Hoffmann, David

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HOFFMANN, DAVID (18431921), was a German rabbi, Jewish legal authority, Orthodox communal leader, and biblical and rabbinic scholar. David Tsevi Hoffmann was born in Hungary and studied in the yeshivot of Moses Schick and Esriel Hildesheimer. Hildesheimer, who affirmed the worth of secular culture and traditional rabbinic scholarship, had a profound influence on Hoffmann. This influence led Hoffmann to Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia), where he studied in both the famed Sofer Yeshiva and the Evangelical Gymnasium. Hoffmann began his university studies in 1865 in Vienna and immigrated in 1866 to Germany, where he completed his university education at Berlin and Tübingen; he received his doctorate in 1870 for his Mar Samuel, Rektor der Jüdischen Akademie zu Nehardea in Babylonien (Mar Samuel, rector of the Jewish Academy at Nehardea in Babylonia). This work was severely criticized by Samson Raphael Hirsch for its application of critical methods to the study of Talmud, although Hoffmann himself felt that his own application of this method did not negate the divine authority of the oral law. In 1873 Hoffmann joined the faculty of the Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin; in 1899 he became rector of the seminary. He served, simultaneously, as rabbi of the Berlin separatist Orthodox congregation, Adass Jisroel.

Hoffmann insisted that a defense of traditional Jewish religious belief could be combined with an affirmation of contemporary secular culture and scholarship, and he displayed this commitment through hundreds of essays and numerous books of both scholarly and apologetic natures. His defense of the unitary authorship of the Bible is contained in his commentaries on Leviticus and Deuteronomy and in his famed Die wichtigsten Instanzen gegen die Graf-Wellhausensche Hyposthese (The most important arguments against the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, 1904). Hoffmann also defended German Jews against the attacks of German anti-Semites in Der Schulchan-Aruch und die Rabbinen über das Verhaltnis der Juden zu Anderglaubigen (The Shulhan ʿarukh and the rabbis on the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, 1885). Hoffmann's studies in Midrash and Talmud were seminal in the development of modern Jewish scholarship in these areas, and his collection of Jewish legal decisions, Melammed le-hoʾil (19261932), evidences a remarkable sensitivity to the German environment and an absolute determination to preserve Orthodoxy against the encroachments of Reform Judaism. His modern approach to Jewish Orthodoxy provided an important model for Jews in Germany and throughout the West, and, because of this, Hoffmann remains a critical figure to the understanding of the development of Jewish Orthodoxy in the modern world.


Brown, Jonathan M. Modern Challenges to Halakhah. Chicago, 1969. A study of Hoffmann's Melammed le-hoʾil as a response to the challenges confronting Jewish Orthodoxy in the modern era. First written as a rabbinical thesis at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Ginzberg, Louis. "David Hoffmann." In Students, Scholars, and Saints, pp. 252262. Philadelphia, 1928. An essay by one of the leading Talmudists in the modern world on the significance of Hoffmann's life and the meaning of his scholarship.

Marx, Alexander. "David Hoffmann." In Essays in Jewish Biography, pp. 185222. Philadelphia, 1947. A study of Hoffmann's life by his son-in-law, himself a major scholar of Jewish history. This is the most important and comprehensive account of Hoffmann's life yet written in English; it is a rich source for insight into Hoffmann's personal life.

New Sources

Shapiro, Marc B. "Rabbi David Zevi Hoffmann on Torah and 'Wissenschaft.'" Torah U-Madda Journal 6 (19951996): 129137.

David Ellenson (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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Hoffmann, David

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