Thursday, January 07, 2010

Did Hildesheimer's son intermarry? The 1914 source for this question. On impious descendents of pious people.

Some time ago Marc Shapiro posted, and tried to make sense of, an allegation that R. Esriel Hildesheimer's son married a gentile. The reference was to a short piece by Gotthard Deutsch published in the 6.26.1914 issue of the Jewish Chronicle. The letter was in response to a rhetorical question by an Orthodox rabbi to the effect "Are the children of the original German reformers Jews to-day?" Deutsch replies that many are, and conversely, the descendants of many staunchly Orthodox opponents of reform aren't, and in addition many famous apostates, such as C. D. Ginsburg and Moses Margoliouth, stemmed from traditional eastern European batei midrash, and not reform circles. In discussing the demise of Sabbath observance, he disputes the contention that its cause was Reform, but a combination of economic circumstances combined with a lack of will to sacrifice, and he recalls his boyhood some 40 years earlier: "In my native place, a little town in Moravia . . . the Shamash would go through the Judengasse on Friday evening and call out "Kabolas Shabbos." Then everybody would close his store." Even those who transacted business did so secretly, admitting important customers in through back doors. Today, he writes, all stores in his native town remain open.

I reproduce the whole piece below:

Here is a picture of Jakob Rosanes (1842-1922), the mathemetician and chess master grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eger referred to whose children converted:

Here's a notice from the same newspaper, 1884, about Rabbi Akiva Eger's great-grandson graduating from a Russian university (read carefully for a cool reference to Tolstoy):

I am reminded of Rabbi Avi Shafran's 1986 words (The Enigma of Moses Mendelssohn, The Jewish Observer 12/86):

". . . as it is often noted, [Moses Mendelssohn's] children converted to Catholicism or Protestantism -- all but one, his oldest son, Joseph. With the security of hindsight we often tend to hastily indict the man on the mere evidence of his children's choices, yet me must remember that thousands of Jews of that era, beckoned by the sirens of justice and egalitarianism, made similar choices, choices of convenience of confusion, and many of them can, disturbingly, be traced to parents of blemishless reputation. Siyata d'Shmaya -- Divine assistance -- in one's children is not just a factor, but the overwhelming one. Furthermore, to see the child as the invariable outcome and reflection of the parent would yield to the suspicious slandering of Avraham Avinu as Yishmael's progenitor, and Yitzchak as Eisav's. " The following paragraph essentially backtracks and reverts to the typical trope, but at least admits that it's essentially symbolism. "On the other hand, there is without doubt, something nebulous but distinctly disturbing about the end of Mendelssohn's family's identification with the Jewish people."

In the mea culpa (on the part of Dr. Ernst Bodenheimer, Chairman of the JO Editorial Board) and smackdown (on the part of Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, Novominsker Rebbe) in the next issue we find the statement that "The search for hidden flaws and for clues to the apostasy of his children wrongly dignifies the man and ignores the main lessons to be learned from the Mendelssohn era." Essentially, they are that Mendelssohn's life was "the centerpiece in a sea of spiritual corruption," and he too reiterates that Mendelssohn is basically just a symbol, and therefore a מסית ומדיח whether willingly or not, which is the "harsh sentence that the Judge of history -- and Torah Jews -- imposed upon him.


  1. Its sort of ironic Salis Daiches's own son did not remain Orthodox (and married a non-jew) , he describes his experience in his memoirs.

  2. I guess that's GD's point, although he know way of predicting ing that about S-D's then-9 year old son.

  3. Just noticed the post know. I believe all of Daiches's children married out, and Daiches mentions that in his memoirs. Several German correspondents responded in the JC to Daiches's accusation and denied it in no uncertain terms. One has to search the JC to find those letters.

  4. Which Daiches?



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