Rabbis and Revolution- Michael L. Miller

One of the best academic books of 2010 was Michael L. Miller’s Rabbis and Revolution: The Jews of Moravia in the Age of Emancipation (Stanford University Press). It is an excellent political history of Moravian Jewry in the nineteenth century. Miller takes the well-trodden account of Enlightenment, Edict of Tolerance, and quest for Emancipation in Germanic lands and uses remarkable attention to detail to make it fresh. The book ends with the attainment of Emancipation and its immediate aftermath by Moravian Jews. As a second focus of the book, Miller fixes his sights on Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch who was chief rabbi of Moravia in Nikolsburg during the fight for Emancipation.

Miller paints a vivid picture of life without Emancipation. Jews were subjected to numerous restrictions including the familiant laws of 1726 -1727 which only granted rights for a first born to marry, all other siblings had to marry clandestinely or to the new lands of Hungary to get married. They were 30% tailors, as well as glaziers and butchers, but most were traders. There were very limited numbers of stores or property and rental rights for Jews . Many Jews were village merchants and peddlers, which lead to a degradation of Jewish life. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch lamented how husbands and wives were always on road with their children elsewhere, they were not together even for holidays.

The Edict of Tolerance mandated elementary school with a curriculum of math, geography, German literature, and Enlightenment morality of universalism and productivity. Many Jewish schools in the Enlightenment spirit were set up. And Rabbinic figures such as Rabbi Eybeschutz, Landau, and Horowitz accepted this moderate haskalah. In Moravia, Mendelsohn’s approach worked. There was no anti- rabbinism among the Enlightened. And more importantly, there was no bunker mentality as developed in Hungary, western aesthetics were accepted, secular studies were the norm, along with the study of Hebrew and medieval works such as Albo. Chief Rabbi Banet treated these fields as extra-Talmudic accompaniments (parperaot le torah). Day schools had secular subjects but left Torah as traditional study with the addition of Bible and Hebrew. The Jewish studies was not put in the hands of anti-rabbinic approaches. In Moravia, even the maskilim remained in fold and were not connected to anti-rabbinic reformist tendencies. Banet’s successor Rabbi Nechimias Tribitsch was more reluctant to accept the Enlightement and was leading the rabbinate into a decline. Rabbi Hirsch was chosen as a modernist arriving to restore the glory to the Rabbinate.

Miller paints a nice picture of the modernizing rabbinic advocates of Enlightenment and Emancipation such as Hirsch. And has a nice presentation of the debates between Rabbis Samson Raphael Hirsch and Hirsch Fassel. They shared similar views of education and enlightenment and both firmly rejected the pre-Enlightenment Yeshiva approach to education but differed they over Jewish practice. Fassel criticizes Hirsch for including in his Horev the kabbalistic custom to look at one’s fingernails at havdalah and for maintaining the Shulkhan Arukh’s requirement to give oneself lashes before Yom Kippur. We see Hirsch at his best in his use of kabbalistic customs, not as a kabbalist, but as an anti-kabbalist who has a good phenomenological sense of synagogue ritual, like Franz Rosenzweig. (Hirsch displayed this same ritual sense in his first year in Frankfort where he almost lost the job for instituting Simhat Torah hakafot at night. He converted a Safed pietistic custom from a theurgic rectification to a children’s holiday of circling the synagogue for sweets.) Hirsch even allowed noisemaking on purim.

In contrast, Fassel wanted to abolish anything irrational and non- Talmudic and he wanted customs abolished if the acceptance was accidental, not universally accepted, or the conditions changed. (For example he abolished kitniyot in 1846 as rabbi of Prossnitz). Fassel is immortalized in Jewish literature as calling, in the course of this debate, Hirsch a siddur-lamdan and not a Rabbinic scholar.

Hirsch focused his efforts on synagogue reform in the spirit of the Enlightenment. He demanded that synagogue attendees wear clean clothes, prayer in unison, wear clean prayer shawls and not bring children under five into the synagogue. Hirsh modeled his service after his friend and colleague the Reformer Isaac Manheimer who devised what became known as the Vienna rite. The service was to have a male choir, the bimah moved up front, weddings in synagogue , and sermons in German. Manheimer created a Unity Prayerbook (Einheitsgebetbuch) of 1840. Manheimer, who preached in German and recited the poetry of Schiller, Lessing, and Goethe in his sermons, was close to Hirsch’s own aesthetic approach. Hirsch implemented an Enlightenment aesthetic of oratory, choirs, decorum, clerical gowns, patriotism, and the use of musical instruments for non-service special events. The lines not to cross were prayer in the vernacular (which was not a problem in Catholic Moravia), no organ during the regular service, and no liturgical change.

In this middle period of Nikolsburg, we see Hirsch working with and friendly with mild Refomers, working with the entire community (gemminde) and willing to follow the practices of Refomers and the Enlightenment. He did not share the prohibitions of the followers of the Hatam Sofer for adopting changes or copying the ways of the Reformers. As chief Rabbi, Hirsch even wanted to institute a modern scholarly seminary based on the seminary in Padua, eventually Rabbi Hildesheimer fulfilled this need for Germanic lands. (Even in Frankfort, Hirsch did not create any form of yeshiva and is best remembered for discussions with rabbinical students about German poetry).

As chief Rabbi, Hirsch sent his synagogue reforms to be posted in front of every synagogue which elicited much bad will. He was seen by the smaller communities as autocratic. And with an ironic twist to Hirsch claim of Orthodoxy as allowing one to realize Schiller’s aesthetic education for freedom, Hirsch was seen by the smaller communities as taking away freedom and was cast as the tyrant Gessler of Schiller’s William Tell.

Noah H. Rosenbloom claimed that sources to discuss Hirsch’s involvement in the events of the the 1848 revolution are sketchy. Miller, in contrast, documents in great detail how “Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his capacity as Moravian Chief Rabbi, was actively involved in nearly every stage of the struggle for Jewish emancipation from the outbreak of the revolution in March 1848 until the attainment of emancipation in March 1849… Hirsch was expected to oversee not only the religious and educational needs of his Moravian Jewish flock, but also their political needs.” Hence, Hirsch was one of the first modern rabbis whose authority derived not only from talmudic erudition, but also from his university education and his ability to serve as political leader of his community in the fight for Jewish rights. In both Oldenburg (1831- 1841) and Emden (1841- 1847), Hirsch had served as a political intermediary between the government and the small German Jewish communities.

Miller collected many of the primary documents in this political battle. On 20 March 1848, in a broadside addressed to “our Christian brethren,” Hirsch adumbrated the basic political philosophy that would guide him through the revolution: the Jews must be emancipated with the Christians as equal citizens, not separately as Jew.

Speak with us, for us and on behalf of us! Show that justice has become a reality in your bosom; show that you want to blot out the indignity of centuries, not just the indignity that you have suffered; no, also the indignity forgive [me] – that you have inflicted! Show that you recognize us as brothers just as we recognize you as brothers, and that you are not capable of enjoying your own rights as long as just one fellow brother still has to complain before God’ s throne that his right to be a human among humans, a citizen among citizens has been denied and trampled on God’ s earth.

Hirsch called for the creation of a unified Committee for Moravian Jewry as a kind of cohesive lobbying organization.

Throughout April 1848, “much criticism had been leveled at Samson Raphael Hirsch and Moravia’ s ‘modern rabbis Hirsch Fassel, Abraham Schmiedl, Moritz Duschak, and Abraham Neuda for their relative inactivity in the political sphere. As chief rabbi and presumptive leader of Moravian Jewry, Samson Raphael Hirsch received the bruntof the criticism – especially after a Sabbath sermon delivered in Nikolsburg in mid-April. As reported in several Jewish newspapers, Hirsch preached that only strict observance of religious rituals would save the Jews from the ‘swelling torrent’ of the times. In a traditional formulation correlating religious laxity with divine punishment, Hirsch called on Jewish women to cover their hair, reprimanded Jewish men for shaving with razors, and warned both sexes against drinking Christian wine

Hirsch served as a deputy in the Moravian Diet and worked closely with his Reform Rabbi friend Isaac Mannheimer a deputy in the more influential Austrian Reichstag. Hirsch delivered no dramatic speeches on the floor of the Diet, Yet he proved himself to be an impassioned advocate of Jewish rights in his behind-the-scenes interactions with Moravian Governor Leopold Graf Lazansk. Hirsch and Mannheimer kept a regular correspondence of politics and friendship from September1848 until March 1849, which is being prepared for publication.

In Miller’s opinion, Hirsch distinguished himself more as a champion of Jewish rights than as an expositor of Jewish law. And Hirsch’s autocratic approach lead to a breakdown of the chief rabbi’s authority as head of the community (gemeinde)authority replacing it with independent synagogues and greater lay decision making. This already foreshadows Hirsch’s later dislike of consensus and working with a geminde.

Miller also ponders a question that has always bothered me: Why do we have no Hasidism in Moravia if the disciple of the Magid of Mezerich Reb Shmelke was rosh yeshiva in Nikolsberg? Furthermore, many Hasidic leaders spent their time in the Yeshiva, including Moshe Leib Sassov, the Hozeh Jacob Isaac of Lublin, The Koznitzer Magid and Kalever rebbi. Why did not nothing rub off on the population? Miller summarizes the answers as follows. Chone Shmurek thinks that the linguistic difference between Moravian Yiddish and Galician Yiddish were an insurmountable divide. Gershon Hundret credited the rise of Hasidism to an adolescent youth culture seeking rebellion and religious experience and Moravia had an aging population. Michael Silber thinks that Moravians already had deep Frankist roots and were therefore weary of even newer spiritualism. And Miller adds without negating the other interpretations is that Shmelke was too somber and ascetic to lead a pneumatic revivalist group.

My biggest complaint about the book is that in many cases I wanted more. Miller mentions many rabbis in the smaller communities who wrote important works about whom I wanted to know more. Miler mentions how by 1829 – there was only one yeshiva left in the region from the dozens that were there sixty years prior. I wanted to know the small decremental decisions by which parents and local rabbis lost interest in yeshivot for their children. Miller covered how Herz Homberg’s catechism Bene Zion was too liberal and that later Moravia rabbis wrote more traditional versions even if they “viewed Jewish catechisms with deep suspicion.” They considered Jewish catechisms by their nature aiming to distill religion to its essence without an appreciation for the slow study of Jewish texts. Yet, this method of religious indoctrination was the way the majority of Western European Jews gained their religion, and their Orthodoxy. These study of these works remains a desideratum. Finally, I wanted translations of many of the important texts in the volume as an appendix. I know a handout of the Hirsch-Fassel debate or the political sermons would make the era come alive in the classroom.

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