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Chorin, Aharon

(1766–1844), pioneer Reform rabbi. Aharon Chorin’s parents, Kalman Chorin and Schöndel, the daughter of Yesha‘yahu Donath of Boskowitz (Cz., Boskovice), engaged in modest petty trade, and moved to Deutschkreutz (Hun., Németkeresztur; Zehlemone) of Hungary’s “seven communities” in Burgenland in 1780. He attended the yeshiva at nearby Mattersdorf but spent his formative years in Prague during 1782 and 1783 studying at the yeshiva of Yeḥezkel Landau. Besides acquiring a first-class education in rabbinical literature, he became acquainted with other intellectual currents, such as the Enlightenment and mysticism.

There were crypto-Sabbatians in Prague—Chorin apparently boarded with one such family—and he encountered the controversial Frankfurt mystic rabbi Natan Adler (perhaps in the company of his young disciple and Chorin’s future nemesis, Mosheh Sofer). Chorin returned to Deutschkreutz to marry Rebecca (d. 1837), with whom he later had four daughters and three sons, and, like many a rabbi, engaged first unsuccessfully in business. In the spring of 1789, he was appointed rabbi of Arad, then a modest community of some 40 families on the relatively sparsely populated periphery of Jewish settlement in southeast Hungary. His opponents stated that he was originally hired only as a teacher of the Josephinian school, but there is no evidence for this.

In the beginning of his career, Chorin clearly sought to make his reputation by taking contrary halakhic positions on such problematic issues as the permissibility of Polish phylacteries that had two straps glued together instead of one (1794) or the kashrut of the shtirl, apparently the sturgeon, a fish common in southern Hungary (1797–1799). In both cases, he crossed swords with Yitsḥak Grieshaber, the rabbi of Paks. Ostensibly defending the decision of his late mentor, Yeḥezkel Landau, Chorin published Imre no‘am (1797/98) and Shiryon kaskasim (1799) parrying Grieshaber’s Makel no‘am (1798/99). Unfortunately for Chorin, he also drew the wrath of a far more formidable antagonist, Mordekhai Banet, the chief rabbi of Moravia who would pursue him relentlessly in years to come. But he also made allies, members of the rabbinical court of Prague and especially Mosheh Münz, the rabbi of Óbuda, who clearly used him as a proxy to goad the Moravian chief rabbi.

Matters once again came to a head with the publication of Chorin’s ‘Emek ha-shaveh (1803) whose philosophical section “Rosh amanah” was clearly influenced by Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem. While Chorin attacked various customs derived from popular Kabbalah, such as kaparot and childbirth amulets, he viewed theoretical Kabbalah as a worthy philosophical system of symbols to be decoded. The book also contained a strong condemnation of Sabbatianism, thus calling into question the claim that it was Chorin’s crypto-Sabbatianism that led to his reforms. The approbation of Münz and a Hebrew poem by Mosheh Kunitz, a learned maskil who served on the rabbinical courts of Buda and Pest, prefaced the text. Banet condemned the work as heresy and urged Arad to burn the book and have the rabbi removed from his post. The community was rent in two.

Chorin had a combative personality, and early on had clashed with the communal leadership over the judicial prerogatives of the rabbi. Now that he began to acquire a reputation for heterodoxy, he began a running feud with members of his community that lasted for decades. Violence, verbal and physical, was a common occurrence; and he gave as good as he got.

The community now turned to Münz to certify that ‘Emek ha-shaveh contained no heretical notions. Chorin was summoned by Münz to Óbuda to stand before a tribunal in September 1805. Later he vividly recounted his ordeal, how the embarrassed Münz did not appear, and how the court handed down the humiliating decision that Chorin retract the contents of the book, under the pain of having half his beard cut off for heresy. Chorin appealed to the authorities, who then annulled the judgment and condemned his adversaries in Arad.

Encouraged by this minor victory, Chorin began to introduce a number of religious innovations. He eliminated some piyutim (1803), and later substituted prayers that he composed for the Book of Psalms on the eve of the new moon of Adar (1819), and wrote a shortened version of the grace after meals (1826). Following the lead of the Westphalian consistory, marriage ceremonies were now held in the synagogue (1811) and so-called synagogue regulations to ensure order were instituted. Later, he called for the elimination of Kol Nidre, the Yom Kippur prayer (1827).

But it was Chorin’s responsum “Kin’at ha-emet,” published in the collection of rabbinic statements in favor of synagogue innovations, Nogah ha-tsedek (1818), that established him as the first Ashkenazi rabbi in all of Europe to embrace the new religious Reform movement emanating from Germany. (The only rabbis the German reformers could muster were from Italy and Hungary. Besides Chorin, the Hungarians were Mosheh Kunitz and Eli‘ezer Liebermann who compiled the collection, but unlike Chorin, neither was a communal rabbi.) Chorin found a halakhic justification for conducting prayers in German, the accompaniment of an organ during the Sabbath services, and other liturgical innovations. He maintained, however, that the most important prayers should be said in Hebrew, preserving hope for the restoration of Israel. Piously, he also urged that the temple conduct daily services. Written in reply to queries about the Berlin Temple, the responsum soon became the focus of a continent-wide campaign led by Orthodox rabbis against the newly established Hamburg Temple.

As in 1805, Chorin was placed under intense pressure to recant. Part of his statement, censored by Mosheh Sofer, was published in the Orthodox collection Eleh divre ha-berit (1819). Within a year, Chorin brazenly revoked his earlier statement in a new, provocative book, Davar be-‘ito (1820) that argued for synagogue reforms, in particular the organ (the book appeared, as would many of Chorin’s subsequent works, in Hebrew, German, and Jüdisch-Deutsch). A query from the government of Baden on the powers of rabbis prompted his Igeret El’asaf (1826), in which he argued that religious laws, especially customs, could be reformed to suit time and place by a synod invested with the proper authority. Consequently he would permit prayers to be recited without a head covering, to his mind an altogether anachronistic Oriental custom. This book, too, caused an uproar among Hungarian rabbis, who once again called for his dismissal, to no avail. It was followed by Tsir ne’eman / Treue Bothe (1831) and Yeled zekunim (1839) that reiterated his views on the power of synods to institute religious change, such as permitting travel on railroads on the Sabbath. He also wrote autobiographic sketches in a Hebrew letter addressed to Leopold Löw (1833) published in Kerem ḥemed and in the German version of Yeled zekunim.

Within his own community, despite continuing battles, Chorin established a Realschule, in line with his ideas of vocational training and a society for productivization. Indeed, Arad would boast a relatively large number of Jewish artisans.

Chorin’s reputation did not suffer as a result of his battles; he had been offered the rabbinates of Temesvár (Timişoara) in 1797 and of Somogy county in 1802. In the 1820s, the progressive communal elder Michael Lazar Biedermann wanted him as rabbi in Vienna. At the height of the campaign against Igeret El’asaf, Chorin was feted in Vienna and invited to inaugurate the new synagogue. In the years to come, he would enjoy warm relations with other reform-oriented lay leaders and maskilim from communities such as Prague, Pressburg, Újhely, and Pest who turned to him for advice. Leopold Zunz and Leopold Löw received their ordinations from him; and he enjoyed the confidence of Löw Schwab, the rabbi of Pest. Outside Hungary, his opinions were enlisted in the fight against Orthodoxy. Even some of his Orthodox opponents, such as Tsevi Hirsh Oppenheim, the rabbi of Temesvár who had published a polemic against him, invited him in 1844 to attend the Paks rabbinical assembly, just days before Chorin died.

Chorin was a pioneer of the Reform movement, the first rabbi in Europe who sought to justify religious innovations within the framework of halakhah. However, his impact on Reform in his own homeland was negligible, as the more moderate rites instituted by Isaak Noah Mannheimer in Vienna became the model for the Neologs in Hungary. For the Orthodox, however, he did serve as the symbol of Reform, dubbed unkindly by Mosheh Sofer as Aḥer after the acronym Aharon oriner Rabbiner, the arch-heretic “Other.”

Suggested Reading

The best biography to date is still Leopold Löw’s pioneering study “Aron Chorin,” first published in 1862 under the pseudonym Dr. Weil and republished with Chorin’s letters in Löw’s Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Immanuel Löw, vol. 2, pp. 251–420 (Szeged, 1890). See also Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, “The Jewish Reform Movement in Transylvania and Banat,” Studia Judaica 5 (1996): 13–60; Moshe Pelli (Pel’i), “Milḥameto ha-ra‘ayonit veha-hilkhatit shel ha-rav Aharon Ḥorin be-‘ad reformah datit be-yahadut,” Hebrew Union College Annual 39 (1968): 63–79; Mosheh Samet, He-Ḥadash asur min ha-Torah (Jerusalem, 2005); David Sofer, Mazkeret Paks, vol. 1 (Jerusalem, 1962).