Borderlands: Maramaros, between Hungary and Galicia

[This post is based on a presentation that Elli gave on February 6, titled “The Geography of Post-Schism Responsa in the Hungarian Hinterlands”, at a conference in Budapest on “‘Unhealed Breach’ or a Good Divorce? The Hungarian Jewish Congress (1868-69) and the ‘Schism’ in Historical Perspective”.]

One of the key premises of the HaMapah project is that local rabbis have a great deal of freedom in choosing who, if anyone, to ask the tough questions. The resulting question–What informs that choice?–can be considered from the supply side and from the demand side. On the supply side, the question is how rabbis built their reputations and earned the trust of other rabbis. We have argues that this is not a naïve process by any means. On the demand side, of course, the desire for a particular answer may play a role, but the process is far more complicated than that. Conscience, precedent, and communal norms play roles. This topic–”Who decides who decides?”–was the topic of a Torah in Motion panel discussion between Elli, Prof. Chaim Saiman, and Judge Sharon Shore last month. It’s worth listening to the entire discussion (link to video), but suffice it to say that these processes, and the relationship between halakhist and audience, are sufficiently dynamic that attempts to reduce halakhic outcomes either to rabbinic fiat or to public will inevitably fall far short of the mark.

As a “case study” of how these dynamics play out, we decided to take a closer look at a phenomenon we addressed in one of our first posts, namely, that the Galician cultural sphere was shifting to the south and west in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

We have pointed out that Maharsham wrote a relatively large number of responsa to places just across the border in Hungary, a pattern that comports with migratory trends. In a different post, we noted that Reb Fischel Feldman broke from his general habit of posing questions to Maharsham (once his daughter married Maharsham’s grandson) by posing a question concerning the permissibility of accepting monies from a government fund for Jewish institutions that was administered by non-Orthodox Congress (or “Neolog”) communal leaders. We now want to broaden the view to look at patterns within responsa sent by Hungarian and Galician poskim to Hungarian places near the Galician border.

It has been a while since we posted anything, but we have not been idle (and we have shared some things via our Facebook and WhatsApp channels). For one thing, we have done some work on Hungarian poskim from a century ago and have completely mapped four of them: Rabbi Simcha Bunim Sofer (Shevet Sofer), Rabbi Mordechai Leib Winkler (Levushei Mordechai), Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner (Dor Revi’i–Yoav Sorek helped with the data), and Rabbi Yehuda Greenwald (Zikhron Yehuda). All four of these poskim were active in Hungary at the beginning of the 20th century, some at the beginning of their careers, and some at the end. This is also not a comprehensive list of Hungarian poskim who were active then, but it’s a good representation. Here is the map of these four poskim. As usual, it’s easier to open in a separate tab:

When comparing the four maps, do not be fooled by the size of the dots; R. Winkler wrote 76 responsa to Galanta, Slovakia, mainly to his son-in-law, Rav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, so all the other dots are smaller in comparison. However, R. Winkler wrote 1555 responsa, more than R. Greenwald (491), R. Sofer (245), and R. Glasner (199) combined. In terms of the number of places addressed, R. Winkler again far outpaces the competition, writing to 174 places (the other three wrote to 66, 85, and 65 respectively). Interestingly, though, Shevet Sofer gives Levushei Mordechai a run for its money when it comes to geographical spread.

This is also a good time to note a feature of our maps. Place names do not automatically appear, but if you mouse over a dot, the name and number of responsa written to that place will pop up, and if you click on the place, the Hebrew/Yiddish spellings and references to the individual responsa will pop up.

Now that we have had some fun comparing and contrasting these four Hungarian poskim, we can introduce the next map, which combines all of these Hungarian poskim into one dot, and all three Galician poskim we’ve mapped–Maharsham, Harei Besamim, and Beit Yitzhak–into a dot of a different color. By zooming in on the border areas, it becomes easy to see that the realms of these two groups were largely distinct, except for a few counties along the border: Ung, Bereg, and especially Maramaros. Here’s the map (separate tab):

In the three aforementioned counties, there were 125 responsa received from Galicia, 91 from within Hungary. In terms of places, 28 received from Galicia, 20 from Hungary. But if we focus in on Maramaros, the picture gets more interesting. The Hungarian poskim sent 37 responsa to 10 places in Maramaros. The Galicians sent 89 responsa to 20 places. If we take out the two largest cities in the county, Sighet and Khust, then we are left with 8 and 16 for the Hungarians, 18 and 60 for the Galicians. There are two towns n Maramarosthat received responsa from Hungary but not Galicia. There are 11 towns that received from Galicia but not Hungary.

There are a few things that seem to be going on here. Firstly, the Hungarian influence seems to have been greater in the larger towns and cities along the border. Presumably this was not accidental. Three leading pupils of Hatam Sofer–Hayim Sofer, Moshe Schick (Maharam Schick), and Meir Eisenstadter (Maharam Ash)–moved east and became the rabbis of Mukacheve (Munkacs), Khust, and Uzhorod (Ungvar), respectively. As Rabbi Dr. Levi Cooper has written, the appointment of a Hungarian rabbi like R. Hayim Sofer to head the Munkacs rabbinate was more the exception than the rule, but the attempt to “Magyarize” the Munkacs rabbinate was at least attempted, and in terms of responsa, Munkacs received 17 from Hungary and only 4 from Galicia. In Ungvar, the attempt was far more successful; not a single responsum was sent there from Galicia (8 from Hungary). Khust and Sighet, in Maramaros, remained more evenly split (and in the case of Sighet, famously riven by strife between different rabbinic factions).

Once we leave the larger towns, however, the story is very different. As is often the case, rural communities change more slowly than cities. The Jews in these towns and villages retained their cultural ties to Galicia and did not magyarize, so they tended to send their questions to rabbis that they trusted and felt comfortable with–Galician rabbis.

This was a time of schism within Hungarian Jewry. In the late 1800s, in response to the split between Congress (“Neolog”) and Orthodox factions, Orthodoxy emerged as a confession and as an independent identity, to the extent that mere identification with anything but Orthodoxy was deemed heretical.One of the arguments consistently raised by Hungarian rabbis in these contexts is that Galician rabbis, as great as they were, did not really understand the threat of Neolog or the absolute need to affiliate with Orthodoxy. The Galicians, for their part, were burned when they attempted to weigh in on these issues, and generally hoped that their communities would not be visited by such strife.

In the small towns and villages, Jews who had migrated south and west from Galicia could maintain cultural ties to their place of origin. However, the official rabbis or the de facto religious leaders of these small communities were keenly aware of the risks entailed by ending up on the wrong side of the rift between Orthodoxy and its competitors; this may have been out of simple fear for their jobs, social standing, or marriage prospects, or they may have internalized the divide between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy (and even the sense that Galician rabbis were not equipped to deal with such dilemmas). Thus, questions dealing with controversial issues in Hungary would have been referred to Hungarian rabbinic authorities–and specifically to R. Greenwald and R. Winkler, whose reputations were far more “hard line” on these issues than R. Sofer and R. Glasner.

Thus, in addition to the question from R. Feldman to R. Greenwald, we have a question from Berehove (Beregsas) to R. Greenwald concerning the expansion of a synagogue in a way that would make the women’s gallery directly above the expanded part of the men’s section–a matter of significant controversy in Hungary (Zikhron Yehuda 1:79). R. Winkler was asked by the community of Viseu de Sus (Oberwischau) about synagogue remodeling as well (Levushei Mordechai 4:31). These are far from the only issues addressed in responsa from Hungarian rabbis to borderland communities in these years, but it seems that they crop up with greater frequency. A more systematic study of these borderland responsa is certainly warranted.

Incidentally, we also took two major Polish/Lithuanian responsa collections from this period, Avnei Nezer and Divrei Malkiel, to see how many responsa they wrote to these areas. The sum total is: 0.

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