Guedemann, Moritz

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GUEDEMANN, MORITZ (1835–1918), Austrian rabbi, historian, and apologete. Guedemann was born in Hildesheim, Prussia; he was ordained at the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary, in 1862. Guedemann was appointed rabbi in Magdeburg in 1862. Four years later he went to Vienna as a maggid and in 1868 became a rabbi there. In matters of Jewish law and practice he took a conservative position, opposing, for example, the introduction of the organ and the omission of prayers relating to Zion, which contrasted with his liberal outlook in scholarly matters. In 1869 he was appointed head of the Vienna bet din and in 1891 became chief rabbi with Adolf *Jellinek and sole chief rabbi on the latter's death in 1894.

This period was one of rapid growth for the Vienna Jewish community and also of intensified political antisemitism. Guedemann played an active role in developing communal institutions. With Joseph Bloch he organized the Oesterreichisch-Israelitische Union (1886) and also helped found the *Israelitisch-Theologische Lehranstalt in 1893. Though Guedemann had not been trained as a historian, most of his numerous contributions to scholarship were in that field. His major work was Die Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der abendlaendischen Juden (3 vols., 1880–88), the first systematic attempt to examine some of the underlying trends and institutions of medieval Jewish life in terms of their non-Jewish milieu. Other works include Das juedische Unterrichtswesen waehrend der spanisch-arabischen Periode (1873) and Quellenschriften zur Geschichte des Unterrichts und der Erziehung bei den deutschen Juden (1892). During the final decades of his life Guedemann devoted an increasing amount of his scholarly output to the refutation of academic antisemitism. His Juedische Apologetik appeared in 1906.

[Ismar Schorsch]

Attitude to Zionism

When *Herzl was engaged in writing Der Judenstaat, he thought of three personages who would assist him in turning his idea into reality: Baron de *Hirsch, Baron *Rothschild, and Guedemann. It was to Guedemann that Herzl addressed one of his first letters (June 11, 1895) and his name appears frequently in Herzl's diary for the period in which Herzl began his preoccupation with political Zionism. In Herzl's eyes, Guedemann was not only Vienna's chief rabbi but one of the greatest authorities on Judaism, of which Herzl possessed only a very limited knowledge. But although opposed to the extreme Reform movement, Guedemann was in agreement with its attitude on the contemporary problem of the Jewish people. He could not understand why a Jew who had grown up among the German people and in the realm of its culture "should uproot himself by his own hands from the soil upon which he had grown," or, as he formulated it on one occasion, "Should I go from here, where the word Jew and all who bear that name are held up to shame, and leave the field to our enemies in order to form a majority in Palestine? No! A hundred thousand horses will not drag me from here, until I achieve revenge over the antisemites and joy over their downfall."

Over a period of many months, Herzl held meetings with Guedemann and exchanged letters with him. At the beginning, Guedemann was impressed by the idea of the Judenstaat and by its author; when the book came out, however, and caused a storm among the assimilationists, Guedemann's attitude underwent a decided change. For a while he wavered between support for Zionism and opposition to it; in the end, he published a book, Nationaljudentum (1897) in which he attacked Herzl's Judenstaat. In his book he sought to prove that not only was there no such thing as a Jewish people, but that it was the main task of the Jews to bring about the abolishment of nationalism. Both Herzl and *Nordau came out with sharp reactions to Guedemann's book.

[Getzel Kressel]


B. Wachstein, Bibliographie der Schriften Moritz Guedemanns (1931); T. Herzl, Complete Diaries, 5 (1960), index; J. Fraenkel (ed.), Jews of Austria (1967), 111–29; Yerushalmi, in: S. Federbush (ed.), Ḥokhmat Yisrael be-Ma'arav Eiropah (1958), 187–98; I. Schorsch, in: ylbi, 11 (1966), 42–66; J. Fraenkel, ibid., 67–82.