Krochmal, Nachman

views updated May 18 2018


KROCHMAL, NACHMAN (ReNaK ; 1785–1840), philosopher, historian, one of the founders of the "science of Judaism" (*Wissenschaft des Judentums), and a leader of the *Haskalah movement in Eastern Europe. Krochmal was born in the town of Brody, Galicia. His father Shalom Krochmalnik maintained contact with Haskalah circles in Germany, particularly withM. *Mendelssohn and D. *Friedlaender, and Krochmal himself attracted the luminaries of the Haskalah – S.J. Rapoport, I. Erter, S. Bloch, H.M. Pineles, J.H. Schorr, M.H. Letteris, and Z.H. Chajes – to the town of Zolkiew in Galicia, where he spent most of his life. He returned to Brody after his wife's death in 1836 and later settled in Tarnopol, where he died after a long illness.

Krochmal acquired his extensive education completely on his own. He devoted himself largely to philosophy and history. His chief inspiration in Jewish thought came from *Maimonides and Abraham *Ibn Ezra, and in general philosophy from Kant, Schelling, and Hegel. His interest in philosophy and history, however, was subservient to the central preoccupation of Krochmal's life, namely, the understanding of Judaism in its historical manifestation. This was summed up in his Hebrew Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zeman ("Guide of the Perplexed of the Time"), which was edited by L. Zunz and published posthumously in 1851 (critical edition by S. Rawidowicz, 1924; revised edition, 1961). Krochmal believed that his chief contribution should be made through teaching and discussion. Through verbal communication he exerted a decisive influence on his associates, and it was only at the insistence of his friends that he set down his views in writing.


Krochmal's lifework, Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zeman, was only partially devoted to pure philosophic speculation. Consisting of 17 chapters, the work may be divided into four sections: chapters 1–7 deal with issues in philosophy of religion and philosophy of history; chapters 8–11 provide a summary of Jewish history; chapters 12–15 contain an analysis of Hebrew literature by means of the critical-historical method; and chapters 16–17 present the nucleus of Krochmal's philosophy, which was never fully developed. Despite the absence of a systematic philosophical presentation, the direction of Krochmal's thought is evident. He belonged to the school of idealist philosophers (Schelling, Hegel), who regarded philosophic speculation as the proper vehicle for the final understanding of the nature of reality. Following *Hegel, he defined reality in itself as ha-Ruḥani ha-Muḥlat, "the Absolute Spirit," which in his opinion, corresponded to the concept of God in religious tradition. Krochmal speaks of the Absolute Being as "a power equal to every latent and potential form within itself," and this being he identifies with God. This definition reflects the tendency of post-Kantian idealistic philosophy to identify the Absolute Being with total acting power, whose essential nature is pure, unqualified cognition. The transition from the Absolute Reality to the generated reality of finite things, which for Krochmal corresponds to the religious concept of the creation of the world out of nothing, is explained by him as an infinite process of God's self-confinement, which must be described as a voluntary contingent act. Krochmal's exposition reflects the kabbalistic notion that the world is created by divine self-confinement, and by identifying the "nothing" out of which the world was created with God, as did the kabbalists, Krochmal draws the conclusion that God created the world out of Himself.

In contrast to the major idealistic philosophers Schelling and Hegel, Krochmal was not content with accounting for the overall derivation of finite reality from the Absolute. He concentrated on determining the relationship of religion and philosophy in respect to their relationship to the Absolute Spirit. Krochmal based his religious philosophy on the premise that the Absolute Spirit is the exclusive subject of human knowledge. Religion by its very nature is knowledge, no less than philosophic knowledge. Therefore, the difference between philosophy and religion is not one of essence but merely of form or degree. Religious belief and philosophic understanding are different degrees of comprehending the Spirit. The first is the level of "ideas of incipient thought," or the understanding of reality by means of images, whereas the second is the level of the "ideas of mind and intellect," or the understanding of reality by means of concepts and ideas. Since the intellectual understanding is more general than that of images, philosophy imparts to religion (religious belief) a greater and more complete value. Krochmal assumed that in presenting philosophy as the higher means of understanding religious truth, he was continuing the view accepted by medieval philosophers, especially Maimonides, that the Torah encourages philosophic speculation, and contains within itself, at least potentially, philosophic truth. All religious faith is based upon the Spirit, and thus there is no essential difference between the various faiths. Nevertheless the biblical faith is unique in its purity and the universality of its imagery.

Philosophy of History

Krochmal's philosophy of history is based on the assumption that history, like all products of human civilization, depends upon its spiritual content. Each nation has its own spiritual principle which is the foundation of its existence, and its life and continuity is determined by the extent to which it directs itself toward that principle. In order to understand the internal, concrete structure of the history of nations, Krochmal turned to the evolutionary method of the philosophy of history of Vico and Herder, according to which the history of every nation can be divided into three periods: growth and development, vigor and enterprise, and decline and annihilation. The various factors – economic, intellectual, and cultural – determining the life of a nation must be analyzed in the light of these periods. However, Krochmal being an idealist, subjects these factors – without adequate clarification – to the metaphysical principle of the Spirit: "The substance of a nation lies not in its being a nation, but in the substance of the Spirit therein."

Krochmal attempted, by thorough historical analysis, to establish as an empirical fact that the history of the people of Israel has the same threefold structure as that of other peoples. The Jewish people differs from all other nations, whose existences are transitory, in being eternal. Krochmal explains that this eternity is caused by a special relation existing between the Jewish people and God, the Absolute Spirit, and that this is lacking in the case of other nations. This relation was at its strongest in the revelation on Mt. Sinai and in Israelite prophecy. In spite of its special character, Krochmal does not believe that the people of Israel transcend history; its eternity is assured by a continuous renewal of national life. With this concept of the earthly and metaphysical elements of Israel and the belief in the necessity of renewing the creative national forces following a period of spiritual stagnation, Kroch mal became the forerunner of modern nationalist-Zionist philosophy of history.

Contribution to the "Science of Judaism"

Krochmal was one of the first scholars investigating Judaism to propose the method of historical investigation "for the purpose of recognizing our essence and our nature." With this he helped to lay the foundation of "the science of Judaism." While his method differed from that of the historical school represented by L. Zunz, A. *Geiger, and H. *Graetz, because he maintained that only philosophy can reveal the "ultimate purpose" of history, he also insisted that historical analysis must apply the evolutionary method in studying Judaism.


Krochmal's particular, and perhaps most important, contribution lies in his application of this method to the study of Hebrew literature. Especially noteworthy is his study of halakhah (Moreh, ch. 13) and aggadah. In his study of halakhah Krochmal had two basic aims: the interpretation of the Oral Law by establishing its origin in antiquity and the description of its development from its beginnings until its codification and publication by the sages of the Talmud. In reference to the antiquity of the Oral Law, Krochmal's position held that the fact that the Law was given to an entire nation required that its specific laws and customs be expounded only in a general way. The central theme of the evolution of halakhah is interpretation, namely, the systematic and logical development of the content of the Written Law. This approach determined Krochmal's position on the overall nature of the halakhah. Since only the fundamental laws were given verbally to Moses on Mt. Sinai, there can be no essential difference between the subsequent three phases of halakhah, which are the direct transmission of tradition from person to person, the deduction of new laws, and the formulation of ordinances, strictures, and customs (takkanot, gezerot, minhagim). But despite the unity of the halakhah, it is nonetheless possible to discern the stages of its development. Thus, Krochmal systematically studied the development of the halakhah from the soferim, who were chiefly concerned with interpreting the written law in response to religious questions, through the shonei ha-halakhot, who expanded the Oral Law by means of exegetical rules, to the final phase of the organization and editing of the halakhah by the late tannaim. While Krochmal owed much to various other scholars, he emerged as the mentor to later talmudic scholars, for example, Z.H. Chajes, A.H. *Weiss, and I. *Halevy.


Krochmal also applied the evolutionary method to his study of aggadah, although without the systematic approach of his study of halakhah. Aggadah grew out of the moral-didactic need to bring biblical ideas to the people. Its chief concern lies in the thought content of the Bible, but it does not attempt to interpret it conceptually. Aggadah is popular philosophy, and the parables that deal explicitly with God, the world, man, history, and Israel are its best exponents. The intellectual substructure of aggadah, not its stylistic exterior, reveals the essential ideas of Jewish philosophy, which, in turn, are nothing but the conceptual interpretation of the truths contained in the Torah. According to Krochmal, the development of Jewish thought from Philo to Mendelssohn is an integral process, a philosophia perennis, subdivided into various periods according to degree of conceptual purity.


Guttmann, Philosophies, 365–91; N. Rotenstreich, Jewish Philosophy in Modern Times (1968), 136–48; S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism (1896), 46–72; Rotenstreich, in: Keneset, 6 (1941), 333–44; idem, in: Zion, 7 (1942), 29–47; Guttmann, in: Keneset, 6 (1941), 259–86; P. Lachover, in: Sefer Bialik (1934), 74–98; I. Schorsch, in: Judaism, 10 (1961), 237–45; J. Taubes, ibid., 12 (1963), 150–64; S. Spiegel, Hebrew Reborn (1962), index.

[Moshe Schwarcz]

Krochmal, Nachman

views updated May 14 2018

Krochmal, Nachman (ReNak; 1785–1840). A founder of the ‘Science of Judaism’ (Wissenschaft des Judentums): see also ZUNZ, LEOPOLD. As a leader of the Haskalah movement, Krochmal's philosophy is summed up in his Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zeman (Guide to the Perplexed of Our Time, 1851). His main contribution was his attempt to study Hebrew literature, including the halakhah, in terms of its history and development.