Rabbi Hirschenson’s Malki Bakodesh

I was given a copy of the 2006 reprint of Rabbi Hayyim Hirschenson’s Malki baKodesh on my last journey. I have read the older Hebrew edition. But as I pack for the next journey, I took it out to read for Shabbat.and looked at the new edition, He writes as 1929 Zionist. who attended the early Zionist congresses and wants to deal with the political problems that will arrive. He wants to assure that Religious Jews would not require a king and would not require the institution of sacrifices. He wants to allow people on to the Temple mount but as house of prayer for all people. It is permitted to join the Jewish legion even if it is a non-obligatory war- yet was are not in a messianic age. Finally, he accepts the concept of a high court of appeals- something that Rav Kook vehemently objected to its institution.Along the way and unlike most Rabbinic works are discussions of Horace Kalen, Louis Brandeis, and Jabotinsky. He supports the creation of legal boards and mishpat ivri to avoid Rabbinic courts. And finds the Balfour declaration a major event that should reorient Judaism. No law of the Torah can be against true civilization

In the original 1929 edition there was already an English preface which encouraged the role of the populous, and the need to make sure the halakhah does not perish. ” They deal with considerations of primary importance for every Jew who is interested in the organic continuation of Jewish life in the line of historical development of Jewish teaching on the basis of Halacha.” The editor of the new edition notes the influence of Abraham Lincoln’s  “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”.

He is anti Kingship based on the Abrabanel. And his approach seems to solve problems by making things problematic. The Bavli says this but the midreshei halakhah say other things and our questions cannot be answered so we can have a removal of a Rabbinic category. So unlike Maimonides who creates an ideal messianic halakhah- Hirschenson shows there is no ideal and there the laws are inoperative. He also used the technical questions of the Vilna Gaon, R. Akiva Eier and the Torah Temimah, to remove closure. As a said in my YUTorah class on Hirschenson- he is not just creating liberal position but works through Horayot and Sanhedrin and undoing them. Unlike others who try and make him Maimonidean, philosophic, or intellectual modernist. He is more historic oriented, a strong defense of popularism, and is more about removal of law than the construction of new law. (cf, the volume’s introduction that compares him to David Hartman).

A few theological points:

He writes that he was witness to WWI and the slaughter of the Armenians and decides that there is a need to write a new Zohar style apocalypse, like the Nistarot of Rabbi Shimon or Zohar Shemot 6-7, which he wrote and called “Tikkune Hamalkhut”

He wrote and analysis of Spinoza’s ethics and what we can learn from it in Spinoza’s work,  contained in his Musagei Shav veha-Emet. He can use Spinoza because he is not trying to create rationality, rather he is seeking to create opening for a broader life, like Rabbi Reines.

Coincidently, I had Hirschenson’s hagadah at hand, literally, someone recently sent me a copy.

Here are a few ideas from it:

“Maimonides did not intend that there would be only 13 principles of faith; there are many other principles in the Torah. Maimonides needed to explain only those principles that the masses would not understand because of their philosophic depth… There are many halakhot that are also principles such as those of “kill and do not violate.” And in the case of the Hagadah, the wicked son writes himself out of Judaism.

He translates “pereshut- zu derekh eretz” as one of the class system, perishut means class and the Jews who were originally upper class were treated as lower class and that is a major afflication.

The hagadah states that Jews are free in many countries due to minority rights but they are not spiritually free yet because are feeling the oppression of the majority culture and therefore do not have love of Torah and fear of heaven.  He also notes that until he cme to the US, he never knew why both phrases are needed and now he sees that one can have a sense of heaven and be totally removed from [the laws of] Shabbat and Torah.

6 responses to “Rabbi Hirschenson’s Malki Bakodesh

  1. How would Rav Hirschensohn’s methodology differ from an early Conservative Halacha ?

  2. Why would you even compare them? This is one of my pet peeves that not everyone on the left or right is on the same side or doing the same activity.
    Hirschenson is probably closest to Yehuda Maimon of Mizrachi or Rosenthal of Kibbutz hadati or some of those sending letters to Rav Kook Like Moshe Seidel. They thought about the new state in terms of halakhah but did not want the Ultra Orthodox rabbis to be in charge of religion in the state. They wanted a democratic state.

    At that time the Conservative institutions in the US supported the secular Labor party and Shomer haZair and did not worry about the re-institution of Kingship.

    You should read Golinkin’s article on Conservative halakhah where he shows that, except for Louis Ginzburg, they were not into pesak.
    One of the most famous Conservative legal decisions of the 1920’s was the permission to use grape juice for kiddish. orthodox rabbis did not accept it. But in the 1950’s. this became the norm through Rabbis Soloveitchik and Moshe Feinstein.
    As a practice- mixed seating started then and it became the retrograded division between Conservative and Orthodox starting in the late 1950’s.
    But Rav Hirschenson had no interest in these aspects of popular practice. For Hirschenson, Americanization was the more fundamental questions of democracy, rejection of hierarchy, pluralism, and civil rights.

  3. My mother gets into arguments with zealots of various stripes who insist that grape juice was always quasi-wine and needed hechsher. She remembers growing up in a kosher (if not particularly religious) household, where Welch’s was kosher, because it wasn’t usable for kiddush wine.

  4. When reading Hirschenson, I am often struck with how dated much of it is. The shift from the national to the personal in Israeli yeshivot, and Chabad’s non-Halakha-centric public religion make Hirschenson’s problems and solutions vestiges of the past. The famous t’shuva that appears in the Jewish Political tradition is also dated in that the need to qualify non-observant jews as “truth seekers” unable, at the current moment, to get past their questions is also problematic in 2009. If Chabad has taught us anything it is that “authenticity”, no matter how “irrational” or “archaic” ultimately has a stronger hold on Jews than any modern critique. Most of the non-observant should be classified as “mumar l’teyavon,” and should be approached from that postion, rahter than the (naive, hopeful) projections of Hirschenson and Rav Kook.

  5. do you have the same opinions about Rav Kook?
    do you see value in his trying to limit the restoration of the Temple and Sanhedrin? because if dont how do you avoid those seeking to blow up the Dome of the Rock?

  6. My mother gets into arguments with zealots of various stripes who insist that grape juice was always quasi-wine and needed hechsher. She remembers growing up in a kosher (if not particularly religious) household, where Welch’s was kosher, because it wasn’t usable for kiddush wine

    Does she remember when the blessing was shehakol?

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