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Champion of Orthodoxy: The Emergence of Samson Raphael Hirsch as Religious Leader

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 October 2009

Robert Liberles
Department of History, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel


When the second generation proponents of Reform in Germany initiated a wave of intellectual, liturgical, and communal activity in the mid-1830s, Samson Raphael Hirsch immediately appeared on the scene as defender of the Jewish legal tradition. While Michael Creizenach's Schulchan Aruch was initiated in 1833 and Abraham Geiger introduced his Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift fuer juedische Theologie in 1835, Hirsch's first book, The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel, appeared as early as 1836, and his precocious response left little doubt that he was to be Orthodoxy's champion in the strife just beginning.

Research Article
Copyright © Association for Jewish Studies 1981

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1. “Samson Raphael Hirsch, Ein Lebensbild,” in Samson Raphael Hirsch Jubilaeums- Nummer Der Israelit (Frankfurt, 1908), pp. 517Google Scholar. Frankfurter's father was named Zevi Hirsch and family members were variously named Frankfurter, Hirsch and also Mendelssohn. Frankfurter himself used the name Hirsch in official documents. Goldschmidt, Josef, Geschichte der Talmud Tora Realschule in Hamburg (Hamburg, 1905), p. 12, n. and n. 5 below. For the family history,Google Scholar see Duckesz, Eduard, “Zur Genealogie Samson Raphael Hirsch,” Jahrbuch der juedisch-literarischen Gesellschafl 17 (1926): 103131.Google Scholar

2. Duckesz, , “Genealogie,” pp. 115–23Google Scholar and Duckesz, , Iwoh Lemoschaw [Hebrew] (Cracow, 1903), pp. 8892. Goldschmidt, Talmud Tora. pp. 12–13.Google Scholar

3. Goldschmidt, , Talmud Tora. pp. 1236Google Scholar. Eliav, Mordechai, Jewish Education in Germany in the Period of the Enlightenment and Emancipation [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1960), pp. 134, 159–60.Google Scholar

4. Eliav, , Jewish Education, p. 160.Google Scholar

5. , Duckesz, “Genealogie,” pp. 119–20. Frankfurter signed these reports as Mendel Hirsch.Google Scholar

6. Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, AHW 542a, entries 283–84. , Goldschmidt, Talmud Tora, pp. 4548.Google Scholar

7. , Goldschmidt, Talmud Tora, pp. 22, 32–41Google Scholar. Krohn, Helga, Die Juden in Hamburg, 1800–1850 (Frankfurt, 1967), pp. 2831. The importance of these family relations will be explained in sec. II below.Google Scholar

8. Philipson, David, The Reform Movement in Judaism, 2d ed. (New York, 1967), pp. 2934Google Scholar. On the polemical controversy, see Petuchowski, Jakob J., Prayerbook Reform in Europe (New York, 1968), pp. 8698Google Scholar. For an important new study on the controversy, see Meyer, Michael A., “Haqamatah shel ha–heikhal be-Hamburg,” in Peraqim be-toledot ha-hevrah ha-yehudit bi-yemei ha-beinayim ve-ha-′et ha-fiadashah muqdashim li-Perofesor Ya′aqov Katz (Jerusalem, 1980), pp. 218–24.Google Scholar

9. Hirsch Jubilaeums-Nummer, p. 6. For an English summary, see Isidor Grunfeld's introduction to Judaism Eternal. 2 vols. (London, 1956), 1: xxiii. The credibility of this source will be established through a parallel source to be introduced below.Google Scholar

10. , Philipson, Reform Movement, pp. 1118.Google Scholar

11. Hirsch Jubilaeums-Nummer, p. 10. The finest studies of Hirsch's writings and thought can still be found in the various essays of Isaac Heinemann. On Horeb, see especially his chapter on , Hirsch in Ja′amei ha-misvot be-sifrul Yisra′el, 2 vols. (Jerusalem, 1956), 2:91161.Google Scholar

12. Hirsch, S. R., The Nineteen Letters of Ben Vziel, trans. Drachman, Bernard (New York, 1899), pp. 103–5.Google Scholar

13. Crefeenach, Michael, Schulchan Aruch oder encyclopedische Darstellung des Mosdischen Gesetzes. 4 vols. (Frankfurt, 18331840).Google Scholar

14. Ibid, l:vii, x.

15. From the author's Foreword to Horeb, pp. civ–clvi. All references to Hirsch's writings have been made to the available English translations, although the translations themselves have at times been modified. The seriousness with which Hirsch took Creizenach's work is indicated in Hirsch's first literary polemic against the Reformers, the Erste Mittheilungen (Altona, 1838) which is devoted to a refutation of the first volume of Creizenach's Schulchan Aruch.

16. Horeb, pp. clvii–clviii.

17. Ibid, p. clviii.

18. Heinemann, Isaac, Ja′amei ha-mifvot, p. 91 and “Samson Raphael Hirsch: The Formative Years of the Leader of Modern Orthodoxy,” Historia Judaica 13 (1951): 46.Google Scholar

19. For Grunfeld's understanding of the title, see Horeb, pp. xxx-xxxi. Noah Rosenbloom correctly posed the question of why the title Horeb and not Sinai. For his answer, see Tradition in an Age of Reform (Philadelphia, 1976), pp. 125–26.Google Scholar

20. The letter appeared in English in Horeb, l:cxli-cxlv. It also appeared in Hebrew with minor differences in Sinai 14 (1944): 6264.Google Scholar

21. Horeb, 1: 154.

22. Nineteen Letters, p. 208.

23. See the prospectus in Nachalath Zwi, 2 (1932): 257260.Google Scholar

24. Hirsch indicated at the end of this passage that it came from Malachi (3:23). However, there are several changes in nuance from the biblical passage, one of which was the transformation of Elijah as one who will come at the end of days to Elijah as a reappearing savior.

25. Hirsch, S. R., Judaism Eternal, ed. Grunfeld, Isidor, 2 vols. (London, 1956), 2: 129. The passage originally appeared in Jeschurun 1 (1854): 322–23.Google Scholar

26. The essay appeared in Jeschurun 14 (1868): 205–15. It is available in English in Judaism Eternal, 2: 291–300. On the traditional identification of Phinehas with Elijah, see the references in Ginzberg, Louis, The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. (Philadelphia, 1946–1947), 3: 389; 4: 195; and the notes in 6: 138 and, especially, 316–17.Google Scholar

27. Judaism Eternal, 2: 292.

28. Ibid, p. 296.

29. Ibid, p. 129.

30. Ibid, p. 300 and Horeb, p. cxliii.

31. On Hirsch's early flirtations with religious reforms, see Heinemann, , “The Formative Years,” pp. 4245 and Rosenbloom, Tradition, pp. 69 and 420, n. 15.Google Scholar

32. Judaism Eternal, 2: 291–92. The biblical account is in Numbers 25.

33. Ginzberg, Legends, 3: 385, 388–89.

34. See n. 1 above.

35. In fact, contrast Hirsch's rendition with the traditional Midrash in which Aaron's wife Elisheba counts among her joys “her grandson, Phinehas, priest of war.” Ginzberg, Legends, 3: 187 based on Zevaljim 102a. My gratitude to Dr. Carmi Horowitz for calling this Midrash to my attention.

36. An additional literary clue to Hirsch's perceived estrangement from his father is provided when Hirsch misquoted the biblical passage describing Elijah's flight to Horeb, for Hirsch added the words actually spoken by Elijah earlier in the chapter–“ am no better than my fathers.” Hirsch effectively moved this phrase from I Kings 19:4 to 19:14, so that these words were now spoken by Elijah at Horeb, which was not the case in the biblical account. “Karmel und Sinai,” Nachalath Zwi 2 (1932): 258–59. In studying the dynamics of Hirsch's personality, an objective evaluation of the father-son relationship would prove not only speculative, but far less relevant than Hirsch's perception of that relationship as revealed in his literary testimony. Of interest, however, is the singular account by Heinrich Graetz of the interaction between Hirsch and his father during the latter's visit to Oldenburg, when Hirsch proved embarrassed by his father's demonstrations of love. Graetz, Heinrich, Tagebuch und Briefe, ed. Michael, Reuven (Tuebingen, 1977), p. 69.Google Scholar

37. , Hirsch, Letters, p. 213. Note the reference to Hirsch as forerunner to an abler leader in the continuation of this passage.Google Scholar

38. Ibid, pp. 213–14.

39. Japhet, Saemy, “The Secession From The Frankfurt Jewish Community Under Samson Raphael Hirsch,” Historia Judaica 10 (1948): 105106.Google Scholar

40. See n. 7 above.

41. Contrast Rosenbloom, Tradition, pp. 53–65 and 409, n. 109. See also Mordechai Breuer's review of Rosenbloom's book in Tradition, 16, no. 4 (Summer, 1977): 140. Graetz testified that Hirsch spent long hours studying while rabbi in Oldenburg; Graetz, Tagebuch, p. 11. A microfilm selection from the Hirsch collection is available at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem. The original collection is now being catalogued at Bar Ilan University.

42. Hirsch, Letters, p. 216. memoir, Geiger's is in Nachgelassene Schriften, ed. Geiger, Ludwig, 5 vols. (Berlin, 1875–1878), 1: 296308.Google Scholar

43. , Hirsch, Letters, p. 214.Google Scholar

44. Ibid, p. 9.

45. Hirsch Jubilaeums-Nummer, p. 8. See the long discussion on Bernays's influence on Hirsch by Heinemann, , “Ha-yahas she-bein S. R. Hirsch le-Yishaq Bernays rabbo,” Zion 16 (1951): 4490.Google Scholar

46. Hirsch, , “Die Religion in Bunde mit dem Fortschritt,” Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Hirsch, Naphtali, 2d ed., 4 vols. (Frankfurt, 1908–1922), 3: 525. Japhet, “Secession Movement,” p. 118.Google Scholar

47. I have discussed the historical inaccuracies in Hirsch's description of Orthodox life in Frankfurt at greater length in my forthcoming study on Frankfurt Orthodoxy.

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