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Reich, Koppel

(1838–1929), rabbi and Orthodox leader. Born to a well-known rabbinic family, Koppel Reich grew up in Vérbo (now Vrbové, Slovakia) and studied at the Pressburg yeshiva under his relative Avraham Shemu’el Binyamin Sofer (Ketav Sofer). In 1880, Reich returned to Vérbo as chief rabbi. He was an outstanding orator and a skillful and energetic organizer. These qualities, along with his longevity, elevated him to the pinnacle of Hungarian Jewish leadership during his extended tenure as rabbi of the independent Orthodox community in Budapest (1890–1929).

Budapest was a center of attention during those years as the country’s capital and the headquarters of the major Hungarian Jewish communal organizations. During his nearly 40 years as the city’s central Orthodox figure, Reich was charged with buttressing the communal separatism and antagonism toward modern culture that had become the Orthodox norm in the aftermath of the General Jewish Congress of 1868–1869—though Budapest’s Orthodox Jews were more acculturated and cosmopolitan than their counterparts in the northeastern lowlands.

Even as a young delegate, Reich demonstrated a pragmatic approach by joining the minority faction led by Esriel Hildesheimer to seek a compromise that could enable the Orthodox to remain at the congress. Once separate communal frameworks were established, he lent his full support to the Orthodox organization. Sofer was apparently still concerned that Reich was too comfortable with less traditional culture; at the end of an 1871 letter of congratulations upon Reich’s appointment to his first rabbinical post, he exhorted him to refrain from speaking in a foreign language.

Ironically, it was probably Reich’s fluent German that secured his appointment to the high-profile Budapest position two decades later. On at least one major public occasion, however, he consciously followed his teacher’s directive. In 1905, Orthodox representatives from around the country met to design a charter for their newly organized national communal body. Reich was given the honor of delivering the opening address, but in a show of independence he chose to speak in Hebrew, although Yiddish was considered the official language for such events. Of course, the content of his speech, as was true of numerous lectures that later appeared in print, was vehement in its support for the Orthodox separatist policy. Reich also had adopted the mainstream Orthodox position in opposing the so-called Reception movement.

On a local level, Reich recognized the realities of his own congregation by founding an Orthodox school, Toras Emes, in which secular studies were taught. He was also involved in social issues throughout his career. He spearheaded the founding of an Orthodox hospital, along with a home for the elderly and an alms fund for a burial society. Even in the twilight of his career in 1927, he was deemed the most suitable person to serve as the Orthodox representative in the Hungarian parliament’s upper house.

Numerous colleagues refer to Reich’s scholarly acumen. Although some scattered correspondence on halakhic issues can be found in the writings of others, there are no published works that can testify to his profundity in this area. In a testament to Reich’s religious and public leadership, after his death the Budapest Orthodox community did not find an individual who could fill the shoes of their longtime rabbi and chose to leave the position of chief rabbi vacant.

Suggested Reading

Jekutiel Judah (Leopold) Greenwald, Le-Toldot ha-reformatsi’on ha-datit be-Germanyah uve Ungaryah (Columbus, Ohio, 1947/48), pp. 67, 95; Benziyon Jakobovics, Zekhor yemot ‘olam, vol. 1, p. 256, vol. 2, pp. 318–320, facsimile 55 (Bene Berak, Isr., 1986/87–1988/89); János Kis, “Reich Koppel, egy rabbi a felsöházba,” Múlt és Jövö 4.2 (1993); Géza Komoróczy, Kinga Frojimovics, Viktória Pusztai, and Andrea Strbik, Jewish Budapest: Monuments, Rites, History (Budapest and New York, 1999), pp. 437–438, 461–462; Theodor Lavi, ed., Pinkas ha-kehilot: Hungaryah (Jerusalem, 1976), p. 197; Shelomoh Sofer, Igrot sofrim, pt. 3, pp. 51–52 (Vienna and Budapest, 1888).