Skip to main content

Sofer, Mosheh


SOFER, MOSHEH (17621839), a Jewish religious leader, was known as the atam Sofer (asam Soyfer in Ashkenazic pronunciation) and as Moses Schreiber in governmental documents. Born in Frankfurt, Mosheh Sofer studied there under the chief rabbi, Pinas Horovitz, and under Natan Adler, a qabbalist known for his strict and unusual ritual practices. When in 1782 Adler became the rabbi of Boskowitz, Moravia (now in the Czech Republic), Sofer left with him. He married in Prossnitz, Moravia, in 1787 and later served as rabbi of Dresnitz, Moravia (17941798), and of Mattersdorf, Hungary (17981806). From 1806 until his death he was the chief rabbi of Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia), then one of the chief cities of Hungary, where he established a large and influential yeshivah (Talmudic academy). After the death of his first wife he married the daughter of ʿAqivaʾ Eger, one of the leading Talmudists of the age. His descendants (all by his second marriage) include a number of important Talmudic scholars and Orthodox leaders.

The atam Sofer is generally viewed as the intellectual leader of the "Old Orthodox" opposition to Reform Judaism. One of the last great Talmudic scholars educated in Germany, he differed from later German Orthodoxy in that he opposed not only all ritual and liturgical innovations but also any changes in traditional education and style of life. Coining the slogan "The Torah forbids what is new," he vehemently fought the Mendelssohnian Enlightenment (Haskalah), the use of German in sermons, and even the slightest innovation in custom. He wished to retain Jewish national and cultural separateness and to strengthen the moral and coercive powers of the rabbinate and Jewish community to prevent innovation. He viewed the legal emancipation of the Jews as a poor substitute for messianic redemption and a return to Zion.

A charismatic and energetic leader, the atam Sofer aroused both intense admiration and violent opposition. His influence in western Hungary on Orthodoxy, especially non-Hasidic Orthodoxy, remained intense into the twentieth century; his example helped give Hungarian Orthodoxy its zealous, uncompromising imprint. Outside the Hungarian cultural area, his influence was felt mainly in the realm of traditional Talmudic and halakhic (religious-legal) scholarship. Though the atam Sofer published very little during his lifetime, the immense corpus of his posthumous works includes almost twelve hundred responsa (legal opinions), novellae on the Talmud, sermons, biblical and liturgical commentaries, and religious poetry.

See Also

Orthodox Judaism.


Relatively little has been written on Mosheh Sofer in English, and some of this work is marred by a polemical bent. A great deal more is available in Hebrew, including the corpus of his own works. Probably the most balanced assessment is Jacob Katz's "Contributions toward a Biography of R. Moses Sofer" (in Hebrew), in Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem (Jerusalem, 1967), edited by E. E. Urbach and others, pp. 115148.

New Sources

Schreiber, Aaron M. "The Hatam Sofer's Nuanced Attitude towards Secular Learning, Maskilim, and Reformers." Torah U-Madda Journal 11 (20022003): 123173.

Steven M. Lowenstein (1987)

Revised Bibliography

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sofer, Mosheh." Encyclopedia of Religion. . 18 Mar. 2019 <>.

"Sofer, Mosheh." Encyclopedia of Religion. . (March 18, 2019).

"Sofer, Mosheh." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved March 18, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.