|Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
Architect of Torah Judaism for the modern world.
By Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman
In 1851, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch left the chief rabbinate of
Moravia, where over 50,000 Jews were under his jurisdiction, to
assume the spiritual leadership of the fledgling independent
kehillah of Frankfurt-am-Main, which could then boast of no more
than one hundred families.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
|That move was
to have dramatic consequences not only for the Jews of
Frankfurt, but for all Western Jewry down to our day.
Armed only with the force of his personality and the eloquence
of his pen, Rabbi Hirsch almost single-handedly arrested fifty
years of unbroken ascendancy of Reform in Germany. To young
German Jews convinced that their Judaism was nothing more than
an obstacle to the fruits of gentile society, now available to
them for the first time, Rabbi Hirsch offered a vision of
traditional Judaism of unsurpassed beauty and power. His
philosophy of Torah Im Derech Eretz is an insistence that the
Torah continues to provide the guide to every aspect of life,
even after the fall of the ghetto walls.
The world of Rabbi Hirsch remains the world of most of us
today: a world without the protective insularity of the
ghetto, a world in which every Jew simultaneously lives in a
broader gentile society. It was in the Germany of Rabbi
Hirsch’s day that authentic Jewry first confronted the
challenge of modernity. Rabbi Hirsch not only showed the way
for his contemporaries, but remains the guide for us as well.
His writings remain not only the first word but the last on a
variety of issues that are still pertinent: Reform;
Wissenschaft des Judentums, the precursor of the Conservative
movement; the attitude of Orthodoxy towards institutionalized
heresy (the Austritt principle). He articulated a trenchant
philosophy on the place of secular knowledge in a Torah life.
It is impossible to read his prescient words without amazement
that they were not penned today. They have lost none of their
force with the passage of time, a fact attested to by the new
editions of his works that continue to appear a hundred years
after his passing.
Now, for the first time, a comprehensive biography covering
every aspect of Rabbi Hirsch’s life’s work and struggles has
appeared. Written by a direct descendant of Rabbi Hirsch, it
will remain the authoritative biography for decades to come.