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Holdheim, Samuel


HOLDHEIM, SAMUEL (1806–1860), leader of *Reform Judaism in Germany. Born in Kempno near Poznan, Holdheim received a talmudic education, but began to study German and secular subjects after marrying a woman with a modern education, daughter of a Poznan rabbi. The marriage was unsuccessful and after his divorce he moved to Prague where he began to study philosophy at the university. In 1836 Holdheim was appointed rabbi in Frankfurt on the Oder. He preached in German, and in his sermons advocated educational reform which would adjust the younger generation to innovations in tradition. In 1840 he was appointed rabbi of the province of *Mecklenburg– Schwerin where he began to introduce slight reforms in the service, such as reading the Torah without cantillation. He was also instrumental in founding a modern religious school in 1841. In 1843 he published Ueber die Autonomie der Rabbinen und das Prinzip der juedischen Ehe in which he expressed the principles of his reform ideology. At the rabbinical conferences (*synods) in Brunswick (1844), Frankfurt on the Main (1845), and Breslau (1846), Holdheim emerged as a representative of the extremist trend in the Reform movement. In 1847 he was asked to serve as rabbi of the new Reform congregation founded in Berlin where he officiated until his death. In Berlin he introduced radical reforms in the ritual. Services were conducted on both Saturdays and Sundays and after a while on Sundays only. After his death, his opponents, headed by M.J. *Sachs, unsuccessfully contested his burial in the part of the cemetery reserved for rabbis. His eulogy was delivered by Abraham *Geiger.

Holdheim's principal thesis was the separation of the religious and ethical content of Judaism (which should be binding) from the political-national content (which should not be binding), since Jews are citizens of the countries in which they are living. The Sabbath, for instance, is included in the religious category, while the prohibition on mixed marriages is of a political-national nature, and hence no longer binding. However, Holdheim fails to make a clear distinction between the two areas in his writings; in any case he was also ready to compromise in the religious sphere if the need arose in the country in which the Jews were to be integrated. Holdheim argued that just as during the period of the Temple the performance of sacrifices in the Temple took precedence over observance of the Sabbath, so in modern times the civic duties of clerks, teachers, physicians, and lawyers also take precedence. He publicly defended the right of uncircumcised children to be considered as proper Jews (Uber die Beschneidung, 1844). In Ma'amar ha-Ishut al Tekhunat ha-Rabbanim ve-ha-Kara'im (1861), a historical work written in Hebrew and published posthumously, Holdheim attempts, inter alia, to refute Geiger's opinion on the nature of the controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees and defends the traditional thesis that the principle in dispute was whether interpretation of the Scripture should be based on the primary meaning (Sadducees) as opposed to midrashic exegesis (Pharisees).


D. Philipson, The Reform Movement in Judaism (19672), index; M.M. Kaplan, The Greater Judaism in the Making (1960), 227–31; W.G. Plaut, The Rise of Reform Judaism (1963), index; J.J. Petuchowski, Prayerbook Reform in Europe (1968), index; I.H. Ritter, Geschichte der juedischen Reformation, 3 (1865); Graetz, Gesch, 11, 512 ff.; M. Wiener, Juedische Religion im Zeitalter der Emanzipation (1933), 87–101; S. Bernfeld, Toledot ha-Reformazyon ha-Datit be-Yisrael (1923), 165–81.

[Jacob S. Levinger]

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