Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich°

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HEGEL, GEORG WILHELM FRIEDRICH ° (1770–1831), German philosopher and culminating figure of German Idealism. After studies in philosophy (1788–90) and theology (1790–1793) at the Tuebingen seminary, he served as lecturer and professor at Jena (1801–07), Heidelberg (1816–18), and Berlin (1818–31). Hegel is important for Jewish history for two reasons: first, for his attitude to Judaism, which, because of his importance, was of major interest for many Jews throughout the first half of the 19th century; second, for his philosophy of history and religion in general, which influenced Jewish and other thinkers for an even longer period. Unfortunately most of his statements on these subjects were published only after his death, and were compiled based on his lecture notes and notes taken by his students. This circumstance, as well as the complexities of his language and his extraordinarily systematic thinking, makes his thought on Judaism and the philosophy of history and religion difficult to understand. Thus Hegel has become one of the most controversial figures in the history of philosophy.

Initially marked by anti-Judaic bias (in part inherited from Kant), Hegel changed his views on Judaism considerably during the course of his life. In his early writings, never intended for publication, he contrasted Greek folk religion, in which Divinity is immanent as beauty, with Jewish and, to some extent, Christian book religion consisting of positive, externally imposed law (in Christianity, sacred fact). This dichotomy is later abandoned as Hegel, rejecting his youthful romanticism, develops his dialectical method. Greek beauty and Jewish holiness are now on a par. There is truth in the Greek worship of man-made statues, for Divinity is in their beautiful making; yet, being man-made, their infinity is partly false, despite their beauty. Hence they are doubly demythologized – by the Roman Empire in life (the pantheon assembles and destroys all the pagan gods), and by ancient philosophy in thought. Judaism, in contrast, demythologizes from the start. Its infinite God, transcendent of and over against nature and man, reduces both to nondivine creatures. This achievement too, however, is bought at a price. Recognizing divine human nonunion, the Jew cannot in love be united with, but only in fear serve, a distant, holy Lord. Hence the place of reconciliation is taken by obedience to the law and confidence in the promised reward. Hence too, unlike the Greek-Roman world which universalizes its truth, the Jewish people most stubbornly remain in their particularity, despite the universality of their God, because of His unyielding transcendence. Obviously even Hegel's mature thought repeats once again the traditional Christian opinion since Paul, and fails to do justice to Judaism – to the divine-human union manifest, e.g., in the love of God, the messianic expectation and, perhaps above all, the covenant. This failure is partly due to the Christian component of his thought, partly to his doctrine of total reconciliation, antipathetic, e.g., to Judaism's absolute opposition to idolatry; partly to the restriction of his thought to an idealized biblical Judaism, and to his neglect and ignorance of rabbinic Judaism.

Methodically he developed as a system the "absolute" Idealism by which he tried to explain and reconcile the contradictions and tensions of his time. He saw these processes as part of a comprehensive and rational unity, which evolved through and manifested itself in a steady and dynamic process of contradictions, negations, and (preliminary) syntheses (Hegel himself did not use the term "synthesis," but rather the "Whole"). He applied this system of dialectics to explain the totality of science, art, history, and religion. In his system, religion and revelation are the same, for God – the "Absolute" – is perceptible only to the thinking mind, so that there is no contradiction between what religion believes and what reason sees.

These ideas had a wide impact, which did not cease with Hegel's death. The subsequent history of philosophy has recognized two opposing camps of successors, the so-called Right Hegelians and the more revolutionary Left Hegelians (the latter, also known as the Young Hegelians, include Bruno Bauer, David Friedrich Strauss, and the young Karl Marx, among others). Among Jewish circles it was the notion of development and progressive perfection of humanity that aroused particular interest, providing a basis for assigning to Israel a particular mission. Hegel thus affected such various Jewish thinkers as Samson Raphael *Hirsch, Heinrich*Graetz, Samuel *Hirsch, and Moses *Hess, a fact testifying to the many-sidedness and adaptability of his thought. These thinkers' critiques of Hegel's attitude toward Judaism, including Samuel Hirsch's profound, full-scale, Jewish critique, have, however, been ignored by all except Jewish scholars.


H. Liebeschuetz, Judentum im deutschen Geschichtsbild von Hegel bis Max Weber (1967); E.L. Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension in Hegel's Thought (1968). add. bibliography: C. Taylor, Hegel (1975); Q. Lauer, in: Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 6 (20052), 3892–95; Y. Yovel, Dark Riddle (1998); G. Hentges, Schattenseiten der Aufklaerung (1999); M. Brumlik, Deutscher Geist und Judenhass (2000); F. Tomasoni, Modernity and the Final Aim of History (2003).

[Emil Ludwig Fackenheim /

Marcus Pyka (2nd ed.)]