Breuer, Isaac

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BREUER, ISAAC (1883–1946), theoretician and leader of German Orthodoxy; son of Solomon Breuer and grandson of Samson Raphael *Hirsch. Born in Papa, Hungary, Breuer was brought as a child to Frankfurt, where he studied at his father's yeshiva and became a prominent figure in the local separatist Orthodox community (Austrittsgemeinde). He subsequently studied law, philosophy, and history at various universities and practiced as a lawyer in Frankfurt. He soon took a leading part in various communal organizations. He defended the secession of the Orthodox from the Jewish community in his Preussische Austrittsgesetzgebubg und das Judentum (1913). When *Agudat Israel was founded in 1912, Breuer became one of its ideologists and most prominent spokesmen, though he developed a unique, non-conventional direction within ultra-Orthodox thought. He settled in Jerusalem (1936), practicing as a lawyer, and devoting himself to organizing Po'alei Agudat Israel, of which he became the president. His appeared on behalf of the Agudah before the Peel Commission (1937) and the Anglo-American Commission (March 1946). Baruch *Kurzweil, his close student and spiritual heir, describes him as a charismatic teacher and a bohemian, artistic personality.

Breuer, an heir to the work of S.R. Hirsch's doctrine of Torah im derekh ereẓ, redirected it with a national focus. In his early works – Messiasspuren (1918), Judenproblem (19224; also in a condensed English edition, 1947), Wegzeichen (a collection of articles, 1923; in expanded form in Hebrew, Ziyyunei Derekh, 1955) – he developed a notion of the Jewish people's national meta-historical Being as based on the juristic act of the covenant and the common duty to fulfill the divine law. Breuer's relationship to Zionism was ambivalent and dialectic. On the one hand, he regarded the movement as removing the Jewish people from the Torah by secularizing it and by locating it within historical temporality. In that respect he believed Zionism to be the worst enemy of Judaism. While Reform Judaism explicitly attacked the Torah, Zionism falsely pretended to assure the existence of the Jewish people, detaching it from its essential nature. On the other hand, Breuer shared the Zionist notion of the centrality of Ereẓ Israel and of the ideal of establishing a Jewish national home there, a state that should be a "state of Torah." In a series of works (Das juedische Nationalheim (1925; English translation, 1926); Elischa (1928), Der neue Kusari (1934), etc.) he developed this notion, viewing the British mandate over Ereẓ Israel and the Balfour declaration as the hand of divine providence, and called for an adjustment of the Hirschian "Torah im derekh ereẓ" doctrine as "Torah im derekh Ereẓ Israel."

After settling in Ereẓ Isrel, Breuer began to write in Hebrew (Moriyyah, 1944; Nahali'el, 1951), while selected articles appeared posthumously in English (People of the Torah, 1956). In the earlier period he had written some – not very successful – novels (Ein Kampf um Gott, 1920; Falk Nefis Heimkehr, 1923), also as vehicles for his religious concepts. He defended his conception, in the philosophical terms of the 19th century that God's eternal truths were revealed in and to His "Torah people." When historical reality forced itself on his thought, he met its demand with struggle and reluctance.

Breuer was also an heir of Hirsch in his religious-philosophic doctrine, combining a strong attachment to Kant with the freedom to move beyond the ontological and epistemological sphere of Kant's "thing-in-itself" (Ding als sich) as the object of faith and revelation. In line with Kant he defined rational scientific knowledge as limited and bound to its inner structures, which revelation overcomes and exceeds. Therefore miracles cannot be perceived by regular rational perception, bound to the laws of causality; only faith, perceiving the world as God's free creation, can transcend these boundaries and accept the idea of miracle.


I Grunfeld, Three Generations (1958), index; S. Ehrmann, in: L. Jung (ed.), Guardians of Our Herritage (1958), 617–46; M. Morgenstern, From Frankfurt to Jerusalem: Isaac Breuer and the History of the Secession in Modern Jewish Orthodoxy (2002); R. Horwitz (ed.), Yiẓḥak BreuerIyyunim be-Mishnato (1988); A. Biemann, "Isaac Breuer – Zionist against His will?," in: Modern Judaism, 2:2 (2000), 129–46; D.H. Ellenson, "German Jewish Orthodoxy – Tradition in the Context of Culture," in: J. Wertheimer, The Uses of Tradition (1993), 5–22; R. Horwitz, "Exile and Redemption in the Thought of Isaac Breuer," in: Tradition, 26:2 (1992), 77–98; W.S. Wurzburger, "Breuer and Kant," in: Tradition 26:2 (1992), 71–76; E. Schweid, Toledot Filosofyat ha-Dat ha-Yehudit ba-Zeman he-Ḥadash, iii, 2 (2005), 146–71; B. Kurzweil, Le-Nokhaḥ ha-Mevukhah ha-Ruḥanit shel Dorenu (1976), 117–30.

[Yehoyada Amir (2nd ed.)]

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Breuer, Isaac

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