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  • Giving Voice To “Torah-True Judaism” in the U.S., 1922–39:Leo Jung and the Legacy of the Rabbinerseminar
  • Gil Graff (bio)

In an illuminating essay, Zev Eleff explores “American Orthodoxy’s Lukewarm Embrace of the Hirschian Legacy, 1850–1939.”1 He devotes several paragraphs to Leo Jung (1892-1987), an alumnus of the Rabbinerseminar in Berlin, who served as rabbi at the Jewish Center in Manhattan, starting 1922.2 Eleff notes that Jung was among the few American rabbis who championed the legacy of Samson Raphael Hirsch, in the 1920s and 1930s (and beyond); his sermons and publications often referenced Hirsch’s ideas and his Jewish Library series is “sprinkled with citations from Hirsch’s German works....”3 Consistent with these observations, novelist Herman Wouk, who maintained a long and close, personal relationship with Rabbi Jung, recounts that Jung lent him a copy of Hirsch’s The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel as a model for what was to become Wouk’s This Is My God.4

Eleff recognizes that Leo Jung’s encounter with Hirsch’s ideas-likely extending back to his parents’ home given the influence of Hirsch’s thought on Jung’s father—was part of his experience at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary. Eleff’s comments are certainly well taken. That said, Jung acknowledged with appreciation the influence of his principal teacher at the Berlin Rabbinerseminar, the Seminary’s Rector David Zvi Hoffmann, in shaping his understanding of Judaism and torah im derekh eretz, described by Jung as “the harmonious synthesis of western achievement and Jewish asset.5 He recalled Hoffmann, from whom he earned his “most cherished” semikhah, as a “selfless personality, matchless in assiduity, tremendous in knowledge,” to whom he owed insight into torah im derekh eretz.6 In the preface to one of his early works—published within a decade of completing his semikhah examinations with D. Z. Hoffmann—Jung both points to the direct impact of Hoffmann and to Hirsch’s influence in shaping his worldview. After noting the abiding inspiration of his father, Jung writes: “Next to him, my other teacher, David Hoffmann—and S.R. Hirsch.”7 It is the influence of Hoffmann and the Rabbinerseminar on Jung that these pages explore. [End Page 167]

In an earlier article, I examined the American legacy of the Rabbinerseminar’s founder, Esriel Hildesheimer, as expressed in the U.S. rabbinic careers of three of his students.8 On Hildesheimer’s death, David Zvi Hoffmann became Rector of the Berlin Seminary. While the works of Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–88) certainly played a role in shaping Leo Jung’s Weltanschauung, Jung’s pronouncements on torah im derekh eretz and what he termed “Torah-true Judaism”—the expression he used to describe the Orthodoxy he articulated—reflect attitudes and emphases that characterized the Rabbinerseminar during the period of Jung’s studies. For Jung, the Hirschian legacy was refracted through the lens—sometimes modifying the perspective promoted by Hirsch—of the Berlin Seminary.

In a chapter on the history of the Rabbinerseminar, Moses Shulvass records that two-thirds of the instructional program of advanced students was devoted to Talmud and Codes. Talmud instruction, the core curriculum, was provided by David Zvi Hoffmann to students in the advanced division, over the quarter century 1895–1920.9 In later years, Jung recalled the entrance exam he had taken with the Rector, the result of which was placement in the top class.10 From Leo Jung’s autobiographical reminiscences of Hoffmann’s Talmud classes, and frequent references to Hoffmann, it is evident that D. Z. Hoffmann was the towering personality in Jung’s Rabbinerseminar experiences.

During Jung’s years in Berlin, Joseph Wohlgemuth—a student of Hildesheimer and Hoffmann and, himself, a Rabbinerseminar ordinand—was a key member of the faculty. Over a career of more than thirty-five years, he taught Talmud, Codes, Biblical commentary, philosophy, and homiletics. Wohlgemuth had a special interest in mussar.11 Jacob Barth, son-in-law of Esriel Hildesheimer and an accomplished Semitic linguist, taught Biblical exegesis at the Rabbinerseminar. Both Barth (died 1914) and Abraham Berliner (died 1915)—the latter having been one of the three initial instructors (along with...


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