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Herford, Robert Travers°


HERFORD, ROBERT TRAVERS ° (1860–1950), English Unitarian theologian who devoted his life to research into the Judaism of the Second Temple and the Talmud, particularly the Pharisees. Travers Herford was a liberal scholar who was free of the theological prejudices of Christian scholars of Judaism and strove to present Pharisaic Judaism in an unprejudiced light. In the Oral Law he discerned a continuation of the spirit of the prophets. What the prophets demanded in vehement speeches, by emphasizing general principles, the rabbis accomplished by logical reasoning and by specifying laws and right conduct.

Herford rejected the notion that the halakhic sages placed the ceremonial act in the center of the Jewish religion: he demonstrates that in talmudic Judaism the intention is primary, but that in the view of the halakhic sages its moral content must be manifested primarily in deeds. "The yoke of the Torah" referred to disparagingly in Christian literature is to the Jew only a source of joy; its purpose is the fulfillment of God's will as it was revealed and embodied in each of the commandments, major or minor. Herford places special emphasis on the great historical function fulfilled by the Scribes and the Pharisees who brought the Torah to the people and established the synagogue as a place of learning and prayer. It popularized Judaism, and its consequent democratization of religion saved Judaism from extinction after the destruction of the Temple. Herford's view of Jewish apocalyptic literature also differs from that of Protestant scholars, who regard it as a continuation of prophecy. The Pharisees, according to Herford, did not produce apocalyptic literature but confined themselves to interpreting the Torah; the apocalyptic works were written by nonconformist groups who did, in fact, preserve the outer shell of prophetic Judaism, but did not preserve its core. That core was preserved by halakhah.

The difference between Judaism and Christianity was seen by Herford to rest on the difference between faith in a divinely revealed law, and faith in a supernatural personality capable of legislating laws which are "outside the authority of the Torah." Judaism is an independent entity and has no need of Christianity, while Christianity, according to Herford, needs Judaism's pure faith, which rejects any compromise with paganism. Without the heritage of Judaism, Christianity faces the "danger of assimilation to paganism." Not only is Judaism not a stage which led to Christianity, but rather the contrary: only after Christianity's completion of its activity will "the hidden treasure of the Pharisees be largely accepted." His most important works were Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (1903); Pharisaism, its Aim and its Method (1912); What the World Owes to the Pharisees (1919); The Pharisees (1924); Talmud and Apocrypha: A Comparative Study of the Jewish Ethical Teaching in the Early Centuries (1933); an edition of Pirkei Avot with English translation, introduction, and commentary (19624); The Separation of Christianity from Judaism (1927); and Judaism in the New Testament Period (1928).


J. Klausner, in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 42 (1924), 414–24 (= Yahadut ve-Enoshiyyut, 2 (1955), 284–68); idem, in: ks, 22 (1935/36), 439–50.

[Israel M. Goldman]

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