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In the Shadow of the Emperor: The Hatam Sofer’s Copyright Rulings


This article continues the investigation initiated by the author's Rabbi Banet's Charming Snake. It continues the investigation into copyright litigation of the 1820s, but this time the venue is Slovakia, whose chief rabbi was the legendary Moses Sofer, known as "the seal of the scribes" (Hatam Sofer). The article shows how Hatam Sofer and his adversary, Mordekhai Banet, attempted to vindicate Jewish law at the same time that the forces of Enlightenment gave new impetus to secular authority. The Beit Din (Jewish law court) thus found itself beseiged, as a 'judicial arms race" unfolded between religious and secular authorities. The article places this copyright case at the vortex of that struggle. It also shows how the dispute between rabbis of the nineteenth century rehearsed perennial disputes over the nature of copyright protection -- disparate points of view that find an analog in England of the nineteenth century, and which continue until today.

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