Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Great Teacher by R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg

Even the well-disposed of our historians who wish to strive after objective truth have not yet achieved an adequate appreciation of the historic greatness of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Even they talk of him as of a great orator and preacher, who, with the power of his tongue ignited a spark of faith in the hearts of his hearers. It was this force of the spoken word, so they claim, which compelled the simple German Jews to return to a life of traditional observance from which they and their fathers had strayed either in search of material luxury or through a lack of mental stamina. They agree that the establishment of the Adath Jeshurun in Frankfurt--the wonderful edifice which was built in the midst of wholesale abandonment of all defining characteristics of Jewish life--was the first nucleus of the spiritual revival which spread throughout the West. It was this which cleared the way for the movement of "Teshuva" amongst other communities in Germany and elsewhere; and the brilliant achievement of Hirsch served as a model for other great communities in Western Europe and America to establish well-regulated educational institutions in the true spirit of ancient Jewish tradition.

But this description does not do full justice, and may mislead those who have not become acquainted with the great teacher through his important writings. The mere fact that he was the first after an interval of many generations to compose a complete philosophic work on the Jewish faith to shed new light on the reasons for the Mitzvot in the Torah, the first after a long interval to write a complete commentary on the whole of Torah and Psalms, a commentary which, besides explaining the text, is full of brilliantly original thoughts; the first in modern times to attempt a synthesis between true religion and the best of modern thought and philosophy--is in itself enough to put him in the front rank of Gedolei Yisroel who have arisen in the European Diaspora. 

But even this does not paint the whole picture of his spiritual image. He was the initiator of a religious revival which penetrated to the back-bone of German Jewry and spread beyond her borders even into the large population centres of Eastern Europe, and even into the Courts of the Chassidic Rabbis. 

The Great Teacher, R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, The Living Hirschian Legacy, pp. 112-3

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