Menachem Mendel

Menachem Mendel

Menachem Mendel RSS Feed

The Hatam Sofer and the Pope

With a visit from Pope Benedict the XVI soon upon us, I wanted to point out a reference to a previous Pope in a responsum of the Hatam Sofer. The Hatam Sofer, in a letter to Dr. Tzvi Hirsh Oppenheim of Temesvar written in 1826, responds to a number of changes made in synagogue ritual and custom instituted by the Reform movement. [1] One of the Hatam Sofer’s arguments is that any mode of worship or custom which has been adopted by Christians in their worship must be rejected by Jews. He focuses on two things, praying bare-footed and bare-headed.[2]

שו”ת חתם סופר חלק ×” – השמטות סימן קצא

אמנם כן מתפשט מזה אצל כל מלכי’ ושרים לכבדם בשליפת סנדל וכן עד היום ×”×–×” בארצות המזרח עד שבא האפיפיור הידוע והשכיל ואמר הלא טוב יותר להראות ×”×›× ×™×¢×” בראשו מלהראות בשליפת סנדל ברגל והנהיג ותיקן שכל ×”×”×›× ×¢×” בשעת עבודתם ×™×”×™’ בהכנעות הראש בהסיר המצנפת במקום שליפת הסנדל והדברי’ ראוי’ למי שאומרי’ עפ”×™ שכל אנושי וגם נתקבלו דבריו בכל ארץ אירופא אך אנחנו בשם אלקינו נזכיר ×›×™ הוא אמר ויהי הוא צוה ההיפוך וחייב מיתה על עבודת פרועי הראש בלי מצנפת והצריך לעבוד עבודה ×™×—×£ דוקא ומי יבוא אחר המלך ית”ש את כבר עשהו ומ”מ בגבולי’ אין לנו לא הזהרה ולא חיוב מכ”×– ×›× “ל:

It is certainly so that from this it has spread among all of the kings and ministers to honor them with the removal of shoes,[3] and it was so until this day in the lands of the East until the well-known Pope came and smartly said “Isn’t it better to show submission with one’s head than to show it through the removal of the shoe from the foot.” He instituted and established that all submission during their worship will be through the bowing of the head with the removal of the head covering rather than the removal of the shoe. These things are proper for one who speaks according to common sense, and his words were accepted in all of Europe, but we remember in the name of our God since He said and it is, He commanded the opposite, and one is obligated to die if they worship bareheaded without a head-covering and and required specifically to worship barefooted. And who will come and second-guess the King may His name be blessed what he has already done. Nevertheless, we don’t have any reason to beware nor obligation from all of this and so it seems to me. [4]

There are a number of possibilities as to which Pope the Hatam Sofer is referring. One possibility is Pius VII (1800-1823) who served in the years before the letter was written. Two others would be either Pius VI (1775-1799) or Leo XII (1823-1829), who was Pope when the letter was written. The issue of head covering in Church, for both men and women, has been discussed much by the Church (see here), but I was unable to find anything specific to which the Hatam Sofer might have been referring. The Hatam Sofer’s approach to the question of Hukkot ha-Goyim (“The Laws of the Nations”, see Lev. 18:3), was preceded by that of the Taz, who had previously ruled that it is forbidden for a Jewish man to be bareheaded since this is what non-Jews do. [5] This approach is also interesting, because during the Hatam Sofer’s lifetime there was a requirement of separate seating in Churches, so according to his logic synagogues should have been required to have mixed seating. A quick search with the Bar-Ilan Responsa Project turned up a number of additional mentions of Popes in the responsa literature, many of them in the context of descriptions of historical events and persecutions. Some of them are: 1. Responsa of the Rashba, vol. III, no. 416; 2. Responsa of Mahar”i ben Lev, vol. I, no. 115, vol. II, no. 54; 3. Responsa of the Maharshdam, HM, no. 55; 4. Responsa of the Rosh, Kelal 8, no. 13.

[1] The letter can be found in the Responsa of the Hatam Sofer, vol. V, Hashmatot to HM no.191.
[2] See Eric Zimmer, “Men’s Headcovering: The Metamorphosis of this Practice”, in Reverence, Righteousness, and Ramhamanut: Essays in Memory of Rabbi Dr. Leo Jung, pp. 325-352, esp. p. 341 and n. 68 (=Olam ke-Minhago Noheg, p. 31), and R. Gedaliah Felder, Sefer Yesodei Yeshurun, vol. I, p. 10.
[3] Regarding praying barefoot, see mMegillah 4:8 and Eliezer Bashan, “Barefoot in the Synagogue”.
[4] I did my best to translate the Hebrew, but there were some phrases whose translation might be a bit off.
[5] Taz on Shulhan Arukh, OH par. 8, sub. par. 3.

One Response to “The Hatam Sofer and the Pope”

  1. 1

    I think the HS meant that it is so until this day in the lands of the East.




Recent Posts


Sign up for an email subscribtion to this blog.

Michael Pitkowsky


Daf Yomi



Jewish Law


Law and Legal History