The Magnificent Tradition of Munkács Rabbis

The first rabbi of the community was, in all likelihood, Rabbi Yehuda Leib. His name appears in the book of responsa Keter Kehuna, where he is cited as "The chief rabbi, our teacher and rabbi Yehuda Leib, Head of the Beit Din [religious court] of the holy community of Munkács."

In 1790, a year after the passing of Rabbi Leib, Rabbi Avraham Gustman was appointed chief rabbi of the community. Rabbi Gustman worked hard to turn Munkács into the center of Jewish life in the region. He conducted widespread contact and correspondence with the finest rabbis and poskim (religious adjudicators) of the generation. During his tenure, the town also operated a yeshiva.

In 1815, community leaders appointed Rabbi Zvi Avigdor Ashkenazi as their chief rabbi. Rabbi Ashkenazi, also cited as head of the town's yeshiva, remained in this position until his passing in 1824.

In 1825, after the synagogue was rebuilt, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapira, from the town of Dynów (western Galicia), was invited to Munkács to become the town's new chief rabbi and head the Beit Din. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech brought his Hasidim with him, as well as those disciples fiercely opposed to the maskilim (enlightened). His influence went past Munkács to the whole of Subcarpathian Rus' and beyond. Rabbi Elimelech established charity and benevolence organizations as well as Torah learning institutions, including Tmeichin Deoraysa. However, when he forbade the forced feeding of geese due to the prohibition of causing unnecessary pain to animals, the people of Munkács – some of whom made their living raising and trading geese – refused to obey his ruling. Some four years later, Rabbi Elimelech left his position due also to threats concerning financial matters with the Misnagdim, and returned to Dynów. After a number of years, Rabbi Elimelech's descendents arrived in Munkács. They followed his path, and established a group of his Hasidim in the town. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech wrote the book Bnei Yissachar.

In 1833, Rabbi Azriel Grin, a disciple of the Chozeh MiLublin, was appointed chief rabbi of the town. Rabbi Grin had previously acted as chief rabbi of a number of communities in Galicia before his appointment in Munkács, and continued in his established Hasidic path. His crowning achievement was changing the prayer services from Ashkenazi style to that of the Ar"i, unified across the town's synagogues and study halls. His book Nahalat Azriel was published 98 years after his death.

Following the passing of Rabbi Grin in 1841, Rabbi Ephraim Fischel Horowitz served as chief rabbi of the town for 20 years. During this period, the Munkács community flourished, new charitable organizations were established and a Jewish hospital was founded. Rabbi Horowitz passed away in 1861, and for the following seven years the community was left without a chief rabbi.

From 1868-1880, during the tenure of Rabbi Chaim Sofer from Pressburg (today Bratislava) as the community's chief rabbi, a movement grew in Munkács opposed to the reforming influences blowing across Hungary. Rabbi Sofer, a graduate of the Pressburg Yeshiva, had arrived in Munkács after serving as chief rabbi and head of the Beit Din in a number of communities. During his tenure, he was one of the signatories on the Michalovce Gathering ruling. This gathering prohibited any change regarding halachic synagogue or home life, as part of the struggle against the Reform Movement. In 1867, Rabbi Sofer joined a delegation of orthodox rabbis to the Emperor Franz Josef to request the establishment of a separate body for the Ultra-Orthodox community. Despite his fierce opposition to reform, there were people in Munkács that opposed his spiritual rule, mostly from among the Hasidim. In 1880 Rabbi Sofer was offered a position as rabbi of a synagogue in Budapest, and he left Munkács. Rabbi Sofer wrote the books Mahane Chaim, Shaarei Chaim and Kol Sofer.