Yochanan Sofer
Erlauer Rebbe
Full name Rabbi Yochanan Sofer
Main work Imrei Sofer / Apirion Chassanim
Born 1920s
Eger, Hungary
Dynasty Erlau
Predecessor Rabbi Moshe Sofer (II) (Yad Sofer)
Father Rabbi Moses Sofer

Rabbi Yochanan Sofer (b. 1920s) is the Rebbe of the Erlau Hasidic dynasty, a small-sized movement in Orthodox Judaism. He was born in Erlau (nowadays Eger), Hungary, where his father and grandfather served as Grand Rabbis. After surviving the Holocaust, he continued their legacy by founding a yeshiva and a movement in their name, first in Hungary and then in Jerusalem, Israel.

Family history

Rabbi Yochanan Sofer is a great great-grandson of Rabbi Moses Sofer (1762 – 1839), known as the Chasam Sofer. The Chasam Sofer was the Rav of Pressburg (present-day Bratislava) and the leading rabbinical figure of Orthodox Judaism in the Austrian Empire, as well as one of the greatest Talmudic scholars of his time.

The Chasam Sofer was succeeded as Rav of Pressburg by his son, Rabbi Samuel Benjamin Sofer (1815 – 1872), known as the Ksav Sofer. The Ksav Sofer had 10 children — 6 sons and 4 daughters. One of the sons, Rabbi Shimon Sofer, was born in the year 1850.

In 1881,[1] Rabbi Shimon was appointed Rav of the Hungarian city of Erlau (Eger). There he founded a large yeshiva which was attended by elite Torah scholars from throughout Hungary. This yeshiva became a foundation of the Erlau dynasty, a branch and direct link to the philosophy and teachings of Rabbi Shimon's grandfather, the Chasam Sofer.

As Rabbi Shimon aged, he appointed his son, Rabbi Moses Sofer (author of Yad Sofer) to be the active Rav and dayan of Erlau. Rabbi Shimon continued to be referred to by his congregation with the revered and affectionate title of "Rebbe".

Rabbi Shimon led the Jewish community in Erlau for some 64 years. He and his community were deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis in 1944. Soon thereafter, at the age of 94, Rabbi Shimon Sofer was murdered by the Nazis together with his son, Rabbi Moses Sofer, and many others from the city of Erlau. [2]

Early life

Yochanan Sofer was born to Rabbi Moses Sofer in the town of Erlau in the early 1920s. He was raised on the knees of his grandfather and received his rabbinical education from his father [3]. He studied at the Verpleleter Yeshiva in Verpelet, Hungary, whose rosh yeshiva was Rabbi Yosef Usher Pollack (1888-1944), Verpleleter Rav and author of Shearis Yosef Usher.[4]

While his father and grandfather were murdered at Auschwitz, the young Rabbi Yochanan miraculously survived that concentration camp. After the war, he went to Pest, Hungary, where he was reunited with his brother, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin. Together with Rabbi Moshe Stern, the Debrecener Rav, Rabbi Yochanan reinstated the Chasam Sofer Yeshiva in Pest [5]. Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer was asked to head the yeshiva, as well as to assume the mantle of leadership of the remaining Erlau community that had found refuge in Pest, but he declined out of humility.

In 1947, he re-established the Yeshiva in Erlau, with a small group of boys and adolescents (mostly orphans). Yochanan married and was appointed as Rabbi of the fledgling Orthodox Jewish community there. [6]

Move to Israel

Due to the Communist grip on Hungary and oppression of Judaism there, Rabbi Yochanan Sofer immigrated to Israel together with his yeshiva in 1950. For a short period of time, the yeshiva merged with the Pressburg Yeshiva in Jerusalem, which was headed by Rabbi Akiva Sofer (known as the Daas Sofer), a great-grandson of the Chasam Sofer. Rabbi Yochanan served there as a maggid shiur.

During this time, Rabbi Yochanan became a close disciple of Rabbi Aharon Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe. From him, Rabbi Yochanan he acquired extensive knowledge of Hasidut, which eventually led him to preach numerous Hasidic customs.

In 1953 he founded the Erlau yeshiva and community in the Katamon neighbourhood of south-central Jerusalem,[14] starting with the purchase of a few rooms in the building of the former Syrian Consulate on Yotam Street. The yeshiva was named "High Yeshiva of Rabbi Akiva Eiger" after the father-in-law of the Chasam Sofer. Later this yeshiva expanded to the whole building, where Rabbi Yochanan founded a dormitory and orphanage for Holocaust survivors and students from needy families.

In 1961, Rabbi Yochanan started to build a new building in the empty lot adjacent to the yeshiva. It was named Ohel Shimon-Erlau after Rabbi Yochanan's grandfather. This new campus includes a beth medrash which serves until today as the main synagogue and study hall for the yeshiva gedola, a smaller study hall for the yeshiva ketana, dormitory, classrooms, library, kitchen and offices. In addition, he opened the Institute for Research of the Teachings of the Chasam Sofer. This Institute researches and deciphers handwritten documents of the Chasam Sofer, his pupils and descendants. It has brought to light and printed hundreds of sefarim and distributed them worldwide.

Today, the Erlau community numbers some 500 families in Israel and scores abroad. Rabbi Yochanan Sofer assumes the mantle of leadership of the community as "Rebbe" similar to his Chassidic counterparts. He is known to the Jewish population as the Erlauer Rebbe (Yiddish) or Admor of Erlau (Hebrew). He continues to be actively involved in all aspects of the yeshiva, giving daily Torah lectures to both students and elderly members of the Erlau community and surrounding neighbourhood, and prays the daily prayers together with his pupils.

Opinion and politics

Rabbi Yochanan Sofer is considered a leading halakhic authority with enormous influence on the Orthodox Jewish community, as well as an expert in Israeli politics and security issues. He is often called upon to voice his opinion on global Jewish issues. [7]

Rabbi Yochanan was appointed to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel by Rabbi Yisrael Alter (the Beis Yisrael) when he was only 38 years of age. At the time, the protocol was amended to allow this new member, as the original protocol allowed only rabbis above the age of 40 to join. He was also .appointed a member of the administration of Mif'al HaShas by that organization's founder, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe.[8]

Preceding 1948, the rabbinical authorities of the Sofer family and their disciples strongly opposed the various forms of modern Zionism. They did not approve of the formation of a Jewish state nor the use of Hebrew for mundane purposes.[9] Their firm belief was that the Mashiach must arrive prior to the liberation of the Holy Land and that the Hebrew language was designated for the use of Torah study and prayer only. Once Israel declared independence in 1948, the approach remained the same, though the circumstances changed.

Rabbi Yochanan Sofer took on the approach to Zionism similar to that of his rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Rokeach of Belz. This ideology allows for dialogue with the Zionist leaders and for representation in the Knesset, though it does not give mandate or any halachic justification to the legislative system of the State of Israel as it does not conform to the laws of the Torah. Rabbi Yochanan Sofer actively advocates for the sanctity of the Shabbat, the preservation of Torah Judaism and the purity of the Holy Land.

Rabbi Yochanan Sofer's view of the Israeli-Arab conflict maintains that as a matter of Jewish law, any territorial concession on Israel's part would endanger the lives of all the Jews in the Land of Israel and is therefore forbidden. He also insists that even discussing the possibility of such concessions shows weakness and would encourage Arab attacks, and thus endanger Jewish lives. He has been quoted as saying to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom: "I am not prepared to concede even one soil grain of the Land of Israel to the Arabs".[10][11] He was also opposed to the unilateral pullout from Gaza and was quoted as saying, "Whoever leads to the transfer (of Jews from parts of Israel) is destroying the country".[12]

Despite some ideological differences, Sofer is respected by leaders of Orthodox Jewish communities, including Satmar, Edah HaChareidis, Litvish, Shas – Sefardi, Chabad-Lubavitch, and the National Religious Party / National Union.

Rabbi Yochanan Sofer is known to have a strong relationship with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (former Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of Shas) and with Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, spiritual leader of Degel HaTorah.

Whilst Rabbi Yochanan is a presiding member of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel, the Erlau community is part of the Shlomei Emunim faction within the United Torah Judaism political party representing all Agudath Israel factions. Shlomei Emunim is represented in the Knesset by Rabbi Meir Porush.

Upon the initiative of Rabbi Yochanan, the Erlau community took an active part in the launch of the HaMevaser newspaper in the late 2008 which is owned and run by Rabbi Meir Porush.


External links

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.