Moshe and Sorel (The Pressburg Haggadah of Hatam Sofer)


I saw this 1924 facsimile copy of the Pressburg Haggadah at Marilyn Braiterman Rare Books this year at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. I’m sure I’m getting details wrong but apparently the ms. was  presented to the Chatam Sofer to mark his wedding to Sorel, daughter of R. Akiva Eger, in 1815.

About this Haggadah manuscript, including its translation into German, and the more general practice of the Hatam Sofer, Meir Hildesheimer writes,  “[I]n 1816, Rabbi Moshe ben Natan  Hacohen, a pupil of the Hatam Sofer, wrote the Pesah Haggadah in artistic form, including a German translation in Hebrew characters, and various other decorations. As it happens, it was the custom of the Hatam Sofer to recite the Haggadah on Pesah eve both in Hebrew and in German.”‘ The translation is identical to that of Yoel Brull, and was in time ascribed to Mendelssohn.” (Meir Hildesheimer,  “The Attitude of the Hatam Sofer toward Moses Mendelssohn,” in “Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research,” 60, 1994, p.186 [p.47])

You can see the German translation in Hebrew script constituting the top of the left column of the page. The original illuminated figures are crude, while the use of color is sparing and quite delicate. No, Moshe ben Natan was no great artistic talent. The architectural exteriors and interiors seem all misshapen. I wonder why he chose or was asked to illustrate the plague of frogs in the king’s palace, as this is a fairly atypical choice. I’m wondering if it was intended as a rebuke of court Jews in the service of gentile rule.

I’ll note that that this book, with its art and German translation, was in the possession of the Hatam Sofer, a dedicated opponent to Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment. On both counts, the Pressburg Haggadah would run counter to the grain of what one might ordinarily expect of someone of the Hatam Sofer’s reputation or from his social milieu.

The dedication to Sorel is more obviously traditional, describing her in terms of dignified modesty, while highlighting the status of her husband in the holy congregation of Pressburg. The calligraphic work is as floral as the decorative motifs that surround it. The dedication, which I found written out online, reads as follows

שייך להרבנית האשה החשובה, צנועה מכל הנשים באהל תבורך, מפז היא יקרה, ומפנינים מפוארה, לאישה היא עטרה, כל כבודה פנימה, פרשה לעני כפה, ושלחה לאבין ידיה, אילת אהבים ויעלת חן, אשת חיל מרת שרל אשת הגאון הגדול מוהרר משה סופר אב”ד ור”מ דק”ק פ”ב יע”א, לשם תפארת ותהלה, ולתת שבח והודיה, לשמות הגדולים הנזכרים, ונעשים פה בראשי תיבות, ואלו הן * שירות רוממות להגיד אף שארי תהלות הבורא, גבורותיו אגיד ורב נפלאותיו, הוא גדרדרכי, ויפנה לי מסילה, ויביאני האהלה רב רבי משנתו שמנה ההלכות סגולתו ותפארתו, פועלרברביא, איש ברורה דברתו, והוא ריש מלכיא דאורייתא, קול קדושת פיו בוטא יקרת עילת אלהא דשמיא וארעא יתברך בפי על כי הגדיל לעשות לי כל הכבוד הזה, להעביר מנחה הבאה בידי ה”ק משה הכהן

In bold letters, the acrostic spells out שרל אשת הגאון הגדול מוהרר משה סופר אב”ד ור”מ דק”ק פ”ב יע”א, or, Sorel, wife of the great Gaon my Master and Rabbi Moshe Sofer, Chief Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of the Holy Congregation of Pressburg, God protect it.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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