| For the Record |

Misunderstood Mekubal

Under the charismatic leadership of Rav Nosson Adler (1741–1800), a young cadre of followers studied mysticism and engaged in Kabbalistic customs

Title: Misunderstood Mekubal
Location: Frankfurt, Germany
Document: Frankfurt Memorbuch
Time: 1800

“IT is appropriate for me to cry and deliver a hesped. I witnessed him studying and teaching as Moshe Rabbeinu did from Hashem. I followed him wherever he went, and as is well known I even left my parents’ home to sojourn with him, and together with him suffered all of his suffering.”

—Rav Moshe Sofer, the Chasam Sofer, in his hesped delivered in Mattersdorf on the passing of his beloved rebbi, Rav Nosson Adler in 1800

In the early 1770s, a new minyan opened up in the storied community of Frankfurt am Main. Under the charismatic leadership of Rav Nosson Adler (1741–1800), a young cadre of followers studied mysticism and engaged in Kabbalistic customs that separated them from the mainstream community. Rav Nosson Adler instituted a Kabbalistic form of prayer following the Arizal, Sephardic pronunciation, daily Bircas Kohanim, stringent practices regarding shechitah, and other forms of prishus.

The emergence of Rav Adler’s group raised the ire of the Frankfurt establishment. Rav Nosson Maas, who served as av beis din and rosh yeshivah in Frankfurt for four decades, headed the opposition to the nascent Kabbalah-oriented minyan. The communal suspicion was engendered by Jacob Frank’s Sabbatean movement, which misused mystical practices and wreaked havoc on traditional Jewish life across Europe. Frank’s antinomian cult posed a real danger to the Jewish community, and as a result all suspicious Kabbalistic activity was viewed with distrust if not outright hostility.

In countering Rav Adler’s group, Rav Maas engaged such rabbinical leaders as the Noda B’Yehudah in Prague and Rav Yosef Steinhardt of Fürth. The Frankfurt kahal eventually adopted 12 takanos to curb any potential excesses of the mystical group. As Rav Adler’s following continued to flourish over the course of the decade, the Frankfurt kahal imposed a cherem in 1779, leading to his eventual departure from Frankfurt in 1782. He was eventually appointed rabbi of Boskovice in Moravia, but that tenure lasted only a year. Rav Adler’s continued wanderings included a stint in Nikolsburg and a two-year stay in Vienna, before he returned to Frankfurt in 1787.

With his self-awareness of the purity of his actions and the holiness of his approach, Rav Adler continued his private minyan with its Kabbalistic components. This led to further confrontation and a second excommunication in 1789, and he’d live out the remainder of his days in Frankfurt in the shadow of that cherem. When he was on his deathbed, just two weeks prior to his passing, the kehillah finally rescinded it.

As a result of Rav Nosson Adler’s establishment of a private minyan in his home, this kahal promulgated a cherem against him in 1779. Despite the fact that he maintained his minyan, we assume he had legitimate reasons to do so.… In order to absolve him of any thought of punishment as a result of the cherem, we have decided to publicize that all that was written in the kahal ledger in 1779 is completely nullified, and he is now permitted within the community.

As the threat from messianic cults like the Frankists subsided over the course of the 19th century, Rav Nosson Adler’s legacy was reassessed by subsequent generations. Largely due to the influence of his prize talmid, the Chasam Sofer, a posthumous recognition of his greatness and righteousness rectified the challenges he had undergone during his own lifetime. As the Chasam Sofer regularly observed, his rebbi Rav Nosson Adler was truly the “Chassid Shebekehunah.”


Never to Return

A young Rav Moshe Sofer accompanied Rav Nosson Adler on his initial exile in 1782. They tearfully parted ways in 1785 in Fürth, as the Chasam Sofer was engaged to his first wife, and he moved to her hometown of Prostějov, Moravia. The couple’s shtar tena’im noted that Rav Nosson Adler requested the bride’s family add three additional years to support the Chasam Sofer in his studies. The Chasam Sofer never returned to his hometown of Frankfurt for the remainder of his life.


Meeting of Giants

On their way from Frankfurt to Boskovice, Rav Nosson Adler and the Chasam Sofer stopped for a brief visit in Prague to pay their respects to the community’s world-renowned rabbi, Rav Yechezkel Landau, author of Noda B’Yehudah. This was to be the Chasam Sofer’s only personal meeting with the senior sage. In his later years he recalled his great excitement at the opportunity, as he served as the intermediary between the Noda B’Yehudah and Rav Nosson Adler. A young Rav David Deutsch was then serving as the Noda B’Yehudah’s intermediary, and the two budding talmidei chachamim would subsequently enjoy a close and enduring relationship as they both assumed leadership positions over the ensuing decades.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 952)

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