5. Jewish Education and the Authority of Personal Meaning
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Geiger’s education as a youth, like that of so many of his liberal colleagues, re®ected a traditional upbringing that slowly, but ever gradually, blossomed into more critical studies of Jewish history that included humanistic disciplines. Raised in a strict observant household, Geiger learned Hebrew texts at an early age, and soon added German as well as mathematics to his Talmudic studies. At eleven, he absorbed Latin and Greek from private tutors, and after the death of his father in 1823, Geiger increasingly turned to his older brother Salomon (1792–1878) for instruction in classical Jewish texts.1 In his diaries, Geiger complained about this constricted educational focus, and how he felt unprepared for broader studies in history, literature, and philosophy. Ludwig Geiger recalls that “the spirit of Enlightenment and German intellectual development remained thoroughly untouched ” in Geiger’s household.2 What Geiger could get of it would be “left to chance.”3 But the youngest child of a family rooted in Frankfurt for over 200 years would soon enter that progressive, enlightened universe when, in April 1829 and at the age of nineteen, Geiger abandoned his home for a university education in Heidelberg. There a world opened for him: lectures in philosophy, archaeology, history of literature, and philology. Forgoing his early desire to study theology, Geiger left Heidelberg after less than a year to pursue oriental languages at the University of Bonn, where he entered the faculty of law and philosophy, and remained there until 1833.4 Geiger’s educational development mapped the terrain of a good many traditional Jews who yearned for the liberal, humanistic studies at German universities. Grounded in classical Jewish texts, he then redirected the study of them through his own education in philology, history, linguistics, and philosophy. As a rabbi and scholar, Geiger sought to bridge his academic training with local Jewish communal desires. He returned to the Jewish community and remained there, writing essays and books for an imagined enlightened audience, even as he carefully integrated his scholarship to better advance communal reforms. This is, indeed, how Geiger came to understand the role of the new theological-writer: the modern rabbi who could unite Wissenschaft with the rabbinic calling. But Geiger was pulled by two competing worlds: the scholarly life of academic study, and the obligations and commitments demanded of a community leader. To be sure, Geiger’s educational philosophy re®ects these two worlds and the strains invoked within them. He seeks to train young adults who could enter gracefully into European culture and university training, even as they, like him, would employ that education to further local Jewish needs and communal projects. Geiger wanted for the younger generation what he had so passionately struggled for in his own life: Jewish Education and the Authority of Personal Meaning 5 113 an education that united academic and local traditions, and one that utilized scholarship to deepen, rather than abandon, the roots of Jewish identity in communal religious goods and obligations. Geiger appropriated the lessons from his own educational upbringing to transform Jewish pedagogy in his communities. He opened his ¤rst educational school in Breslau on May 7, 1843. There were six classes altogether, three for girls and three for boys. The girls studied translations of Hebrew prayers, analyzed biblical history and texts, and were instructed in basic teachings about God, religion, and ethics. The boys also learned translations of Hebrew prayers, and studied the Pentateuch and its history (together with more general Jewish history). But the young men also moved beyond this curriculum to absorb Hebrew with religious education (including examples from the Ursprache).5 In the main, only boys and not “the female race” would learn Hebrew.6 This focus on biblical studies, history, ethics (for the girls), and language (at least for the boys) marked Geiger’s school as a modern Reform institution.7 The Bible replaced the Orthodox emphasis on the Talmud, compilations and catalogues yielded to history, law ceded to ethics, and Hebrew (not, for example, Aramaic) became the most signi¤cant religious language of study. This new curriculum, Geiger argued, offered an appropriate and necessary response to the times. It was moderate, contemporary, and grounded in the sources, yet was also practical and worldly. Earlier generations could simply educate their young men in Hebrew Bible and Talmud, and then quickly launch them into a world with “a decisive line of thought.” Jewish women, in turn, could easily learn the practical features of homemaking most suited to their...