Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer
and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy
Publication Year: 2009
The story of modern Orthodox Judaism is usually told only from the perspective of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Ellenson’s work, a thorough examination of the life and work of one of Hirsch’s contemporaries, Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer, reveals another important contributor to the creation of a modern Jewish Orthodoxy during the late 1800s. like Hirsch, Hildesheirmer felt the need to continue certain traditions while at the same time introducing certain innovations to meet the demands of a modern society. This original study of an Orthodox rabbinic leader shows how Hildesheirmer’s flexible and pragmatic approach to these problems continues to be relevant to modern Judaism. The way in which this book draws upon response literature for its comprehension of Hildesheimer makes it a distinctive work in modern Jewish historiography and sociology.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
Series: Judaic Studies Series
Nineteenth-century German Jewry experienced notable departures from the established patterns of the past. The century witnessed a veritable revolution in the legal status, occupational distribution, cultural habits, and religious beliefs and behavior of central and western European Jewry. Under the impact of Enlightenment and emancipation, Judaism underwent a transition-not everywhere uniform in shape and intensity-from European traditionalisms to the modern era of contemporary Judaisms.
1. The Man and the Challenges of His Times
The year 1820 was a time of transition for German Jewry in an era of ferment for Judaism. The medieval order of central European Judaism had been for some time in the process of dissolution, confronted by the new society and the new economy which had been taking shape throughout the eighteenth century. The parameters of new structures of Jewish life and religion, however, had yet to emerge. On May 11 of that year, Esriel Hildesheimer was born in Halberstadt, ...
2. The Quest for Religious Authority
In its quest for authority, religious leadership often has to perform a delicate balancing act. If they want their authority to be viable, religious leaders must adapt to changing situations while nevertheless appearing to retain the sanctions of the past. Only then can they be perceived as authentic. Joseph Blau, in describing this phenomenon, has written: "Not the least of the elements of paradox that enter into the very nature of religion is the necessity that lies upon it, in its organized ...
3. The Confrontations with Jewish Religious and Cultural Pluralism
Jewish life in medieval Germany was not monolithic. Tensions did exist in the religious and cultural life of the community. Yet in the eyes of Hildesheimer and the Orthodox, the premodern period of German-Jewish history was marked by a high degree of Jewish religious and cultural homogeneity. Most Jews, they believed, had held to the doctrine of Torah Min HaShamayim and assigned halakhah the central role in ...
4. The Tasks of Education
Esriel Hildesheimer's approach to education cannot be understood apart from the concept of Bildung, a notion that dominated the world of nineteenth- century German culture and pedagogy. As George L. Mosse has observed, "The word Bildung combines the meaning carried by the English word 'education' with notions of character formation and moral education." It suggested the accomplishments of the privileged and the aspirations ...
Peter Berger has observed that the orthodox of all classical Western religious faiths regard themselves "as living in a tradition." For such people the tradition requires neither defense nor explanation. It provides the contours within which reality is experienced. Life in accord with the beliefs and practices of the tradition is perceived as the only proper way in which an authentic and meaningful ...