Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A primary source for seconday sources on Frankel, Geiger, etc.

Recently Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz of the Yated Ne'eman wrote a column called 'Orthodox?'

A quote:
Zacharias Frankel, referred to as the Conservative movement’s intellectual ancestor, wrote that, “The means [of transformation] must be grasped with such care, thought through with such discretion, created always with such awareness of the moment in time, that the goal will be reached unnoticed, that the forward progress will seem inconsequential to the average eye.”
Obviously Frankel did not write "The means [of transformation] . . . etc.," and most likely Rabbi Lipschutz didn't translate this himself, I wondered where this quote came from.

More recently, Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer wrote a column in the Jewish Press called 'A New Denial of Traditional Judaism.' His column had this quote:
In 1837, Abraham Geiger called the first Reform rabbinical conference in Wiesbaden, Germany, and declared: "The Talmud must go, the Bible, that collection of mostly so beautiful and exalted human books, as a divine work must also go."
(and this mind-blowing one: Were Julius Caesar to visit Rome today, he would be at a total loss. He wouldn't understand the lingua franca, the dress, or mannerisms. On the other hand were Moshe to visit Meah Shearim, he would, essentially, feel at home. )

Since I assumed these came from a secondary source, I plugged them into Google and learned that both of these quotes are almost certainly from a column called 'Different Sects of Judaism - The Difference Between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Branches of Judaism,' by Rabbi Lawrence Keleman on a site called Simple To Remember. He cites his source: both of them are from Michael Meyer's Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

The Frankel quote is from a letter written in 1836. The footnote in Meyer reads "Frankel to Solomon Herxheimer in Bernburg, June 30, 1836, CAJHP, P46/3." Frankel, formerly a moderate reformer, famously and abruptly broke with nascent Reform during the 1845 rabbinical conference in Frankfurt. His status as "the Conservative movement's intellectual ancestor" do not date to his early flirtation with Reform. Indeed, if not for being "the Conservative movement's intellectual ancestor" he'd likely be lauded as a great ba'al teshuva and inspiring example for his principled break with Reform. Furthermore, the quote is not so bad. Although Rabbi Lipschutz must assume it sounds shocking and scandalous, actually Frankel was positing a very moderate, quiet course, the idea that changes in Judaism must not be disturbing and must not cause disunity. There were and are many potential changes in the way Judaism is practiced, well within the bounds of halacha, but he is opining that change must be imperceptible. I assume it's Frankel's "goal" which raises the alarm, but that is what context is for. Frankel's "goal" of reform was modest, organic and halachic. There was hardly a greater or more thorough critic of Frankel than Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, but somehow Frankel as a theoretician of halachic reform never occurred to Hirsch to be a weak spot to attack.

As for Geiger, while it's not as if the actual quote gives a much better impression, it is interesting that Keleman cites it only partially. In Meyer it reads: "The Talmud must go, the Bible, that collection of mostly so beautiful and exalted -- perhaps the most exalted -- human books, as a divine work must also go."

In any case, it's interesting to see that Keleman's essay is starting to become a primary source book itself.


  1. "it is interesting that Keleman cites it only partially."

    Unless Keleman used ellipses, that's not a partial citation, it's a (malicious) misquote.

  2. Correct. It's what I meant to write. However, since the actual quote is not exactly much more flattering to Geiger (at least from an Orthodox perspective) I don't see the value in misquoting, and would be open to the possibility that it was just an error an Keleman's part. At least he cited his source so we can look it up, unlike the other two.

  3. Perhaps it was a case of haplography. Are there em dashes in the original?

  4. Yes (except, of course, it's not dashes; it's a long - character which I can't make here, so I represent it by two dashes).

  5. That's an em dash:

    You get it in a comment by typing —. See: —

  6. Anyway, putting aside the lesson in typography and HTML entities, the em dashes make haplography a less likely explanation.

  7. Thank — you.

    Putting that aside, I just don't see how this makes this quote nefariously worse from his perspective. Maybe if there were no "perhaps."



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