Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

An old Yiddish book of prayers for Jewish women printed in Ofen (Budapest) in 1833 that I acquired this week brought to life a famous footnote in Rabbinic history. This book has ownership markings and signatures of Milka Paks, wife of Meir Paks, the protagonist of a famous agunah case that the Chasam Sofer presided over during his period of rabbinate in Mattersdorf.

The Chasam Sofer describes in his responsa (Even Ha’ezer 131 and 138) the details of the agunah situation she found herself in. Her husband, Meir Paks, was a middle-class merchant in Mattersdorf who eked out a living trading in the vicinity. One day, he traveled nearby with a stock of alcoholic beverages to sell to soldiers in a battalion stationed nearby. It happened that the soldiers based there were attacked and ransacked, and concurrently a great plague swept the region. Meir Paks disappeared without leaving a trace, leaving his wife an agunah. He was presumed dead, after no word of him arrived back in Mattersdorf, after the community had written to other Jewish communities near and far including Copenhagen, Frankfurt and London, with no one hearing any word of his being alive.


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The Chasam Sofer was tasked with finding a way for her to remarry, but despite other rabbinical authorities wanting to permit, he hesitated to give his permission due to a lack of concrete evidence of his passing. After nearly four years had passed, word suddenly came that Meir Paks was seen in Vienna and not long after that he returned to his wife in Mattersdorf. It was eventually understood that Meir Paks had lost all his merchandise on the day when the battalion was attacked. Fearing to return home and live as a pauper, he traveled to Poland in an attempt to achieve financial stability. After accumulating a significant amount of wealth, he returned home and the couple lived together for several additional decades, raising a large family together. The Chasam Sofer writes of his great relief of being saved from the sin of permitting a married woman to remarry.

Milka Paks inscribed on the free-end a verse from Psalms, in a heavily altered Yiddish spelling. The verse beings with the first letter of her name and ends with the last, presumably this was the verse she used to conclude the silent prayers. It is customary to recite a verse symbolizing one’s name before the conclusion of the Amidah. Traditionally, this verse should begin and end with the first and last letters of the name. Another signature of Milka appears in the middle of the book, at the section where the prayers for the health and prosperity of one’s children appears, with an old bookmark, apparently a placemark put by Milka.

Asking price: $250.


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Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at [email protected].