Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: Architect of Torah Judaism for the Modern World by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman

Rabbi Klugman delivers a veritable argument that Rabbi Hirsch's approach to the challenges of a free society wracked with assimilation is actually adopted today by virtually all Torah communities in the West.

Rabbi Hirsch becomes famous with his initial anonymous publication of The Nineteen Letters, a dialogue between a Yeshiva student and Collegian.  It is a forceful statement that one need not forego a Torah education for a secular education; that a Torah education is not obscurantist.  Rabbi Hirsch understands the pressures to conform with the destruction of the Ghetto walls.  He eloquently presents the case for a Torah lifestyle.

His major fight was with Reformers and with Wissenschaft.  He saw these two trends within the Jewish community as an anathema to a true Torah lifestyle.  He understood that Reform was complete assimilation and the Science of Judaism founded by Zunz was simple heresy.

Although Abraham Geiger initially respected the contribution of The Nineteen Letters, he disparaged Rabbi Hirsch as atavistic.  Rabbi Hirsch adamantly argued that Reforms were completely unnecessary because the Torah was not meant for one period or era but rather was for all time and thus fit any time period.  Hirsch's favorite word in the context of Torah was 'truth'.  Truth is timeless.

What is very clear from Rabbi Hirsch is that Reform Judaism was agenda driven.  Any subject deemed atavistic would have to be excised.  It was completely subjective and although in the beginning there was an effort to conform with Halakhic principles, subsequently all such efforts were dropped.

Rabbi Hirsch broke with his student Graetz, the first major Jewish historian and challenged Zechariah Frankel, the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary head because he saw their agenda in trying to gain the respect of the outside gentile world.  He saw great obvious mistakes in Graetz's scholarship, but more important he uncovered his bias against traditional Judaism.  He challenged Frankel to state whether he believed in the concept of "Torah is from Heaven" never getting a response.  Rabbi Hirsch could only conclude that these scholars were creating a new category and new definition of Judaism.  Instead of defining Judaism based on the Torah and its oral traditions, these historians were creating a definition based on culture, and its inevitable expansion.

Not a typical Artscroll publication, this contribution is well documented, footnoted and researched, heavily relying on the scholarship of Isaac and Mordechai Breuer.  If one is interested in understanding the defense of traditional Judaism in the 19th century this is a must read.

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