Rabbi Yochanan Sofer.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The grand rabbi of the Erlau hassidic community, Rabbi Yochanan Sofer, died early Monday morning at the age of 93, after a week-long hospitalization with pneumonia.
Thousands of mourners gathered at the yeshiva and communal center of the Erlau community in Jerusalem to hear eulogies of the rabbi, and to participate in his funeral procession to Har Hamenuhot Cemetery.
Sofer was born in the Hungarian city of Erlau (Eger) in 1923 and survived the Holocaust in Auschwitz, although he lost many members of his family, including his mother, father and siblings.
After the war he founded a yeshiva in Budapest in the name of his home town Erlau, but two years after the establishment of the State of Israel he moved to Jerusalem and established his yeshiva in the capital’s Katamon neighborhood.
He never moved from the non-haredi neighborhood, unlike other hassidic leaders who once lived in the area but who moved to haredi neighborhoods elsewhere in Jerusalem.
Sofer, a scion of the renowned halachic authority of the late 18th and early 19the century Rabbi Moshe Sofer, known as the Chatam Sofer, was well respected within the haredi community and among Israel’s political leadership as well.
He was also a member of the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudat Yisrael haredi political movement which forms one half of the United Torah Judaism Knesset faction and was known as the “elder of the admorim (grand rabbis).”
Many tributes for the rabbi were made following the announcement of his death on Monday.
President Reuven Rivlin mourned Sofer’s passing, saying that he was much loved among a broad spectrum of Israeli society.
“The grand rabbi of Erlau, the elder of the admorim, was a unique figure, beloved and esteemed by secular people, religious and haredi,” said the president.
Former president Shimon Peres also mourned Sofer’s death, noting like Rivlin the respect in which he was held across the religious spectrum.
“In his unique way, the rebbe was a religious leader for everyone, haredi, religious-Zionist and secular alike,” said Peres. “The center of his work was in the study hall, which he built in the middle of the secular neighborhood of Katamon in Jerusalem and his stronghold spread out from there over all of us. With his special humility and nobility he radiated love of Jews and Torah.”