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Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was the intellectual founder of the Torah im Derech Eretz school of contemporary orthodox Judaism.
Hirsch was a German rabbi; born at Hamburg June 20, 1808; died at Frankfurt am Main Dec. 31, 1888. His father, though a merchant, devoted much of his time to Hebrew studies; his grandfather, Mendel Frankfurter, was the founder of the Talmud Torah in Hamburg and unsalaried assistant rabbi of the neighboring congregation of Altona; and his granduncle, Löb Frankfurter, was the author of several Hebrew works. Hirsch was a pupil of Ḥakam Bernays, and the Biblical and Talmudical education which he received, combined with his teacher's influence, led him to determine not to become a merchant, as his parents had desired, but to choose the rabbinical vocation. In furtherance of this plan he studied Talmud from 1823 to 1829 in Mannheim under Jacob Ettlinger. He then entered the University of Bonn, where he studied at the same time as his future antagonist, Abraham Geiger.
He displayed great ability in writing. An example is his opinion about a Jewish state (Hirsch Siddur, 1969: 703):
- During the reign of Hadrian when the uprising led by Bar Kochba proved a disastrous error, it became essential that the Jewish people be reminded for all times of an important, essential fact, namely that (the people of) Israel must never again attempt to restore its national independence by its own power; it was to entrust its future as a nation solely to Divine Providence.
From the appearance of the "Nineteen Letters" dates the origin of the so-called "Neo-Orthodoxy," later known as Modern Orthodoxy.
In 1838 Hirsch published, as a necessary concomitant of the Letters, his Horeb, oder Versuche über Jissroel's Pflichten in der Zerstreuung, which is a text-book on Judaism for educated Jewish youth. In 1839 he published Erste Mittheilungen aus Naphtali's Briefwechsel, a polemical essay against the reforms in Judaism proposed by Holdheim and others; and in 1844 he published Zweite Mittheilungen aus einem Briefwechsel über die Neueste Jüdische Literatur, also polemical in tendency.
In 1846 Hirsch was called to the rabbinate of Nikolsburg in Moravia, and in 1847 he became chief rabbi of Moravia and Austrian Silesia. In Austria he passed five years in the reorganization of the Jewish congregations and the instruction of numerous disciples; he was also, in his official capacity as chief rabbi, a member of the Moravian Landtag.
In 1851 he accepted a call as rabbi of an Orthodox separatist group in Frankfurt am Main, a part of the Jewish community of which had accepted Reform. This group, known as the "Israelitish Religious Society" ("Israelitische Religions-Gesellschaft"), became under his administration a great congregation, numbering about 500 families. Here Hirsch continued to labor until his death.
Hirsch organized the Bürger- und Realschule, in which thorough Jewish and secular training went hand in hand; he founded and edited the monthly Jeschurun (1855-70; new series, 1882 et seq.), and wrote the following independent works:
"Jüdische Anmerkungen zu den Bemerkungen eines Protestanten" (anon.), 1841; Die Religion im Bunde mit dem Fortschritt (anon.), 1854; Uebersetzung und Erklärung des Pentateuchs, 1867-78 (5 vols; 3d ed. of vol i., 1893); Das Princip der Gewissensfreiheit, 1874; Der Austritt aus der Gemeinde, 1876 (the last two were written in advocacy of the Lasker law, adopted July 28, 1876, permitting Israelites to sever their connection with local congregations without leaving Judaism); Uebersetzung und Erklärung der Psalmen, 1882; Ueber die Beziehungen des Talmuds zum Judenthum, 1884, a defense of Talmudic literature against anti-Semitic slanders.
He left in manuscript at the time of his death a translation and explanation of the prayer-book which was subsequently published. The publication, in several volumes, of his collected writings (Gesammelte Schriften) was begun in 1902.
Hirsch is often referred to as an idealist of Modern Orthodox Judaism. However, upon reading of his writings this is tentative at best: his vision of orthodox Judaism in modernity was one of opportunity. He believed that the modern times would bring liberty to Jews to practice their religion without oppresion. Indeed, one of the recurring themes in his work is moral free-willed action. During the final years of his life he put his efforts in the founding of the 'Freie Vereinigung für die Interessen des Orthodoxen Judentums', an association of independant Jewish communities. During the 30 years after his death this organisation was used as a model for the formation of the orthodox Agudat Yisrael movement. There is no doubt that Hirsch was opposed to political Zionism, although his love for the Land of Israel is apparent from his writings.