Monday, February 11, 2013

An American Reform view of the symbolism of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

From the Israelite March 8, 1861.


  1. Hyperothodox. Now there's a term that should have stuck.

  2. The Israelite? In Germany, that was the name of his paper, wasn't it?

    1. No, his journal was Jeschurun. The Israelit was Marcus Lehmann's journal. And the Israelite, in Cincinnati, was Isaac Mayer Wise's journal.

  3. Yes, "hyperorthodox" is a cool term, but it seems misapplied when referring to R. Hirsch. I suspect that snarky old I. M. Wise felt more threatened by Hirsch, who could present Orthodoxy so articulately to a modern audience, than by the more traditional rabbeim of eastern Europe.

    1. I think it only is misapplied when we really see what could be "hyperorthodox" but by Western European/American standards, he was as fanatically Orthodox as it got 150 years ago. And let's be honest, he was fanatically Orthodox. Did anyone else consider Frankel an epikoros?

      Of course Wise was fanatically Reform too. It probably has something to do with personality. A kannoi is a kannoi. At least these men would write reams explaining their positions.

  4. Is that Emes? That Hirsch abolished the Kol Nidrei?


  5. If I recall, the orthodox historians insist only one year, but Ellenson, historian of German neo-orthodoxy insists more than one year.

    The issue was of course the representation of Jews as people who did not feel obliged to keep their promises because of annual absolutions. And of course there were strong basis in Jewish tradition for rejecting Kol Nidre.

    Mordechai Kaplan also abolished Kol Nidre one year when he led his own synagogue (after being forced out of orthodox Jewish Center). He retained melody but put it to a psalm. He discovered his congregants wouln't cotton to this innovation and he unhappily reverted to traditional Kol Nidre the next year.

    1. Could be re one year or more. I don't remember what the evidence is. Either way, one of the Reform critiques of the Neo-Orthodox was that they were also Reformers, only too cowardly to go all the way and doing it partly could not be defended halachically anymore than all the way.

      I was recently reading many things from the Israelite, and one theme which constantly emerges is that "the Chasam Sofer forbids this, yet some schnooky American rabbi who calls himself "Orthodox" permits it - what a hyopcrite!"

      The truth is that at least the first part of the critique is true. The Neo-Orthodox were also Reformers, i.e., they reformed Judaism. It does not necessarily follow that they were cowardly because they didn't agree on what did or could be reformed. Even among the Reformers there were a variety of opinions. Some thought not moving shabbos to Sunday was cowardly, others thought the idea was itself absurd. Bottom line, when you are somewhere in the middle you are going to get attacked, no less than those on the margins get attacked as well.

      As for Kol Nidrei itself, in at least one case it was replaced with something probably intended to be sung to the same melody. See my post here, which shows the replacement version composed by Abraham Geiger.

    2. Yes, it's a trend in the Israelite (at least in the 1860s) that Isaac Mayer Wise had little tolerance for members of the American rabbinate instituting deviations but not calling themselves "Reform." Some of this has to do with personal animosities; Wise and Leeser got along terribly and being enemies with Leeser led him to other enemies also. Some of it seems to do with Wise actually not being anywhere close to the most radical reformer out there. In regard to the Jewish traditions that he wasn't yet interested in dropping, he couldn't really countenance that other American congregations--who audaciously call themselves Orthodox!--could possibly be more liberal than he.

    3. Continued well into the first decade of the 1900s from what I could see. Apart from what you mention, Reform polemicists saw, or claimed to see, the old traditionalists where everything was ossur as the only legitimate representatives of Jewish Orthodoxy.

  6. I have seen two German machzorim, both of which have explanations before Kol Nidrei. One, IIRC, explains that the vows we renounce are only bein adam laMakom while the other explains that they are only accidental vows, not intentional ones.

    Both machzorim are about 100 years old.

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  8. "I think it only is misapplied when we really see what could be "hyperorthodox" but by Western European/American standards, he was as fanatically Orthodox as it got 150 years ago. And let's be honest, he was fanatically Orthodox. Did anyone else consider Frankel an epikoros?"

    They may have if they had realized what he was actually up to. It took a while, but eventually Shir sort of came around also:
    "Shir had kept up his hopes that Frankel would issue a statement
    clarifying his belief. He was very much disappointed by the “Erklarung,”
    which served “not to clarify but to make foggier.”88 He wrote
    to Frankel pressing him for a clearer statement, but Frankel would
    only offer a vague promise that with publication of volume two of
    Darkhei HaMishna the matter would be clarified. Shir was very upset
    at Frankel for failing to clarify so central an issue as the Oral Torah,
    which is all that divides traditional Jews from the Karaites. Shir further
    points to the inherent contradiction of a Rosh Yeshiva in charge
    of transmitting the Mesorah, who expresses doubt concerning its veracity.
    Frankel was incensed by Shir’s actions. The maskil A. Wiesenfield
    writes in a letter to the famous scholar Shlomo Halberstam that he
    had visited Frankel in July of 1861, and that Frankel was incensed at
    Shir for his involvement, exclaiming, “In this maamar [Divre Shalom ve-
    Emet] he is more Catholic than the Pope and takes the same standpoint
    as Hirsch.”



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