Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Guest Post - Personal Description of RSRH by Dr. Yizchok Levine

by Dr. Yizchok Levine

Recently I became aware of three articles that deal with the topic of "The Secession From the Frankfurt Jewish Community Under Samson Raphael Hirsch". They appeared in the publication Historia Judaica, 10,  2, October 1948.  (These articles may be read at http://tinyurl.com/npn5yd6)

The name  Israelitische Gemeinde zu Frankfurt a.M., (Gemeinde for short) refers to the historical Jewish communal organization in Frankfurt.  During the first part of the 19th century reformers took control of this organization and eventually hired a reform rabbi .  Throughout all of this there remained a core of observant Jews in Frankfurt.  "Further fresh activities of the reformers now spurred the orthodox  on to resistance; they closed their ranks and after long and protracted preliminaries,  they formed in 1851 the "Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft," and selected as their spiritual leader Samson Raphael Hirsch."

All Jews who resided in Frankfurt were required by secular law to be members of the Gemeinde and pay taxes to support it,  since it was the officially recognized Jewish communal organization in the city.  RSRH was opposed to this,  because it meant that Orthodox Jews were supporting reform activities.  He wanted all Orthodox Jews to renounce their membership in the Gemeinde,  but this was not legal.  In 1876, largely due to the efforts of RSRH, a law was passed that allowed Jews to secede from the Gemeinde. Rav Hirsch then called upon all Orthodox Jews in Frankfurt to secede.  This caused a huge split in the Orthodox community, and most of the observant Jews in Frankfurt did not secede, much to Rav Hirsch's disappointment.

The first article about the secession issue in Frankfurt that I posted is by Saemy Japhet.  He was opposed to secession as was the father of the author of the second article posted.  Japhet's article contains a description of RSRH which is given below.   Keep in mind that he was opposed to RSRH's call for all observant Jews to secede.

As much of what interests us centers round this great
figure, it will not be out of place to say something about the
personality and character of Samson Raphael Hirsch. Born
in Hamburg, the son of cultured parents, he was brought up
as a child of the early Mendelssohn era. Haham Bernays, who
was one of the first Jewish preachers to deliver his sermons
in an advanced German, was his teacher. Samson Raphael
Hirsch received his university training at Bonn, where incidentally
Abraham Geiger was his fellow student. Hirsch
was already in his younger years a man of the world. He
made it a point to appear always in faultless apparel, almost
stylish, according to the fashion of the period. Nothing in
his manner or figure was to be strange to the crowd. This
remained so during his whole life and I can still see him as an
octogenarian, immaculately dressed in the finest black suit
and top hat, like a born aristocrat. A striking feature was
his head, so well shaped and adorned with the most beautiful
and brilliant eyes, which kept their fiery lustre up to the last
moments of his life. I think nobody could ever forget his
countenance, animated by the magnetic glance. And whilst
his outward manner was prepossessing and attractive, his
character showed a strength and earnestness u11common for
any man, almost too earnest. He did not freely make friends
and even his friends he kept at a distance; nor was he easily
approached, his serenity and dignity warded off intimacy.
Bold and fearless he upheld his convictions. Only once did
he yield to outside pressure, when-in Oldenburg-he allowed
Kol N id re to be abolished. In later years he made no
concessions, no adjustment of views was possible and, in
questions of principle, he never accepted any compromise,
nor did he permit any of his communities to interfere with
his opinions and beliefs.

All this led to frequent clashes and we saw him sever his
relations with Geiger, his fellow student, and with Graetz, his
pupil, and of course with Frankel he waged a bitter feud.
History and literature were taught in our school-the
"Realschule der Israelitischen Religionsgesellschaft," (according
to English standards a secondary school), commonly
called "The Hirsch-Schule"; I passed through the school
(1863-1872); later I became a student of the Frankfurt
Handelsschule - according to Hirsch's views. The names of
Maimonides, Spinoza, Mendelssohn and Graetz were never
even mentioned. But in his writings Hirsch branded Graetz's
History of the Jews as "a product of detestable wantonness
and frivolous superficiality"; he spoke with contempt of the
Rabbiner-Seminar in Breslau, pitying in advance the communities
which should select pupils of Breslau as their leaders.
There was never a Beth Din in the Religionsgesellschaft. To
use a commercial term, it was to all intents and purposes a
one-man business. Rabbi Hirsch laid down the law according
to his conviction. He was opposed to any form of Jewish
nationalism as well as to Zionism and one of his versions of
the translation of  "ki mi-Zion" was "from where the Tauroh
emanates, there is my Zion." He sternly rejected the order
B'nai B'rith.

As a scholar he lived his own life. His intercourse with
other scholars was scanty. He did not need them. Feared as
an antagonist, he was a born fighter and he hit hard. Mendelssohnian
tolerance was unthinkable for him. He lived in his
study amidst his books and papers, where the air was thick
with smoke clouds, issuing from his long much-loved pipe.
Needless to say, the Religionsgesellschaft was very proud
of their rabbi. His reputation as one of the greatest living
scholars was a source of the deepest satisfaction, but it was
in the first place his eloquence that thrilled their minds. He
spoke always spontaneously, without any notes; all his addresses
were presented extemporaneously. He was a marvelous
orator; his noble language, the rapid flow of his speech,
the originality of his thoughts, the force of his arguments,
together with his whole personal appearance, made his sermons
irresistible and secured him a magic influence.

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