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Hirsch, Emil Gustave


HIRSCH, EMIL GUSTAVE (1851–1923), U.S. rabbi, scholar, and civic leader. Hirsch was born in Luxembourg and went to the United States in 1866 when his father, Samuel *Hirsch, the chief rabbi of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, served a Reform congregation in Philadelphia. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania (1872), Emil Hirsch studied at the universities of Berlin and Leipzig. His rabbinic studies were pursued at the Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums at Berlin, which brought him under the influence of Abraham *Geiger, Hermann Heymann *Steinthal, and Moritz *Lazarus. Briefly occupying pulpits in Baltimore and Louisville, Rabbi Hirsch moved to the Chicago Sinai Congregation in 1880, where he remained until his death. For many years he taught rabbinic literature and philosophy at the University of Chicago, which he helped found. He was also the editor of the Bible section of the Jewish Encyclopedia, and he contributed scholarly articles to it and to the Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. Rabbi Hirsch was generally recognized as the outstanding spokesman for the radical wing of Reform in the United States. As editor of and prolific writer in The Jewish Reformer (1886) and The Reform Advocate (1891–1923), he widely extended the influence of his forceful preaching. In eloquent prose laced with satirical wit, he defended an evolutionary concept of Judaism – nurtured by German idealistic philosophy – in which the disciplines of halakhah yielded to the primacy of the ethical idea. "The Jew was by history called to be the proclaimer of an ethical view of the universe and of man, of ethical monotheism" (The Reform Advocate, 2 (1891), 362) summarizes his outlook. Identifying the primary mission of the emancipated Jew with a commitment to social justice, Hirsch championed the rights of organized labor and supported pioneering welfare reforms in Chicago.

Although an opponent of Jewish nationalism, Hirsch spoke of the Jews as a people (Volk) and conceded that "the mission of Israel is by no means incompatible with the possible re-nationalization of a Jewish political life. A Jewish state, if truly Jewish, would be founded on the precepts of the prophets and as such be the organized effort of rendering justice real in the interrelations of state and state and man and man" (My Religion (1925), 290). For all his liberalism, Hirsch was mordantly critical of Jewish apostates and did not spare kinsmen who turned to Ethical Culture, founded by his friend Felix *Adler. Hirsch summoned the Jew to remain steadfast to his particular vocation until the age of universal humanity dawned.


B. Martin, in: aja, 4 (1952), 66–82; D.E. Hirsch, Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, The Reform Advocate (1969).

[Samuel E. Karff]

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