Prayer During Wartime, Chatam Sofer, 1914
Prayer at time of war
From the Rabbi of all of Israel
By the Chatam Sofer may his righteous soul rest in peace
And in order to hand them out to everyone in synagogue, it was printed again this year 1914 in the month of Menachem Av.
May it be Your will our God and the God of our forefathers that…You will defeat and lower all our enemies and the enemies of our land who seek to destroy us…
And to our King, the righteous, very mighty, and the minister of peace, Franz Joseph I, and his ally the great Kaiser Wilhelm II, King of Ashkenaz, God shall put wisdom and the right advice into their hearts for the good of our brothers, the Children of Israel, and for the good of all the people of the lands…and save us from war…
Help us God our Saviour, for the honour of your name, and forgive our sins, for your name, amen and amen.
May the words of my mouth and the rumination of my heart be acceptable in front of You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
This short prayer was written by Rabbi Moses Sofer (the Chatam Sofer) in 1809 as a response to the Austro-Polish War. It was reprinted over a century later after the outbreak of World War I. The prayer shows the dual identity of the Jews of Hungary; they prayed for the welfare of the Jewish people but also for the defeat of the enemies of “our land,” namely, Hungary. The prayer was adapted to the events of 1914 with the addition of the names of the current rulers: Emperor Franz Joseph I, the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his ally, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II. Another copy of the prayer was printed later in the war. This version also refers to Sultan Mehmed, the fifth and last Ottoman sultan who allied with the Austro-Hungarian and German leaders.
This is one example of prayers in which Diaspora Jews prayed for the success of heads of state in their respective countries. These prayers, which originate in the Talmud, were recited during regular prayer services but also at times of war and danger. To this day, many Jewish communities around the world pray for the success of the monarchs and governments of their country.
Rabbi Moses Sofer (Schrieber) was one of the leading Orthodox rabbis in Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was born in Frankfurt in 1762 but spent most of his life in Pressburg (today Bratislava, Slovakia), then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was appointed chief rabbi of the city and established the reputable Pressburg Yeshivah. He quickly gained followers throughout Hungary and other parts of Europe and was nicknamed the Chatam Sofer after one of his most famous works. During his time as chief rabbi of Pressburg, he held a strong stance against the Reform movement and any form of radical change in Judaism. One of the sayings attributed to him is: “חדש אסור מן התורה – new is forbidden from the Torah.”
This resource can be used when teaching about prayer in Jewish Studies lessons and discussing prayers such as the prayer for the government or head of state or the prayer for the welfare of IDF soldiers.
Jewish History teachers can use this resource to discuss the relationship between Jews and their local leadership and Jewish participation in local wars. Teachers can also use this when discussing the Chatam Sofer or other important rabbis from the nineteenth century and the Jewish communities of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
What is this?
What language is it written in?
What is written on the front page?
Try to understand: the title of the page, the name of the author, and the year it was printed.
Look at the Hebrew text of the prayer.
Make a list of words that you recognise.
Read the translation of the prayer, and summarise it in a sentence or two.
Reading Between the Lines
This prayer was written for the success of Emperor Franz Josef I and Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Who were these monarchs and why did the Chatam Sofer write a prayer for them?
The prayer, originally written in 1809, was adapted for use in 1914 and again in 1939.
What happened in these years?
Who would have recited this prayer?
Where would it have been recited?
Based on this prayer, how do you think the relationship was between the Jews and their monarchs at the time?
The prayer was written by Rabbi Moses Schreiber (Sofer), also known as the Chatam Sofer.
Who was he?
Read this modern version of a prayer before war, and compare it to the one written by the Chatam Sofer.
This prayer was reprinted at the outbreak of World War I. Read more about Jewish soldiers and prayer in World War I here.
Which armies fought in the war?
In which armies did Jews fight?
Look at this poem by Naomi Shemer, written during the Yom Kippur War. Do you think it could be considered a prayer?
This is an example of a prayer recited by Jews in the Diaspora for their respective heads of state.
Does your community say a prayer for the monarch, prime minister, or president?
What does the prayer say?
What does it say about the Jewish community?
Write your own prayer for peace based on current events.