Rabbi Shimon Sofer, zt”l Hy”d (1850-1944), Erlauer Rav and author of Hisorreros Teshuva; son of Rabbi Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, zt”l (1815-1871), Pressburger Rav and author of Ksav Sofer; son of Rabbi Moshe Sofer, zt”l (1762-1839) revered Pressburger Rav and author of Chasam Sofer.
At a meeting of Orthodox activists in Budapest just two weeks ago, Rabbi Moshe Tovia Weissberger, Rav of Khal Yeraim in Budapest, de facto Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Budapest, supported the current motion to separate from Reform congregations in their dealing with the government. Rabbi Weissberger read aloud a letter from the Erlauer Rav supporting the separation.
In addition, Rabbi Weissberger read aloud a letter from Rabbi Shimon Lemberger, Makava Rav in Kiryat Atta, Israel. Rabbi Lemberger’s father, Rabbi Moshe Noson Nuta Lemberger, zt”l (1909-1983), Makava Rav and author of Ateres Moshe, was one of the signatories. Rabbi Shimon Lemberger praised the decision to return to the resolution of the Chasam Soferand his disciples.
At the meeting, a motion was formally presented to the Orthodox Kehilla delegates to separate from the Reform community structure. All delegates at the meeting voted in favor. Just days later, a letter arrived from Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, author of Shevet Levi and considered the most authoritative chassidishe posek, endorsing the resolution to separate. Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, Rav of Jerusalem’s Eidah Hacharedis, forwarded his written approval of the separation, together with his blessing for the future success of the Orthodox community’s independence.