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Aszód, Yehudah

(1796–1866), rabbi and halakhic scholar. A leading figure in the Hungarian Orthodox rabbinate during the mid-nineteenth century, Yehudah Aszód achieved renown both as an expert halakhic adjudicator and as an outspoken opponent of educational and religious reform. Unlike some of his younger Hungarian contemporaries, however, Aszód did not promote a uniformly strict and antimodernist approach. Instead, he exemplified a more pragmatic and less doctrinaire Hungarian Orthodoxy than that which later became the norm. Toward the end of his life, he also gained a reputation as one who possessed great mystical abilities.

Aszód’s educational background also attests to certain differences between him and his colleagues. While most of the latter were students of Mosheh Sofer (Ḥatam Sofer) at the Pressburg yeshiva, Aszód was trained in Nikolsburg and became a leading pupil of Mordekhai Banet, the chief rabbi of Moravia. Although the lack of a Pressburg “pedigree” initially hindered his career, Aszód gained the respect and friendship of Sofer and his son and successor, Avraham Shemu’el Binyamin Sofer (Ketav Sofer).

By 1828, Aszód had secured a position as religious court judge in the prominent western Hungarian community of Dunaszerdahely (Ger., Niedermarkt; now Dunajská Streda, Slovakia). Subsequently, he served as rabbi in Réthe and Szenice (Ger., Semnitz; Slovak, Senica) before returning to Dunaszerdahely in 1853 as chief rabbi and head of its yeshiva. It was primarily after the death of the Ḥatam Sofer in 1839, however, that Aszód, now a senior figure, began to attract religious queries and came to play a leading role in the struggle against reform. The rise in profile of his activities in the 1840s is exemplified by his involvement in debates in neighboring Germany. In response to the 1844 Reform rabbinical conference held in Braunschweig, he signed the anti-Reform petition “Shelome emune Yisra’el,” sponsored by Ya‘akov Ettlinger. Aszód also wrote a responsum for Tsevi Hirsh Lehren’s collection Torat ha-kena’ot (1845). There he declared that reformers were “worthy of being banned,” and weighed in with a particularly strict opinion regarding the metsitsah (oral sucking) circumcision controversy at a time when the Ḥatam Sofer’s permissive ruling had been made public.

Until his death in 1866, Aszód did not relent in his public battles. As late as 1864, he was a member of a delegation of seven rabbis to Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph; their aim was to prevent the establishment of a government-sponsored rabbinical seminary. Other aspects of his activities deserve attention as well. He maintained contact with more liberal rabbinical figures such as Samson Raphael Hirsch when the latter was chief rabbi of Moravia (although their relations were not free of tension), Adolph Jellinek of Vienna, and particularly Esriel Hildesheimer. Hildesheimer was rabbi of Eisenstadt, where he created a highly successful yeshiva in which secular studies were taught, and was a most outspoken opponent of policies put forward by the zealous faction. Aszód had a personal relationship with Hildesheimer, and two of Aszód’s sons actually studied at the Eisenstadt yeshiva. Aszód sharply opposed Hildesheimer, however, over the latter’s proposal to establish a rabbinical seminary under Orthodox auspices.

Aszód’s halakhic writings also attest to his less vociferously ideological bent. One example is his well-known responsum permitting the use of the wine of public Sabbath desecraters, a position that was almost unilaterally rejected by his younger Hungarian colleagues. This opinion is among nearly 1,000 writings published posthumously in his two-part collection of responsa(Teshuvot Mahariyah), also known as Teshuvot Yehudah Ya‘aleh (1873; 1880).

Devotion to the figure of Aszód was such that after his death, he was dressed in Sabbath clothes, propped up sitting with a tractate in hand, and photographed. The widely circulated portrait caused a scandal in Orthodox circles.

Suggested Reading

Richard I. Cohen, Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe (Berkeley, 1998), pp. 136–137; Meir Hildesheimer, “Rabi Yehudah Asod ve-Rabi ‘Azri’el Hildeshaimer,” in Sefer zikaron le-Morenu ve-Rabenu ha-Ga’on Maran Yeḥi’el Ya‘akov Vainberg, pp. 285–302 (Jerusalem, 1970); Yitsḥak Yosef Kohen, Ḥakhme Hungaryah (Jerusalem, 1996/97), pp. 323–325; Judah Licht, “Judah Aszod and His Generation,” in Men of the Spirit, ed. Leo Jung, pp. 327–350 (New York, 1964).