Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Löw, Yirmiyahu

(1811–1874), leading Hungarian Orthodox rabbi. Yirmiyahu Löw was descended from the most distinguished line of rabbis in Hungary after the Sofer-Eger family. Both his father, Binyamin Ze’ev, the author of Sha‘are Torah, and his grandfather El‘azar, the author of Shemen rokeaḥ, were famous scholars and important heads of yeshivas in Poland, Bohemia and Moravia, and, finally, in Hungary. Löw enjoyed great prestige by virtue of his descent, personality, and acknowledged wisdom, and was considered a natural leader among Orthodox rabbis, second only to the rabbi of Pressburg, Avraham Shemu’el Binyamin Sofer (Schreiber), the Ketav Sofer. A man of not inconsiderable Western culture who was fluent in German, Löw was also the head, in Újhely, of one of the largest Hungarian yeshivas, with between 100 and 150 students in 1865.

Löw had studied under his father and was one of the few important Orthodox rabbis of his generation who was not a disciple of Mosheh Sofer (Ḥatam Sofer). In 1851, Löw succeeded his father as rabbi of Verbó in the Slovakian highlands, but the following year he accepted the invitation to serve as rabbi of Sátoraljaújhely (Újhely), one of the largest Jewish communities in Hungary, which had been the seat of Mosheh Teitelbaum (1759–1841), the leading Hasidic figure in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Löw soon came into conflict with the relatively small Hasidic party in Újhely and clashed with the rabbi of the neighboring community of Olasz Liszka, Tsevi Hirsh Friedman (a disciple of Teitelbaum), who had assumed the mantle of Hasidic leadership in Hungary. The intensity of Löw’s loathing for Hasidism was unique in that country, where by the mid-nineteenth century the controversy over it had long since cooled. The friction that erupted in 1862 generated an interesting exchange over the relative cultural merits of “Sephardim” (as Hasidim were dubbed in Hungary after their style of prayer) and their Ashkenazic opponents.

In the 1860s, Löw was assigned a leading role in a series of Orthodox initiatives: he stood at the head of a delegation of seven leading Orthodox rabbis received by Emperor Franz Joseph in April 1864, protesting the proposed establishment of a rabbinical seminary. He also was one of three rabbis elected to the rabbinical presidium of the first nationwide Orthodox organization, the Shomrey ha-Das (Shomre ha-Dat) society, established in April 1868; and later that year, in November, was elected one of two vice presidents of the Orthodox rabbinical assembly held at Buda, sharing the honor with none other than his detested rival, the rabbi of Liszka. Finally, he led the right-wing Orthodox delegates who stomped out of the 1868–1869 Jewish Congress crying, “Whoever is for God, rally to me!” 

Although he was a militant who could be relentless in his campaigns against the Neolog movement and even against modern Orthodoxy, Löw rebuffed efforts to draw him into the ultra-Orthodox camp. He withheld his signature from the 1865 pesak din (edict) of Michalovce, the ultra-Orthodox manifesto that condemned not only synagogue reforms, but also sermons in German and other basic forms of acculturation. At the same time, in his capacity as vice president of Shomrey ha-Das, he lent his name to the statutes of the society, endorsing its effusive protestations of Hungarian nationalism and its enthusiasm for Magyar culture.

After the Congress, Löw began to distance himself from Shomrey ha-Das and refused to take part in a congress planned by the Orthodox, maintaining that the establishment of a separate nationwide Orthodox organization was futile. When the authorities permitted the Orthodox to secede from Neolog-controlled communities and establish just such a nationwide organization, the Újhely community refused to align itself with either camp, assuming a nonaligned position that came to be known as the Status Quo. Indeed, many viewed Löw as the father of that movement. Löw died a broken man in the spring of 1874. But despite the Orthodox ban against the Status Quo, his funeral was attended by representatives of the Orthodox organization and by many famous Orthodox rabbis, including his long-time foe, Tsevi Hirsh of Liszka.

Several of Yirmiyahu Löw’s works were published posthumously under the title Divre Yirmiyahu, including novellae on Maimonides’ code (1875), sermons (1934), and novellae on Kidushin (1983/84) and Ketubot (1996/97). Some of his important letters were printed in Menaḥem Mendel Glick’s Zikhron El‘azar (1937).

Suggested Reading

Jacob Katz, A House Divided: Orthodoxy and Schism in Nineteenth-Century European Jewry (Hanover, N.H., 1998); Michael K. Silber, “The Limits of Rapprochement: The Anatomy of an Anti-Hasidic Controversy in Hungary,” Studia Judaica (Cluj) 3 (1994): 124–147; Michael K. Silber, “‘Yeshivot en matsui bi-medinatenu mi-kamah ta‘amim nekhonim’: Ben ḥasidim u-mitnagdim be-Hungaryah,” in Be-Ma‘gele ḥasidim, ed. Immanuel Etkes, David Assaf, Yisra’el Bartal, and Elḥanan Reiner, pp. 75–108 (Jerusalem, 1999).