Skip to main content

Hirsch, Samuel


HIRSCH, SAMUEL (1815–1889), rabbi, philosopher of Judaism, and pioneer of the Reform movement in Germany and the United States. Samuel Hirsch belonged to the first generation of modern European rabbis who, combining traditional Jewish learning with university training, founded the *Wissenschaft des Judentums ("science of Judaism"). He was born at Thalfang, Prussia, and served as rabbi in Dessau (1839–41), and as chief rabbi of Luxembourg (1843–66). He then emigrated to America, where he led the Reform congregation Keneseth Israel in Philadelphia until 1888. He spent the last year of his life in Chicago with his son Emil G. *Hirsch, who was the leading Reform rabbi in the United States at the turn of the century.

In his major philosophic work, Die Religionsphilosophie der Juden (1842), Hirsch interpreted Judaism as a dialectically evolving religious system. In the manner of the contemporary speculative idealism, which tended to comprehend all of reality under a single unifying concept, Hirsch's system was based on man's self-awareness. Conscious of his distinctive self, man comes to know the freedom of his sovereign will by which he alone among all creatures transcends the determinism of nature. This capacity for freedom is something "given" and implies a transcendent Source, "an Essence that bestows freedom upon him… This Essence he calls God" (Religions philosophie, 30). A critical disciple of Hegel, Hirsch rejects his philosophic master's contention that Judaism holds a rank inferior to Christianity on the scale of religions. In Hirsch's view, Judaism and Christianity are both equally valid. Judaism is "intensive" religiosity, a way of living with the true God who has entered Israel's midst, while Christianity represents "extensive" religiosity, whose function is the proclamation of this God to the pagan world. Both religions are destined to become perfected as absolute religiosity in the messianic era when the Christians will complete the conversion of the pagans and the Jews will obey the true God freely, no longer by compulsion.

Hirsch opposed sporadic and unprincipled attempts at religious reform by radical lay groups, such as the Frankfurt Verein, who in 1843 disavowed the authority of the Talmud and belief in the Messiah. He was a leading participant at the rabbinic conferences of 1844–46 at Brunswick, Frankfurt, and Breslau, which formulated the basic positions of the Reform movement. Hirsch upheld the rite of circumcision and the use of Hebrew in public services; yet he was the first rabbi to advocate the transfer of the Sabbath to Sunday, which he actually carried out as rabbi of Keneseth Israel in Philadelphia. Though at first adopted by a number of communities, this innovation was gradually abandoned by nearly all American Reform congregations.

Hirsch was president of the first Conference of American Reform Rabbis, which convened in Philadelphia in 1869 and played a leading role in framing the so-called "Pittsburgh Platform" (1885); this platform set the course of American Reform Judaism until the advent of the Hitler era (see *Reform Judaism). Hirsch founded the first American chapter of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and was a frequent contributor to Jewish journals. His other works include Messiaslehre der Juden in Kanzelvortraegen (1843), and the polemical Briefe zur Beleuchtung der Judenfrage von Bruno Butler (1843).


D. Philipson, Reform Movement in Judaism (19673); Guttmann, Philosophies, 313–21; N. Rotenstreich, Jewish Philosophy in Modern Times (1968), 120–36; Katz, in: rej, 75 (1967), 113–26; M. Kaplan, Greater Judaism in the Making (1960), 258–65. add. bibliography: E. Fackenheim, "Samuel Hirsch and Hegel: A Study of Hirsch's Religionsphilosophie der Juden (1842)," in: A. Altmann (ed.), Studies in Nineteenth Century Jewish Intellectual History (1964), 171–201; J. Reinharz and W. Schatzberg (eds.), "Reform Jewish Thinkers and Their German Intellectual Context," in: The Jewish Response to German Culture (1985).

[Joshua O. Haberman]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hirsch, Samuel." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . 19 Jun. 2019 <>.

"Hirsch, Samuel." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . (June 19, 2019).

"Hirsch, Samuel." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved June 19, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.