Hildesheimer, Esriel

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HILDESHEIMER, ESRIEL (18201899), was a German rabbi and founder of the Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin. Hildesheimer was born in Halberstadt, Germany, and was educated in the first Orthodox school in Germany to include secular subjects in its curriculum. He continued his studies with Jacob Ettlinger and Isaac Bernays, rabbis who combined their traditional observance with a receptivity to contemporary thought. Both men encouraged Hildesheimer's interest in secular learning, and under their influence he went on to the universities of Berlin and Halle; from the latter he received in 1846 a Ph.D. for a study of the Septuagint. Hildesheimer emerged from his early years as a staunch opponent of Reform Judaism and a major proponent of the modern Orthodox philosophy of torah ʿim derekh erets, Samson Raphael Hirsch's slogan that affirmed the worth of modern Western culture and traditional Jewish study and belief.

Hildesheimer's first opportunity to realize his ambitions for the creation of a "cultured Orthodoxy" came in 1851, when he became rabbi of the Jewish community in Eisenstadt, Hungary (now in Austria). There he established the first yeshivah in the modern world to have a secular component in its regular course of study. This innovation earned Hildesheimer the wrath of many Orthodox traditionalists in Hungary, and as a result he returned to Germany in 1869. In Berlin he became rabbi of the separatist Orthodox congregation Adass Jisroel. In 1873, with the opening of the Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary, Hildesheimer realized his dream of a school that would train rabbis committed to both Jewish Orthodoxy and Wissenschaft des Judentums (the modern scholarly study of Judaism). This institution gained Hildesheimer a position of leadership among Orthodox Jews, and his institutional accomplishments mark him as a major architect of modern Jewish Orthodoxy.

Hildesheimer himself produced a number of scholarly works; the most prominent is a critical edition (1890) of Halakhot gedolot, an important geonic work. In addition, he founded in 1870 a German-language newspaper, Die jüdische Presse, for the dissemination of his views. His opinions on contemporary issues are also reflected in his Gesammelte Aufsätze (1923), a collection of his major polemical/apologetic essays. His Jewish legal rulings, Teshuvot Rabbi ʿEsriʾel (19691976), have appeared in two volumes.


Eliav, Mordechai. "Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and His Influence on Hungarian Jewry" (in Hebrew). Zion 27 (1962): 5986. This study focuses on Hildesheimer's years in Hungary and the tensions he experienced as a spokesman for modern Orthodoxy in a Jewish community divided between extremist Orthodox and liberal Jewish elements.

Eliav, Mordechai. "Torah ʿim derekh erets be-Hungariyah." Sinai 51 (1962): 127142. A superb study of Hildesheimer's yeshivah in Eisenstadt and the educational policies and practices that evolved there.

Eliav, Mordechai, ed. Rabbiner Esriel Hildesheimer: Briefe. Jerusalem, 1965. This is a collection of 139 of Hildesheimer's letters (96 in German and 43 in Hebrew), edited and introduced by Eliav. Eliav's notes on the letters are clear, concise, and thorough. This is an indispensable work for understanding Hildesheimer.

New Sources

Ellenson, David Harry. Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy. Tuscaloosa, Ala, 1990.

David Ellenson (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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