Hirsch, Samson (ben) Raphael

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HIRSCH, SAMSON (Ben ) RAPHAEL (1808–1888), rabbi and writer; leader and foremost exponent of *Orthodoxy in Germany in the 19th century. Born in Hamburg, Hirsch studied Talmud with his grandfather Mendel Frankfurter there. His education was influenced by the enlightened Orthodox rabbis Jacob *Ettlinger and Isaac *Bernays, and by his father, R. Raphael, an opponent of the *Reform congregation at the temple in *Hamburg but also a supporter of ḥakham Bernays who included secular studies in the curriculum of the talmud torah of the city. Bernays had a great influence on Hirsch's philosophy of Judaism. Hirsch attended the University of Bonn for a year (1829), where he studied classical languages, history, and philosophy. He formed a friendship there with Abraham *Geiger, and with him organized a society of Jewish students, ostensibly to study homiletics but with the deeper purpose of drawing them closer to Jewish values. The friendship of these two future leaders of the two opposing movements of German Jewry, was disrupted after Geiger published a sharp though respectful criticism of Hirsch's first publication (see below).

During the years 1830–41 Hirsch served as Landrabbiner of the principality of Oldenburg, a period in which he wrote his most significant works, Neunzehn Briefe ueber Judentum (Iggerot Ẓafon; "Nineteen Letters on Judaism"), first published under the pseudonym "Ben Uziel," Alatona 1836 (it has since appeared in many editions, including English, 1899; revised 1966), and Choreb, oder Versuche ueber Jissroels Pflichten in der Zerstreung (1837, 19215; HorebEssays on Israel's "Duties"in the Diaspora, 1962). These two works form a complete unit, in which Hirsch laid down his basic views on Judaism which were elaborated and explained in his subsequent writings. The first made a profound impression in German Jewish circles. It takes the form of an exchange of letters between a spokesman for the "perplexed," who expresses in the first letter the doubts of a young Jewish intellectual, and an older representative of traditional Judaism, who formulates his answers in 18 letters. Thus Hirsch employs a semi-dialogical form for his apologetic polemic. H. *Graetz, who was deeply impressed by the "Nineteen Letters," came to Oldenburg in 1837 and remained there for three years in order to complete his Jewish education under the guidance of Hirsch.

In 1841 Hirsch moved to Emden, where he served as rabbi of Aurich and Osnabrueck in Hanover. From 1846 to 1851 he lived in Nikolsburg (Mikolov) as Landrabbiner of Moravia. Here Hirsch took an energetic part in the struggle to obtain emancipation for Austrian and Moravian Jewry during the 1848 revolution, and was unanimously elected chairman of the Committee for the Civil and Political Rights of the Jews in Moravia. In Nikolsburg he also applied himself to reorganizing the internal structure of Moravian Jewry and drafted a constitution for a central Jewish religious authority for the whole country. Hirsch adopted moderate Orthodox positions in various areas, including ritual practices and Talmud Torah (the study of Torah), thereby provoking opposition among the extreme Orthodox element in Nikolsburg. In 1851, Hirsch was called to serve as rabbi of the Orthodox congregation *Adass Yeshurun in Frankfurt on the Main, a position he held for 37 years until his death. Here he found a small circle of like-minded friends whose encouragement and moral support helped him develop and crystallize his conception of Judaism. The Orthodox congregation of Frankfurt, whose institutions, especially the educational system that he established and supervised, embodied Hirsch's ideas, served as a paradigm for other *neo-Orthodox congregations in Germany and abroad.

Hirsch on Jewish Education

Hirsch based his educational ideal on the rabbinic saying (Avot 2:2): "Talmud Torah is excellent when combined with derekh ereẓ." Hirsch interpreted derekh erez, originally meaning worldly involvement, or ethical behavior and respect toward fellow persons, as referring to the entire domain of worldly occupation, namely secular culture. His ideal of the educated Jew – the Jisroel-mensch – was that of an enlightened Jew, deeply engaged in the higher levels of general (i.e., non Jewish) culture and civilization, who remains fully loyal to the Torah and faithfully observant of the halakhah. In contrast with the ultra-Orthodox, he viewed secular education as a valuable means for the perfection of the Jew and not merely a practical means for a better adjustment to the non-Jewish society and economy. In that sense the most significant component of this slogan is the word "combined" (im), namely the constant effort to bridge the gap between traditional Jewish learning and practice on the one hand and the modern identification with general culture (in its German, Central European version) on the other hand. It was this idea that Hirsch endeavored to embody in the three schools he founded: a primary school, a secondary school, and a high school for girls. Besides the Hebrew language and Jewish subjects, the school curriculum included secular studies (such as German, mathematics, and natural sciences). This modern notion of Jewish education clearly diverges both from the traditional notion of heder and yeshivah education and the modern non-Orthodox Jewish schools that were established in Germany in this generation and tended towards assimilation.

Hirsch's Secession

Besides Jewish education, the chief contemporary issue that Hirsch faced was the rapid and speedy growth of Liberal Judaism in Germany and its demand for radical reforms in religious and communal life. The challenge of the Liberal-Reform movement put Hirsch's conception of Judaism and his attitude towards emancipation and modernity to a test. In 1854 he published a pamphlet Die Religion im Bunde mit dem Fortschritt ("Religion Allied with Progress") in which he attempted to refute the argument of the Liberals that it was impossible to combine traditional Judaism and secular education. In this pamphlet he acknowledged that there was a need for revision within Judaism of external and esthetic elements, but rejected changes affecting the very principles of Jewish faith proposed by the Reform rabbis, or alterations in the observance of the Law. In Hirsch's opinion it was not Judaism that needed to be reformed by the Jews but rather the Jews who needed to be reformed by Judaism; there was not a need for "progress" but for "elevation." For Judaism to have access to the cultural life of Europe it was essential for Jews to rise to Judaism's eternal ideals rather than to bring it down to adjust to contemporary requirements, which he perceived as merely the expression of a desire for a more comfortable life.

Hirsch introduced some external improvements in the liturgy, such as a choir under the direction of a professional director, participation of the congregation in the singing, and preaching twice a month in German. At the same time he defended the traditional Jewish synagogue (Schul) against attacks by the Liberals and stressed the "inner harmony" within it. Similarly, he defended the Hebrew language as the sole language for prayer and instruction of Jewish subjects. On the other hand Hirsch removed the Kol Nidrei prayer on the ground that it was susceptible to misunderstanding.

Hirsch considered a formal, institutional separation between Orthodox and Reform Judaism to be unnecessary, so long as the latter exercised caution in its demand for reforms and remained attached to halakhic tradition. However, in 1844 the Liberal rabbinical synod at Brunswick took a radical direction in regard to several prohibitions, especially those relating to the dietary and marriage laws. Hirsch urged them to reconsider their decision, warning that this approach of the Liberal rabbis would lead to a point where rupture within "the House of Israel" would be unavoidable. From the Liberal point of view, his demands were unacceptable.

As authority in the congregations increasingly passed to the hands of the Liberals, a breach between the Orthodox and Reform and formal separation became a main focus of Hirsch and his supporters. As a precedent, Hirsch pointed to the congregation in Hungary, where the government in 1871 had recognized the Orthodox congregations as separate bodies. In a memorandum written by Hirsch (published in his writings, vol. 4, 239ff.), the representatives of Orthodox Judaism in Prussia asked "to permit the Jews to leave their local community organizations for reasons of conscience." In 1873 the Prussian Landtag debated a bill which would permit every person to leave his church or religious congregation and added to that bill a statement "that a Jew is permitted to leave his local congregation, for religious reasons, without leaving Judaism." In July 1876 the move was completed when the "Law of Secession" ("Austrittsgesetz") was passed and a legal basis created to establish a specific, organizational framework for neo-Orthodoxy.

The "separatist" movement ("die Austrittsgemeinde") was joined, besides Hirsch's own congregation, only by small groups of the Orthodox in the congregations of Berlin, Koenigsberg, Wiesbaden, Cologne, and Giesen. These groups then created a complete system of religious services and congregational life, including kashrut, education, and a rabbinical seminary. Nevertheless, to Hirsch's deep disappointment, the large majority of Orthodox Jews in Germany continued to remain within the framework of the general community (Gemeindeorthodoxie).

In 1885 Hirsch established the Freie Vereininung fuer die Interessen des orthodoxen Judentums ("The Free Society for the Advancement of the Interests of Orthodox Judaism") with its seat in Frankfurt. This organization remained restricted during the lifetime of Hirsch and was broadened only after 1907.

Hirsch's Modern-Traditionalist Conception of Judaism

Hirsch's essentialist view of Judaism led him to oppose the conception of the historical development of Judaism, as advocated by H. Graetz and Z. *Frankel. He regarded genuine Judaism as the expression of Divinity, revealed both in nature and in the Torah. Since the Torah is the revealed expression of the Divine will, fully parallel to the law of nature, none of its principles may be denied, even when they transcend human comprehension. It is incumbent on man to search for the revelation of God's wisdom in the Torah, as in nature; nevertheless, this search should be based on the evidence that this wisdom is actually contained in the mitzvot to no lesser extent than in natural laws. The character of the Torah as an objective reality lies in the fact that its central pivot is the Law. The Law is an objective disposition of an established order that is not dependent on the will of the individual or society, and hence not even on historical processes. Although the historical process is alien to the eternal Divine law, humanity attains religious truth through experience acquired in time. As a pledge and guarantee, however, that humankind will reach its religious goal, one people was created to whom the religious truth was given directly. Accordingly, that people has no need to learn the truth through experiences acquired in time. Hence that people is not dependent on the historical process. Menschentum (humanity), as a concept based on ancient classical civilization and on humanism, is merely an intermediate preparatory stage, which attains its highest expression in Jisroeltum.

This view also largely determined Hirsch's attitude to the modern, academic research of Judaism (*Wissenschaft des Judentums). For him there was one criterion according to which Jewish studies were to be measured, namely whether they contributed to the preservation and strengthening of actual "Jewish life." Where faithfulness in observance of the commandments is not put before speculation about them, the speculation becomes imprudent and deleterious.

Interpretation of the Commandments and Their Classification by Various Levels of Rationale

Hirsch's interpretation of the commandments places him in an intermediate position between the Liberal non-halakhic approach and the ultra-Orthodox one. While opposing sharply any view of the observance of mitzvot as conditioned on their reasons and their relevance for contemporary Jewish life, Hirsch emphasized the significance of the reasons for mitzvot, both on the level of each individual commandment and on the level of comprehending the entire halakhic system as an educational one, aiming at the perfection of human life. According to Hirsch, it is not the practical observance of the mitzvah alone that endows it with religious meaning, but rather the conscious deed rooted in understanding its rationale.

Hirsch viewed the entire halakhic life as a holistic educational process consisting of six dimensions: (a) teachings (torot) – the principles of the Jewish faith, namely the theoretical groundings of religious life; (b) laws (mishpatim) – precepts concerning human relations and ethics; (c) ordinances (ḥukim) – commandments the refer to ecological issues and treatment of animals; (d) commandments (mitzvot) – expressions of the humanistic domain of religious life, namely the duty to love all fellow humans; (e) testimonies (edot) – commandments that constitute and strengthen the memory of the sacred history of Israel; (f) worship (avodot) – prayer and sacrifice as an expression of human loyalty to the Divine. Through this multidimensional system, the observant Jew can elevate his or her life and sanctify it.

Hirsch's reasoning with regard to each individual commandment is based on a method of "speculative etymology" or philosophical etymology (a term coined by F. Schlegel). It views the various halakhic deeds and their names as components of a symbolic system, which is at the essence of the Jewish "language" that places human life before God.

Translations of the Bible and its Exegesis

Since Moses *Mendelssohn's Bible translation project, German Jews had repeatedly translated the biblical texts. From the 19th century on, modern Jews repeatedly issued translations and adoptions of the siddur (Jewish prayer book). Hirsch too devoted a considerable part of his spiritual energy to the translation of and commentary on the biblical texts, including the Pentateuch (Der Pentateuch uebersetzt und erklaert, 5 vols., 1867–78; 19208; English translation of the commentary, 1956–62), the Book of Psalms (Psalmen uebersetztund erklaert, 1883; 19243; and The Psalms, 2 vol., 1960–66). He also issued a German translation of the prayer book (Israels Gebete, uebersetzt und erleutert, 1895; English: The Hirsch Siddur, Jerusalem 1969). These translations by Hirsch of traditional texts paralleled those of his Liberal contemporaries, who like him responded to the fact that German Jewry could no longer cope with the Hebrew texts of the scriptures and the prayers, and who viewed the Bible and the prayer book as the two main foci of the Jewish heritage. At the same time, those translations clearly distinguish his attitude from theirs. While the Liberal prayer books reflected the view that synagogue worship should be reformed and should be held largely in German, Hirsch's translation aims to preserve and strengthen the traditional forms, which ought to be implemented entirely in Hebrew even when many of the congregants needed an aid in order to follow and understand it. The same is true for his Bible translation.

Views on Jewish Nationalism

Hirsch believed that God established Israel as a people and not merely as a religious community. In his writings a love for Zion can be easily traced. "The Jewish people, though it carries the Torah with it in all the lands of its dispersion, will never find its table and lamp [i.e., its economic and spiritual development] except in the Holy Land" (Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 3, p. 411). Nevertheless, in contrast to the first proto-Zionist thinkers, Z. *Kalischer and M. *Hess, he opposed the negation of galut by "both Jews and non-Jews whose description of galut is always accompanied by a violation and derogation of our rights" (ibid., vol. 4, p. 82). Israel's mission, as Hirsch sees it, is to teach the nations "that God is the source of blessing." For this reason "there was given to it as a possession the Land and its blessings; it was given a state system; but these were not conferred as an end in themselves but as the Torah." These views, particularly in conjunction with the other aspects of his philosophy became in the course of time – through the efforts of his son-in-law, S.Z. *Breuer, his grandson Isaac *Breuer, and Jacob *Rosenheim – the ideological basis of *Agudat Israel.

Hirsch was the founder and editor of the German periodical Jeschurun (1854–70; new series 1883–90, edited by his son Isaac Hirsch), which served as a vehicle for the dissemination of his ideas. In that journal, Hirsch published his essays, some of which were later republished in his Gesammelte Schriften (6 vols., 1902–12). In English, Hirsch's collected essays appeared as Judaism Eternal (ed. and tr. by I. Grunfeld; 2. vols., 1960–66); an anthology of his writings, Timeless Torah, appeared in 1957.


I. Grunfeld (ed. and tr.), in: S.R. Hirsch, HorebEssays on Israel's Duties in the Diaspora (1962), xviii–clxii; idem, Three Generations: the Influence of Samson Raphael Hirsch on Jewish Life and Thought (1958), incl. extensive bibliography; idem (ed.), in: S.R. Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, i (1959), xlix–lxi (a complete list of Hirsch's publications); Rosenbloom, in: jsos, 24 (1962). add. bibliography: N.H. Rosenbloom, Tradition in an Age of Reform: The Religious Philosophy of Samson Raphael Hirsch (1976); The Living Hirschian Legacy (1988; no editor mentioned); D. Ellenson, "German Jewish Orthodoxy: Tradition in the Context of Culture," in: Jack Wertheimer (ed.), The Uses of Tradition (1992), 5–22; M. Breuer, Modernity within Tradition: The Social History of Orthodox Jewry in Imperial Germany (1992); M. Breuer (ed.), Torah im Derekh Erez (1987); E. Schweid, Toldot Filosofiyat ha-Dat ha-Yehudit ba-Zeman he-Hadash, vol. 2 (2002), 108–19; R. Horwitz, "Yahaso shel ha-Rav Shimshon Repha'el Hirsch le-Ereẓ Israel," in: Yahadut Rabbat Panim (2002), 387–407.

[Simha Katz /

Yehoyada Amir (2nd ed.)]