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.