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Schick, Mosheh

(1807–1879), rabbi, halakhist, and yeshiva head. Known as Maharam Schick (acronym for Morenu ha-Rav Mosheh, “Our Teacher, the Rabbi Mosheh”) after his responsa collection, Mosheh Schick was born in Březové, and from the age of 14 he studied under Mosheh Sofer (Ḥatam Sofer) in Pressburg. Eventually he was acknowledged to be Sofer’s heir as the leading halakhic decisor of Hungarian Orthodoxy. While throughout his career Schick was outspoken in his opposition to religious and educational reform, during the last years of his life he was particularly intransigent in demanding unequivocal loyalty to a narrow Orthodox position.

Schick became recognized as an outstanding rabbinic scholar and halakhic authority during his more than 20-year tenure (1837–1861) as rabbi of Szent György (Georgen; Yergen in Hebrew sources), a spa resort near Pressburg. He responded to the Reform rabbinical conference at Braunschweig in 1844 by declaring it forbidden for God-fearing Jews to marry the sons and daughters of Reform Jews. Yet parallel to his wrath toward groups that openly deviated from accepted halakhic and ritual customs, he showed relative tolerance for heterogeneity within the Orthodox camp. Thus, his own son was enrolled in the innovative Eisenstadt yeshiva, an Orthodox institution that taught secular studies and was headed by Esriel Hildesheimer, leader of the liberal faction of Hungarian Orthodoxy.

The year 1865—soon after Schick became chief rabbi of the major eastern Hungarian community of Huszt (current day Khust, Ukr.)—was a turning point in his public policy. A group of stridently antimodernist Orthodox rabbis met in that year in Michalovce. There they passed a pesak din, a halakhic judgment that prohibited entrance into synagogues in which even minor concessions had been made to contemporary aesthetic proclivities, such as preaching in the German vernacular. In their judgment, the rabbis denounced such synagogues as houses of idol worship. Schick was initially uncomfortable with what he perceived as deliberate distortions of the halakhah in the draft of the legislation, and he adamantly refused to sign even the somewhat toned-down final version. However, once the pesak din was issued and not countered by another collective document, he admitted that “my colleagues overwhelmed me” and offered his support. In other words, the primary goal of greater ritual homogeneity among the Orthodox justified acquiescing to the stringencies of his radical counterparts.

A relatively minor political actor among Orthodox rabbis for most of his life, Schick came into his own during and in the immediate aftermath of the Hungarian Jewish Congress of 1868–1869. His opinions about public policy and halakhic matters now were called decisive. Once the government accepted the Orthodox demand for the establishment of an independent Orthodox national communal organization, Schick dedicated himself to the ideal of communal separation. To ensure allegiance to an Orthodox organizational framework, he ruled that any religious functionary who serviced a non-Orthodox community—regardless of the individual’s religious orientation or even the community’s adherence to the Shulḥan ‘arukh—automatically lost his license among the Orthodox. This judgment was aimed directly at the Status Quo communities that were led primarily by observant Jews who sought to distance themselves from denominational politics.

Consistent with his policies in Hungary, Schick vehemently demonstrated support in 1877 for the separatist policies of Samson Raphael Hirsch in Germany in the face of more moderate Orthodox positions. Hirsch, however, did not reciprocate and expressed astonishment at Schick’s halakhic contortions in condemning even those Status Quo communities that clearly adhered to halakhah. According to the testimony of one of his closest students, from the time of the congress, Schick adopted a hyperdefensive position predicated on the words of Proverbs 28:14, “Blessed is the man who is constantly in fear.”

Schick’s legacy is by no means limited to his role as a religious ideologue. For one, his students became prominent leaders of the next generation of Orthodoxy both in Hungary and abroad. Noteworthy among them was the halakhist and scholar David Tsevi Hoffman, who served as rector of the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary. Morever, Schick’s halakhic rulings, novellae, and homiletical writings, all published posthumously, have been held in high regard by rabbinical scholars. His major works include the three-part She’elot u-teshuvot Maharam Shik (1880; 1883); Seder hagadah shel Pesaḥ (1880); Sefer Maharam Shik ‘al taryag mitsvot (1895); Likute Maharam Shik (1903); Maharam Shik ‘al ha-Torah (1905); Maharam Shik ‘al masekhet Ḥulin (1929); Derashot Maharam Shik (1937); and Ḥidushe Maharam Shik (1979–1990).

Suggested Reading

David H. Ellenson, “‘For the Heretics Have Arisen’: Maharam Schick and the 1876 Controversy over Orthodox Secession from the General Jewish Community in Germany,” in Between Tradition and Culture, pp. 41–58 (Atlanta, 1994); Jekuthiel Judah Greenwald, Le-Toldot ha-riformats’ian ha-datit be-Germanyah uve-Hungaryah: Ha-Maharam Shik u-zemano (Columbus, Ohio, 1947/48); Jacob Katz, A House Divided, trans. Ziporah Brody (Hanover, N.H., 1998); Yitsḥak Yosef Kohen, Ḥakhme Hungaryah (Jerusalem, 1996/97), pp. 351–354.