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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.


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