Hildesheimer, Azriel

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HILDESHEIMER, AZRIEL (Esriel; Israel ; 1820–1899), German rabbi, scholar, educator, and leader of Orthodox Jewry. Hildesheimer, who was born in Halberstadt into a family of scholars, received his early education in the local Jewish school, the first in Germany to include general subjects in its curriculum. He continued his talmudic studies under Jacob Ettlinger in Altona, and attended the lectures of Isaac *Bernays in neighboring Hamburg. At Berlin University he studied Semitics, philosophy, history, and science, and eventually received his doctorate from the University of Halle in 1844. His dissertation, "The Correct Method of Interpreting the Bible," dealt with the Septuagint. By his marriage to the daughter of Aaron *Hirsch he became financially independent, enabling him to pursue freely his university studies and his subsequent career. After receiving his doctorate he returned to Halberstadt and assumed the voluntary post of secretary to the community. In 1847, he began in earnest to fight the rise of the Reform movement. In response to a campaign on behalf of Reform by Ludwig *Phillipson, Hildesheimer wrote a pamphlet, "The Necessity of Protest against the Actions of the Reformers," which was circulated at the Magdeburg Conference in October 1847. In 1848, Hildesheimer succeeded in preventing the Reform community from seceding from the general Jewish community in Halberstadt. However, his overall attempts to maintain the Orthodox hegemony over the German Jewish communities was ultimately unsuccessful. Still and all, he continued to oppose Reform throughout his life. In 1883, he refused to sign a circular meant to counteract an accusation that Judaism had a double standard of ethics, one internal and one external, since it was sponsored by non-Orthodox rabbis. He argued that non-Orthodox rabbis were not to be the proper spokesmen for Judaism. In 1897, he seceded from the General Union of Rabbis in Germany to form the Union of Torah Faithful Rabbis. Nevertheless, he had a very strong belief in kelal yisrael, and was willing to work with all segments of the community, especially for the Jewish community in Israel (see below).

In 1851 Hildesheimer was appointed rabbi of the Austro-Hungarian community of Eisenstadt; there he reorganized the educational system and established a yeshivah, where the language of instruction was correct German. He also introduced limited secular studies in the elementary school, while the older students studied mathematics and other subjects that enhanced their yeshivah learning. Many of the courses were taught by Hildesheimer himself. The yeshivah was highly successful, and students came there from all over Europe as well as America. However, despite Hildesheimer's great learning and patent Orthodoxy, the great majority of Orthodox Hungarian rabbis bitterly opposed his modernism and the institution he created. The fact, as reported by his daughter, that he sang German lieder, read German literature, and dressed in contemporary German attire was very irksome to the old-school Orthodox rabbinic elite. At a congress of Hungarian Jewry in 1868–69, which met to decide on the establishment of a rabbinical seminary for the whole of Hungary, Hildesheimer and his sympathizers had to contend with both the Reform and the ultra-Orthodox factions. His moderate proposals might have preserved the unity of Hungarian Jewry, but the congress ended in a radical split (see also *Landesrabbinerschule). In 1868, Hildesheimer was approached by Solomon *Gansfried, author of the Kiẓẓur Shulḥan Arukh, leader of the more extreme Orthodox elements in Hungary. Gansfried complained that the Reform had seceded from the general community in his town of Ungvar and had appointed their own shoḥet (ritual slaughterer). Since the community was supported by the taxes levied on slaughtered meat, the general community, now the Orthodox one, was losing revenue. Hildesheimer replied that there was little he could do to help, for he was quickly coming to the realization that the Orthodox hegemony over the European Jewish communities was quickly ending.

Despairing of success in Hungary, in 1869 Hildesheimer accepted a call from Berlin to become rabbi of the newly founded Orthodox congregation, *Adass Jisroel. In 1873 he established a rabbinical seminary which later became the central institution for the training of Orthodox rabbis in Europe. Hildesheimer's students carried with them all over the world the notion that their Orthodoxy was compatible with scientific study of Jewish sources. Aside from the halakhically correct Wissenschaft des Judentums, the Berlin Rabbiner seminars curriculum included Hebrew language as well as secular studies. For Hildesheimer, Torah im derekh ereẓ (Torah and worldly knowledge), was not just a slogan. He firmly believed that only by combining a sophisticated knowledge of Torah with a knowledge of science and other secular subjects could a religious Jew attain the Torah goal of fully recognizing and coming close to God.

Hildesheimer shared with S.R. *Hirsch the leadership of the Orthodox Jewish community of Germany. Though the two were personally close, there were fundamental differences of opinion between them. While Hirsch sought separation for the Orthodox, Hildesheimer counseled close cooperation between all bodies in the community for the sake of the Jewish people as a whole. He believed such cooperation to be particularly important in the battle against German antisemitism in which he participated together with his Reform colleagues. In 1894, he joined other Orthodox and liberal rabbis in signing a declaration against antisemitic attacks against the Jews, their institutions (such as sheḥitah), and their literature (the Talmud). Solomon *Breuer, Samson Raphael Hirsch's son-in-law and successor, attacked Hildesheimer for cooperating with Reform. Hildesheimer replied that he was being myopic for not seeing the danger to the entire community. At the same time he vigorously opposed the Reform movement throughout the course of his career as a force undermining the faith of Judaism.

Hildesheimer was an active worker on behalf of stricken Jewish communities throughout the world. In 1864, he published a declaration recognizing the Jewishness of Ethiopian Jewry (republished by M. Waldman, Sinai 95). As a member of the central council of the *Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden, he was deeply involved in assisting the victims of Russian pogroms from 1882 onward. He was alone in pleading that the survivors be directed to Ereẓ Israel instead of the New World. Throughout his life, he was an enthusiastic supporter of Palestine Jewry and the building of the yishuv. In 1858, together with his brother-in-law, Joseph Hirsch, he founded the Society for the Support of Ereẓ Israel. In Eisenstadt he had collected large sums for Jerusalem Jewry. The Battei Maẓaseh dwellings in the Old City of Jerusalem were erected on his initiative (they were destroyed in 1948 and rebuilt after the Six-Day War of 1967). In 1872 he founded a Palaestina Verein with the object of raising the educational and vocational standards of Jerusalem Jews, particularly by the establishment in 1879 of an orphanage. This drew on his head the bitter antagonism of the ultra-Orthodox old yishuv, which placed him under a ban (ḥerem). Hildesheimer supported the Ḥovevei Zion and the colonization movement; he was in particularly close contact with R. Ẓevi Hirsch Kalischer. For politico-legal reasons the newly acquired lands of Gederah were registered in his name; his excellent relations with the German Foreign Office were of value in securing its support for the yishuv.

Hildesheimer contributed regularly to such German-Jewish periodicals as Ettlinger's Treue Zionswaechter, Fuerst's Orient, and Lehmann's Israelit. In 1870 he founded in Berlin the *Juedische Presse, which was later edited by his son Hirsch. This paper was the only one in Germany at that time to give unequivocal support to the emigration of German Jews and their settlement in Palestine. Though Hildesheimer's energies were severely taxed by his labors on behalf of the community, his contributions to Jewish scholarship were by no means insignificant. Of particular importance is his edition of *Halakhot Gedolot from a Vatican manuscript (1888–90), which represented a hitherto unknown version of this important gaonic work. He also published some smaller studies in rabbinics, generally as supplements to the annual reports of the rabbinical seminary. His responsa on the first two parts of the Shulḥan Arukh appeared in 1969. His great dream of publishing a translation of the Torah, together with a traditional commentary, never came to fruition. A collection of his essays, Gesammelte Aufsaetze (1923), was edited by his son Meir *Hildesheimer. A festschrift, Shai la-Moreh (1890), was published on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Only a small part of his voluminous correspondence has been published (Ed. M. Eliav, 1961).

Hildesheimer's impact on modern Jewish history is best understood by recognizing him as the father of Modern Orthodoxy. Four of his most basic involvements and attitudes form the basis of 20th century Modern Orthodox Jewry: (a) Hildesheimer believed firmly in educating both males and females, giving both a Jewish and secular education. (b) He established a rabbinic seminary where secular studies and academic Jewish scholarship were taught side by side with traditional yeshivah studies, very similar to present-day Yeshiva University. (c) Despite his unceasing efforts to strengthen Orthodoxy and the Orthodox community, Hildesheimer worked with all segments of the Jewish community to combat antisemitism and for the betterment of the entire community. (d) At the same time, he was an ardent Zionist, working for the betterment of those living in Israel and encouraging Jews to settle there.


G. Karpeles, Dr. Israel Hildesheimer (1870); Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 6 (1899), 87ff.; S.P. Rabinowitz, in: Aḥi'asaf, 7 (1899), 308–21; A. Cohn, in: Juedisches Jahrbuch fuer die Schweiz, 4 (1919/20), 38–64; S. Greenberg, Maẓdik ha-Rabbim (1920); J. Wohlgemuth, et al., in: Jeschurun, 7 (1920), 199–328, 407–11, 490–1; S. Klein, ibid., 15 (1928), 560–5; O. Wolfsberg, in: Sinai, 14 (1944), 65–81; H. Schwab, History of Orthodox Jewry in Germany (1950), index; idem, Chachme Ashkenaz (Eng., 1964), 68–69; I. Unna, in: L. Jung (ed.), Jewish Leaders (1953), 213ff.; eẒd, 2 (1960), 73–84; M. Eliav, in: Zion, 27 (1962), 59–86; idem, in: Sinai, 51 (1962), 127–42; M. Hildesheimer, ibid., 54 (1964), 67–94; M.N. Ezra, in: Turei Yeshurun, no. 14 (1970), 25–32. add. bibliography: C.I. Waxman in: Qualitative Sociology, 15:2 (1992), 203–11; idem, in: Judaism (Winter 1993); D.H. Ellenson in Tradition 17:4 (1979), 74–89; idem, in: Modern Judaism 1:3 (1981), 279–97; idem, in: Judaism 35 (1986), 63–65; idem. Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy (1990); M. Eliav, in: Tradition, 26:2 (1992), 99–108; M.B. Shapiro, in: Torah U-Madda Journal, 9 (2000), 76–86; Azriel Hildesheimer, in: Torah im Derekh Ereẓ: Ha-Tenu'ah, Isheha, Ra'ayonoteha (1987) 75–82; E. Stern, Ishim ve-Kivvunim (1987); M.A. Shulvass, in: Mosdot Torah be-Eiropah be-Vinyanam u-ve-Ḥurbanam (1957), 689–713; M. Samet, Ha-Ḥadash Asur min ha-Torah: Perakim be-Toledot ha-Ortodoksiah (2005), index.

[Mordechai Eliav /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]

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