Sonnenfeld, Joseph Ḥayyim ben Abraham Solomon

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SONNENFELD, JOSEPH ḤAYYIM BEN ABRAHAM SOLOMON (1849–1932), first rabbi of the separatist Orthodox community in Jerusalem. Born in Verbó (Slovakia), Sonnenfeld was orphaned at the age of four. As a child he studied both in a talmud torah and in a general school, but in his youth he decided to devote himself entirely to rabbinic study. After pursuing his studies in the yeshivah of his native town, in 1865 he went to Pressburg, where he lived in great poverty while studying in the yeshivah of Abraham Samuel Benjamin Sofer. In 1870 he received the title of honor Morenu from his teacher in a letter full of laudatory references to his great learning. The same year he went to Kobersdorf (Burgenland), where he became a pupil of A. Shag, who thought highly of him. In 1873 Sonnenfeld accompanied his teacher to Ereẓ Israel and settled in the Old City of Jerusalem, and until the end of his life meticulously refrained from remaining outside the walls of the Old City for more than 30 days. He formed a close association with M.J.L. *Diskin and was his right hand in his communal activities, such as the founding of the large orphanage and schools and the struggle against the secular schools. Sonnenfeld was one of the most active and influential personalities in the community centered in the Old City. He headed the Hungarian kolel Shomerei ha-Ḥomot ("the guardians of the walls"), founded the Battei Ungarn quarter, and helped in the establishment of other quarters in Jerusalem. In 1919 he was one of a group of rabbis headed by A.I. Kook which visited the newly established settlements in order to influence them with regard to the observance of Judaism.

Sonnenfeld stood for complete separation between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox; he strongly opposed the bringing of the institutions of the old yishuv under the control of the Zionist bodies and the participation of the Orthodox in the official community, Keneset Yisrael, and fought for the statutory right of every individual to opt out of it. When the Jewish Battalions were founded in World War i he opposed enlistment of Orthodox Jews in the battalions. He was one of the founders of the Va'ad ha-Ir le-Kehillat ha-Ashkenazim ("City Council for the Ashkenazi Community"), as well as of its bet din, in opposition to the official Jerusalem rabbinate. He was also a founder of *Agudat Israel in Ereẓ Israel.

As a result of his adherence to the doctrine of separation, Sonnenfeld was one of the chief opponents of A.I. Kook, and led the opposition to his appointment as rabbi of Jerusalem, and later as chief rabbi of Ereẓ Israel, even though on the personal level their relationship was one of friendship and esteem. In 1920 Sonnenfeld was elected rabbi of a separate Orthodox community. In his struggle for the emergence of the separatist community he was especially aided by the Dutch publicist Jacob Israel de *Haan, who took care that eminent non-Jewish visitors would meet Sonnenfeld, and they were duly impressed by his personality. He was a member of the separatist Orthodox delegation that appeared, on de Haan's initiative, before Hussein, king of the Hedjaz, when the latter visited Transjordan. He appeared before the U.S. King-Crane Commission (see: *Palestine, Inquiry Commissions); he also instructed his followers to meet Lord Northcliffe on his visit to Ereẓ Israel. On all these occasions Sonnenfeld expressed a positive attitude to the Jewish resettlement of Ereẓ Israel and the return to Zion, and in the census declared Hebrew as his language. He generally preached loyalty toward the government. He also inclined to moderation toward the Arabs of Ereẓ Israel and strove to establish peace between them and the Jewish population.

His published works include glosses to the Aguddah on Bava Kamma (Jerusalem, 1874) and on all of Nezikin (1899), a pamphlet, Seder ha-Purim ha-Meshullash (1898ff.); Salmat Ḥayyim, responsa to Shulḥan Arukh Oraḥ Ḥayyim and Yoreh De'ah (193842).


M. Blau, Ammuda di-Nehora (1932, 19682); idem, Al Ḥomotayikh Yerushalayim (1946), 114–9; I. Breuer, in: Nach'lath Z'wi, 2 (1932), 193–201; S. Daniel, in: La-Mo'ed, 1 (1959), 281–5; A.B. Schurin, Keshet Gibborim (1964), 93–97; Tidhar, 1 (1947), 61f.

[Zvi Kaplan]