Formstecher, Solomon

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FORMSTECHER, SOLOMON (1808–1889), German philosopher and rabbi. Formstecher was born in Offenbach. He studied philosophy, philology and theology at the University of Giesen, and served as the rabbi of the Offenbach community from 1842 until his death. He took an active part in the Reform movement and edited the periodicals Der Freitagabend and Die Israelitische Wochenschrift.

In his systematic work Die Religion des Geistes – Wissenschaftliche Darstellung des Judentums nach seinem Charakter, Enwicklungsgaeng und Berufe in der Welt (Frankfurt, 1841) Formstecher attempted to present a theoretical basis for the aims of the emancipation and Reform. Judaism is presented primarily as an idea, anchored in historical revelation and the full value of which is revealed through the gradual, progressive development of humanity. Formstecher used the philosophical categories of the German idealists Schelling and, to a lesser extent, Hegel in developing this concept.

The three central concepts of Formstecher's system are revelation, spirit, and nature. By revelation, which is the source of the ethical monotheism of Judaism, he means the divine communication concerning the true nature of good and evil. It is not the knowledge of God's existence that represents the true ideal, but the identification of God as a pure moral being. The God of Israel is not a supreme concept reached through philosophic understanding, but a supreme being transcending both spiritual and earthly nature. Therefore, Judaism as an idea is not a philosophic religion, but the manifestation of the true absolute revelation. The classical representatives of this idea were the prophets of Israel. They understood the truth of the original revelation – based on God's covenants with Noah and his *chosen people, symbolized by the Sinai covenant – through knowledge of the objective source of the absolute values, which was revealed to them by an immediate feeling.

Like Hegel, Formstecher meant by "spirit" the concretization of the absolute in the historic-conscious level of mankind. If, as he believed, religion in general is man's aspiration for a universe of values, then the religion of the spirit is the aspiration for the embodiment of an absolute moral idea, the source of which is divine revelation. Judaism as a phenomenon, i.e., historical Judaism, although subject to historical circumstances, clings to the aspiration of embodying the moral idea on earth.

This aspiration distinguished Judaism from all other religions, which are fundamentally religions of nature, or physical monotheism. Following Schelling, Formstecher defined the religion of nature (paganism) as the aspiration for universal life, in which the spirit is manifested as the "soul of the world". The philosophic pantheistic concepts, as well as speculative metaphysical thought, are therefore, the refined form of the pagan view of life. In proposing his argument Formstecher foreshadowed some of the anti-metaphysical trends in modern Jewish theology, represented by Rosenzweig and Buber, for example.

Judaism and paganism are polar phenomena, which by their very nature cannot coexist. Therefore, Formstecher rejected the concept of the mission of the Jews as the fundamental and direct heritage of Judaism. Within the framework of the dominant paganism, the isolation of Judaism among the nations is a direct result of its metaphysical nature. Nevertheless, Judaism does fulfill its mission among the nations, although not directly: it fulfills its mission through Christianity and Islam. These historical religions, in which pagan and spiritual elements are mingled, fulfill the requirement that paganism be overcome by the embodiment of the absolute moral value of the divine spirit. As the growth of the spirit and culture in modern times seemed to indicate, insofar as the human consciousness is aware of the moral source of all being, the universal human spirit will develop, and it will of itself bring about the removal of the barriers between the nations. Formstecher sincerely believed that the Emancipation was the social-political manifestation of this internal, spiritual process in the history of humanity.


N. Rotenstreich, Jewish Philosophy in Modern Times (1968), 106–20 and index; Guttmann, Philosophies 308–13; add. bibliography: B. Ritter-Kratz, Salomon Formstecher – Ein deutcher Reformrabbiner (biography incl. full bibliography) (1991) (Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen des Salomon Ludwig Steinheim-Instituts fuer deutsch juedische Geschichte, E. Heid (ed.), vol. i); T., "Solomon Formstechers Religion des Geistes – Versuch einer Neulekture," in: Aschkenas, 13:2 (2003), 441–460; N.M. Samuelson, An Introduction to Modern Jewish Philosophy (1989), 150–53; M.A. Meyer, Response to Modernity (1988), 70–72, index.

[Moshe Schwarcz /

Yehoyada Amir (2nd ed.)]