Dayan Isidor Grunfeld – Three Generations

When someone says they are a follower of the approach of the religious approach of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, which generation of the approach? Do you want to invoke the humanist synthesis of Hirsch in 1835 or the community leader of 1878? Do you mean the second generation consisting of Hirsch’s children and immediate followers who collected their father’s legacy and wrote popular novels. Do they mean the third generation that studied in the Yeshiva founded by Rabbi Solomon Breuer who distinguished between the eternal Torah and the temporal ways of the world, such as Rabbi Isaac Breuer. Or do you mean the fourth generation who sought a return to Eastern European values? In the course of my research I have had a chance to reread Dayan Isidor Grunfeld’s classic work, Three Generations: the influence of Samson Raphael Hirsch on Jewish Life and Thought (1958). In the work, he clearly distinguishes between the first, second, and third generations of Hirschians and, in turn, distinguishes them from what Dayan Grunfeld considers the distortions and half-truths of the fourth generation. The book offers valuable insight into the varieties within Hirschian world including Dayan Grunfeld’s own approach. I found it pretty exceptionally important and interesting.

Dayan Grunfeld accepts that Mendelsohn was the father of the Jewish side of emancipation who “Entreated his brethren not to buy their political freedom at the cost of their most sacred treasure, the Torah.” And that ”No one can deny or has ever denied the purity of Mendelsohn’s intentions, the integrity of his character, his personal piety and meticulous observance of our Laws.” But the aesthetic and philosophic side of the Bible was presented at the expense of torah sheb’al peh, the oral law which is the soul of the Torah. He showed the world that one can be a strictly observant Jew and yet to be distinguished as the German Plato. The problem was the “and yet;” it was two separate realms and not drawing the aesthetic and philosophic from the Torah itself.

In contrast, Hirsch brought the two realms together when he arose and “declared the alleged antithesis between Torah law and social emancipation to be a false one. He entered the stage…carrying aloft two torches: Torah and Humanism. In his hand the two torches became one.” For Grunfeld, Hirsch brilliantly refuted the arguments against secular studies (see his commentaries on Leviticus 18: 4 and Psalm 119). Mendelsohn did not fight the battles for Enlightenment and Emancipation within the community that follows the oral law by showing the falsity of the separatist claims. For Grunfeld, Hirsch was known as a Biblical commentator, educator, member of Moravian Parliament, preacher of the freedom and dignity of man and philosopher of symbolism of the observances.

Dayyan Grunfeld rejects what he calls the revisionism of Jacob Rosenheim, founder of the Agudat Yisroel, that this was not a compromise. Humanism was not forced on the Jew rather his exclusion from the wider world was forced on the Jew. The estrangement from humanism was not natural so the Jews quickly came back into their own organic state. The highest era of Torah is always from an era of secular studies such as Spain.

Grunfeld presents his own theology of culture as part of explaining the Hirschian legacy.He consistently translates “way of the world” not as secular studies but as civilization. Hence, what is the relationship of Torah and civilization (derekh eretz) in modern historical thinkers? He presents four approaches. Arnold Toynbee consider world history as the relationship of religion and civilization, the latter requiring the former. The opposite approach is embraced by Edmond Gibbon who considers religion as the enemy of civilization. Alternately, “most secular historians consider religion as the chrysalis stage between civilizations.” The third approach considers religion as the core of civilization and when civilization decays it serve for deeper religious thought.

The fourth approach, which Grunfeld considers as “usually disregarded by non-Jewish thinkers, is namely, that true religion and true civilization are identical. The Torah is co-extensive with life in all its manifestations. This is only applicable in its fullest meaning of civilization would be in a Jewish state or an autonomous Jewish community. Grunfeld wrote that because of the decline in Jewish civilization in the 1850’s Hirsch had to deal with the third approach in which “non-Jewish civilization is the material for the realization of Torah.” He could only aspire to the autonomous cultural realm envisioned by the fourth approach. Torah is not just for ideal situations but also needs to be applied to civilization in times of decay like Hirsch’s post 1848 world of the anti-Enlightenment reaction and nnow one hundred years later in our post World War II world of cultural decay of the 1950’s.

Grunfeld reflectively quotes Nikolai Berdyaev’s idea that the Renaissance put man in the center of the universe rejecting the previous medieval other worldliness. But this change destroyed the unity of life and the natural ability to concentrate man’s forces to a spiritual authority. In the modern era, humanism and the study of the classics has taken the place of religion and the concept of a natural man replaced religious man. Currently, science offers unlimited reason as the sole truth and arbiter. Grunfeld aspired to a religious humanism. (AB- In contrast, Isaac Breuer paints a decadent secular culture and a religion above culture is the redemption.For Breuer, Torah is outside of history.)

For Grunfeld, one cannot hold onto a declining or lost civilization. One need to replace one civilization (derekh erets) with the new one. The sovereignty of Torah can, and does, work within any civilization including the new one. Hirsch waged war against the traditionalists who clung to the old civilization. Hirsch is to be compared to Hakham David Nieto who defended the Jewish tradition using the civilization of his era- including ideas close to Deism. So too, we need to come to grips with the main manifestations of the new civilization.

Humanism is a stepping stone to service of God, humanism without a religious basis would debase man and destroy itself. Berdyaev stated that we have a self-destructive dialectic with humanism (cf Hirsch’s Schiller based aesthetic education). We need to understand history and contemporary society. The Egyptian civilization had contempt for human life, the Romans had social oppression and Greece had licentiousness. With Torah we know how to take the best of the civilization. We cultivate our Individualism under divine law. In our civilization we learn that money cannot be idolized over people’s lives.

Chapters two and three recount the second generation of Hirschians. It includes Hirsch own sons- Rabbi Mendel who became the principal of the high school and his other sons who became each became a lawyer, doctor, and businessman respectively. Along with Joseph Guggenheim of Kolin, the son in law of Hirsh, they edited their father’s writings.

The second generation was busy wiring popular works for the increasing number of families choosing to affiliate Orthodox. Since Hirsch stressed that Judaism was to be taught in the home especially at the family table by both parents, they produced popular works, Solomon Carlebach, who wrote A Guide for the Jewish Home; H Ehrmann who wrote on Avot; Josef Nobel, wrote on midrash, Psalms, and haftrot.

It also includes, Mauritis Prins in Holland, Asher Cohn of Basle. The later in his public misgivings caused Herzl to remark at the First Zionist Congress, “Returning to Jewishness comes before returning to the land of the Jews.”

The third generation, lived after WWI and were educated during the era of Rabbi Solomon Breuer; they saw the return to Yeshiva
education. They founded a variety of organizations for the support of Orthodox Jews including the “Free union for the interests of Orthodox Judaism communities” This era witnessed the division of the community into Agudah and Mizrachi, creating two groups in the Hirschian community. This era included major pulpit rabbis like Isaac Unna of Mannheim and Ezra Munk, who were Mizrachi (as well as defender of the Geminde) and Agudah respectively. (AB- Unna is a grandson R. Bamberger, and student of Rabbi Marcus Horowitz both defenders of the Geminde. Implicitly by the absence of a discussion of Isaac Breuer and an incorporation of Unna within the Hirschian tradtion, we see Dayyan Grunfelds’ own sympathies. Grunfeld includes in this era, those integrated into culture such as the lae professor Jekutiel Jacob Neubauer, Herman struck the famous artist and Oscar Wolfsberg (Yeshayah Aviad) the Zionist leader.

Grunfeld also credits this era as producing revisionists like Jacob Rosenheim who saw Hirsch’s defense of secular studies as only a compromise. Isaac Halevy, a popular historian who polemicized against all historians who saw Rabbinic law as a contingent response to its time. And Herman Schwab whose writings give greater continuity with the tradition and gives less credit to modernity.
There were those who served as conduits of Hirschian thought to the Eastern European Jews such as Leo Deutschlander who headed Keren Hatorah and later founded the girls school movement Beis Yakov. Deutschlander wrote books extolling the virtues of German humanism Goethe and the Bible, and Shem ve yefet, an anthology of poetics.

Philip Biberfeld wrote the Universal Jewish history and worked for the Keren haTorah where he translated children’s books including those on Hatam Sofer so people could consume the new genre of rabbinic biography.

In England, Hirschians included Dayan Grossnass, Dayan Julius Jacobowitz and himself. Most notably, it included Rabbi Avigor (Victor) Schonfeld who married Chief Rabbi Hertz’s daughter and argued that today in the 1950’s there is no need for austritt even according to Hirsch because he did it only to separate from Reform influence on Rabbinic leadership. However, here in England where all are orthodox it is not needed even if there are different levels of observance among laity. He founded the Hasmaean HS and instrumental in setting up secondary schools that were both Mizrachi and followed Hirsch. (AB- I don’t see a direct link to Hirsch in his education, but Schonfeld was a close personal friend of Grunfeld.)Other names included in this era- all producing their own spin on the Hirschian legacy include Rabbis Raphael Breuer, Joseph Carlebach, Pinchas Kohn, Saul Kaatz, Avaham Eliyahu Kaplan and Moses Auerbach.

In the Fourth generation, Grunfeld laments “it seems strange to witness this hostile attitude to general education in the descendants of the disciples of Hirsch.” Yet, “the hostile attitude to general education and the consequent narrowing down of the intellectual horizons among some of the spiritual heirs of Hirsch in the fourth generation can easily be explained as a psychological reaction to the ghastly experience of our time which saw the merciless torture and murder of six million of our brethren in the heart of civilized Europe…What is, however,, less understandable, and must be objected to for reasons of historical truth, is the attempt to –re-interpret Hirsch in a way that would fit with this negative attitude to secular education.”Grunfeld acknowledges that some of this shift already occurred in the third generation during the post Kristallnacht era. Already, they emphasized the need to earn a livelihood.

“We must not endanger Jewish Orthodox life by being extricably involved in economic patterns and forms which have had their day and are doomed to die.” No civilization is eternal, they are ever changing. “Atomic energy is the symbol of the new age” The new orthodox baal habayit cannot live like in the shtetl nor can he look backwards to the period before WWI.

Grunfeld nevertheless concludes that 10 periods of Jewish Studies during a day school week consisting of 40-45 periods may have not been enough to actualize this vision in people’s lives.

22 responses to “Dayan Isidor Grunfeld – Three Generations

  1. Michah Gottlieb

    I have been working on R. Hirsch and have been reading Dayan Grunfeld. Grunfeld has a deep understanding of Hirsch which I found to be very helpful. Grunfeld was a person of broad interests who clearly had a real respect and appreciation for what he saw as the positive elements of modern civilization. I highly recommend his introduction to Horeb and his introduction to Hirsch’s Pentateuch. He tends to recycle some of his material in various places, but it is still worth going through all of his pieces.

  2. Michah Gottlieb

    I meant to recommend his introduction to his translation of Hirsch’s essays under the title “Judaism Eternal”

  3. Excellent article. One correction: Dayan Grunfeld speaks very highly of Dr. Isaac Breuer in his Introduction To Horeb (Choreiv); see page LXXV, “…Hirsch’s grandson and foremost expositor, Isaav Breuer…”

    • He spoke highly of him in this volume also, but praised him and then avoided his actual thought. I know the introductions to Horeb and Judaism Eternal, but now I am more aware of the subtle differences of the introductions. The Horeb intro was 5 years later and has a slightly different approach on several issues.

  4. Lawrence Kaplan

    IIRC, in the Horeb Intro Dayan Grunfeld accepts Isaac Breur’s understanding of Rav Hirsch’s Torah im Derekh Eretz philosophy.

    In his bio of Rav Hirsch Noah Rosenblum attacks Dayan Grunfeld’s Horeb Intro very harshly and, I believe, and unfairly.

    Alan. Your last sentence of your comment was a teaser. Care to elaborate?

    • As you point out, The introduction to Horeb is close to the Breuer formulation, this Berdayev response to Toynbee and the sympathy for the Mizrachi followers of Hirsch in this earlier volume were among the subtle differences.

  5. Would you elaborate on “Mizrachi followers of Hirsch”, or point me to writings on this? Seems like an oxymoron.

  6. Avi-
    Hirsch died in 1888 and there are two generations of followers before the break into mizrachi and agudah. Some of those who were Hirschian did become Mizrachi. And if we include those who taught and translated Hirsch who were graduates of the Berlin seminary we have many members of Mizrachi. If you read German, their journal is online.
    Browse the journals- there is a goldmine of interesting articles from Hirschians on all side of the fence.

    Casting the net wider, many Hirschians in Western Europe and England were Mizrachi- as Grunfeld describes in his own England. And many who moved to Israel were Mizachi, even if they started in the Ezra movement they drifted from Poalei Agudah as they got older, such as the historian Mordechai Breuer or the Horev schools in Jerusalem. The Horev schools in Jerusalem were clearly Hirschian and employed immigrants from Germany such as Mordecahi Breuer and was originality listed as Agudah but the orientation of the faculty and graduates was clearly Mizrachi.
    There is no history of Hirschian influence 1888-1958, we could use both a volume and a conference.

    Update- thank you for the push- I checked the journal Zion (1929-1938) who was the official Mizrachi periodical and it turns out that Dayan Grunfeld was an editor and regular author. . If you peruse the table of contents of the issues you can count a large number of Mizrachi Hirschians.
    R. Joseph Wohlgemuth edited Jeschurun for everyone. It had all the faculty of the seminary, the Carlebach family who were Agudah, and a column on Zionism by Oskar Wolfsburg. It also carried article by graduates of the Breslau Seminary who were Hirschians such as Heinemann, the further translator of Hirsch into Hebrew.
    Your anti-Zionists wrote for Nachalath Zewi – as did the the scholar Jacob Katz.

  7. Michah Gottlieb

    Does anyone know of a bio of Dayan Grunfeld and a full bibliography of his works?

    If not, it would be very useful for someone to put these together (maybe I’ll do it myself at some point).

  8. Lawrence Kaplan

    Alan: Very informative and thoughtful post, as usual. But I think you also should have mentoned Dayan Grunfeld’s famous wife, Rebbetzin Dr. Judith Grunfeld, who together with Leo Deutchlander was instrumental in setting up the Beth Yaakov movement. She, unlike her (less famous?) husband, has already merited a (to be sure Art Scroll type of) biography.

    • Thanks.
      There is also a biography of Rebbetzin Amelie Jakobovitz, the wife of the former Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Immanuel Jacobowitz. She was the eldest child of Rav Eliyahu Munk,

  9. Wish I could understand German; but I’m a Hirschian-By-Choice (and, I couln’t be on time to save my life). How do they reconcile Mizrachism with R’ Hirsch’s apparently literal understanding of the Three Oaths–that the Jews swore not to take the Land by force? Not necessarily a question: R’ Dovid Katz here in Baltimore described rabid Jewish Marxist-Nationalists. He commented on the wonder of how we human beings can literally dedicate our lives to contradictory premises like that one, without batting an eyelash.

    • Avi
      You may want to read Rabbi Isaac Breuer’s classic essay on Hirsch to gain a sense of the post WWI readings. Breuer presents Hirsch as a new historical era when there is a reclaiming of the Jewish national civilization; the old era was shed to make way to prepare ourselves in this new national era for the redemptive era. -translated in Leo Jung, Jewish Leaders. The oaths limit us from redeeming ourselves but not from preparing ourselves.
      On the other hand, most others assume that Mizrachi is not redemptive rather educational and pragmatic.In the same volume, look at the way they present the concern for Israel at the Berlin seminary.

  10. Thanks! Budget contraints force me to ask: Does R’ Isaac Breuer make similar points in The New Kuzari, Moriyah, Concepts of Judaism, Israel of Tomorrow (R’ Jung, editor), or The Problem of the Jew (R’ Elias, editor), which are already on my shelf?

    Over Shabbos, I read Yehuda (Leo) Levi in “The World of Hirscian Teachings”. He speculates that R’ Hirsch would have agreed with rabbonim who saw the League of Nations Jewish homeland resolution, or the United Nations vote to recognize Israel, as the permission needed from the nations to return to the Land.

    • Yes. If you have Concepts of Judaism (Feldheim, 74), then read it.
      The versions in the Jung volumes have different editors and are also valuable.
      Hirsch’s recent translator Gertrude Hirschler used to sit every day in YU’s library. Many of us were friendly with her. Someone just told me that she considered herself Mizrachi but could not be a card carrying member.
      Breuer agreed with Levi’s interpretation. For, Breuer, the declaration was either Satanic or Divine given, he decided on the latter.

  11. I do not believe there is any lengthy bio of Isidore Grunfeld, other than an article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), to which I do not have current access. There does not (even!) seem to be a Wikipedia entry, although many – dare I say it – lesser UK rabbinic luminaries and Dayanim merit articles. Dayan Grunfeld’s daughter lives (lived ?) in Brooklyn. He was indeed a profound thinker, and had a small circle of ‘chasidim’ in London. In the fashion of Anglo-Jewry, he was unappreciated. Dayyan Ivan Binstock of the London Beth Din knew him very well.

  12. … and, on a different topic, I think it would be interesting to trace the influence of Hirsch on the Dati Kibbutz movement, many of whose founders were German.

  13. A refelection on Dayyan Grunfeld in London (I should point out that I only met him two or three times): Dayan Grunfeld lived on Green Lanes (if I remember correctly!), on the fringes of Finsbury Park/Stamford Hill. There were two ‘German’ communities – one, ‘Munk’s’, was in Golders Green, on the other side of North London. It was completely dominated by Rav Munk, and was completely ‘Frankfurtian’, which I am not sure Dayan Grunfeld was (I may be wrong). The other, the ‘Adass’ in Stamford Hill, was headed by the late Dayan J. H. Dunner (d.2007), who was, I think, a Viennese ‘Schiff-Shul’ scion; and in any case the Adass was much more Eastern European. So he had no real community in England. In the Beth Din, he was respected, but that was also Litvish/Yeshivish in orientation. Interestingly, I don’t think he ever had a position at Jews’ College, or was involved in Gateshead. All of this probably speaks to his personal choice, and to his dignity and integrity. As an anecdote, I recall being shown (by now Dayyan-then Rabbi Binstock???) a copy of correspondence betwee him and William Rees-Mogg. WRM had written a book on monetary theory, the Gold Standard and inflation. The Dayyan had reviewed it in an obsecure synagogue periodical, and sent a copy to WRM — who responded that in highlighting the morally corrosive effect of inflation, he had been the only reviewer who really understood the point of the book!

  14. Michah Gottlieb

    I just found this biography of Dayan Grunfeld by his daughter Anne Grunfeld Cohen. It was apparently written in 2005.

    I find it especially interesting that he studied for a year at the University of Marburg “around 1927” the last year that Heidegger was a Professor there and the same year that Heidegger published *Sein und Zeit.*

  15. Michah, thanks for the link, I downloaded a copy.

    Dayan Grunfeld is one of my heroes; I really appreciate the post and comments about him and his thought.

    An aside: does anyone know whether there’s a picture of him online? I’m curious to know what he looked like.

  16. I just noticed that there is no wikipedia page for Dayan Grunfeld. I started one, but someone should fill it in.

  17. There’s an article from the Agudas-Jisroel newspaper Blätter on “Zionismus, Misrachismus – und wir” here
    if anyone’s interested

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