Three Hirschian Novelists

When I was writing on other faiths,  I posted often on that topic. Now that I am working on Varieties of Modern Orthodoxy, I keep posting on interesting points in the German Orthodoxy chapter.

Hirschian Orthodoxy like novels about Orthodoxy.  Last year, we discussed those of Hirsch’s daughter Sarah Guggenheim and those of Rabbi Markus Lehrman.  I came across a wonderful article by Michael Brenner, East and West in Orthodox German –Jewish Novels. Leo Baeck Institute Annual 37/1 1992.  In the article, he deals with three authors who, unlike Lehrman , attempted to answer the issues of the day- Selig Schachnowitz, Pinchas Kohn, and Isaac Breuer.  I fleshed the post out with some material from Morgenstern’s book.

Selig Schachnowitz thought the world of urban Frankfort  and its Orthodoxy was ideal. In 1912 novel Luftmenchen, he paints a dystopic vision of Eastern European Jewry. They either have no education or only a Yeshiva education so they are assimilating and becoming communists. The only safe answer for a Yeshiva graduate is to come to the West and become Orthodox. The Russian Talmud bakhur needs to be turned into a civilized human being. Rude students need to be cultivated into Hirschian Orthodoxy, where Yosef Karo, Friedrich von Schiller, and Yehuda Halevi meet. The ideal is to be a successful businessman who keeps the mizvot and marries a day school teacher.  In other works, he anachronistically painted the 18th century as Hirschian and even painted the Hatam Sofer as Hirschian. Schachnowitz was uberHirsch is his writings.

Pinchas Kohn  was a key figure in the birth of the Agudah, anti-Zionist and anti-gemidne. In his 1915 novel he extols the pastoral life of rural Jewry. He yearned for old time 18th century Jewry–pre-Hirsch rural life without culture, refinement, or education. He glorified the magic and superstition of the 18th century Jewish rural life. The genuine Jew does not require German culture, sermons, or seminaries, but is a natural Jew.  He became the editor of the Hirschian Agudah journal.

Isaac Breuer  wrote several novels in the 1920’s were he expresses his disgust with the Hirschian community.  His protagonist criticized their concern with German culture and superficial ritual observance. Breuer paints the Hirschian community as living the same lives as the Reformers; they only differ only in the outer appearance of their lives.

He criticizes the Bourgeois culture of the Hirschian college associations who alternate between beer drinking bouts and Talmud study. He thinks finance and a Torah-true life do not, and can not, go together. He paints Hirsch as against his own will founding a bourgeois Orthodoxy.

For Breuer’s era, Schiller & Goethe had been replaced by crude materialism and nihilism, leaving little to emulate. Besides having anti-Semitic undertones, this new materialism bred skepticism. In addition, the middle class life was requiring more hours and greater commitment, leaving no time for any Torah study.  Breuer blamed it on the decadent superstructure of capitalism.  America was the worst. (AB- think of the Brecht-Weil Opera Mahogany.) He is disgusted by Hirschian materialism where Torah im Derekh Eretz means that on Shavuot people consume great quantities of cheesecake, rather than appreciate revelation.

In the story, Breuer glorifies Ost-Juden, he prefers a society of women and grandmothers to the mechanical observances of the Hirschian businessmen, and he creates a scene where a simple Ost-Juden dairyman teaches the protagonist Talmud in a way that the Hirschain community Rabbi could not.

He painted the opposite of the Hirschian philistinism the even worse community of nomads who need an organization to lead them. He saw the Agudah and Rosenheim as an organizer, a pejorative opposite of the need to be a living organism and people.  Breuer answer is to create a non-capitalist religious Torah state in Zion.

Already, in a 1907 story, an orthodox university student leaves university for a few weeks at home with his extended Hirschian family, a philistine among philistines.  He sees the only ones who care about Zion, anti-semtiism, Torah, ideas, and Sinai are the college Orthodox students. Hirsch in Deut 4:25 had warned against becoming part of the land and Breuer applies it not to Reform but to the Hirschian community.

I am not sure about the other authors, but since Breuer wrote dozens of books and hundreds of essays we can use a new anthology of his untranslated essays.

8 responses to “Three Hirschian Novelists

  1. I would like to have a better understanding how Sachanowitz, Rosenheim, R. Pinchas Kohn and R. Isaac Breuer interacted? I think Rosenheim opposed R. Joeseph Breuer succeeding his father R.Shlomo Breuer in 1928, but I am not clear what were the issues and where the others stood. Selig Schachnowitz was an editor of ‘Der Israelit. My impression is that R. Pinchas Kohn and Yaakov Rosenheim were tight, colleagues working for a common cause, but where was Isaac Breuer in this mix? (Did they talk, were they “broygiz”?) At some point the Breuer family stopped talking to the Rosenheims, or so I was told by a great-etc. grandchild of Hirsch, but when? As you say, Kohn looked to the older traditional South German Jewry and was no Hirschian; Rosenheim was, but maybe not in the Breuer way of Hirsch and only Hirsch. Where did Pinchas Kohn daven when he was in Frankfort? Were there discussions printed in Frankfort about these different perspectives? I feel Rosenheim and R. Pinchas Kohn were historically important Jewish personalities and public figures. They were instrumental in creating the Agudah, which in turn was an important player in the European Jewish world before the war, and in the development of charedi Orthodoxy after the war, especially here in America. I am not clear how or if Isaac Breuer’s achievements were of the same historical significance.

    As for attitudes to bourgeois life and secular culture, my impression is that Rosenheim in his newspaper was less strident than Isaac Breuer. Is this true? Some puzzles remain. Daphne Merkin in her eulogy of her mother Ursula Merkin in the Forward says “and my grandfather, Isaac Breuer, was as avid an appreciator of Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks” as he was of Rashi’s commentary.” “Buddenbrooks” didn’t exist in a cultural vacuum. The Gerer Rebbe and Reb Elchanan Wasserman were not reading Thomas Mann with pleasure. Was Isaac Breuer similar to Kurzweil, a connoisseur of German and modern culture? If yes, why is he ranting against those bourgeois Frankfort Jews who valued Goethe and Schiller? Maybe Daphne Merkin was just being naughty? But Scholem in his review of The New Kuzari, (see Prof. Kaplan’s, comment to your 4/23 post), disparages Breuer for precisely the sins that Breuer is projecting onto his friends and neighbors in the kehila? I would like to understand this “you are a bourgeois philistine” criticism. Was this a platitude of German Jewish self criticism? Was this a new idea whose referent was floating? I mean complaining about Weimar Culture is itself an example of bourgeois Orthodox provincialism.

  2. Selig Schachnowitz was older and Rosenheim took over as editor of ‘Der Israelit. Rosenheim was opposed to all who did not become Agudah. He and Breuer first fell over after WWI and then even more when Breuer made Aliyah. Things got worse between the two families after WWII.

    Where did Pinchas Kohn daven when he was in Frankfort? With Breuer- they both worked on Breuer’s journal and Kohn was considered a Hirschian by everyone. There were many discussions and the journals preserve all the little positions and skirmishes. There needs to be a conference based on the journal articles to sort it all out.

    I am not clear how or if Isaac Breuer’s achievements were of the same historical significance. He created a model of the German Orthodox intellectual and his definitions of Tideism are more widespread then the real Hirsch.

    As for attitudes to bourgeois life and secular culture, my impression is that Rosenheim in his newspaper was less strident than Isaac Breuer. Is this true?

    Yes, but the ironies are that the Frankfort circle and Rav Dessler were just as strident.

    “Buddenbrooks” didn’t exist in a cultural vacuum. Was Isaac Breuer similar to Kurzweil, a connoisseur of German and modern culture?

    Yes, very much so, but not as a synthesis. Mann shows the decadence and Torah is the eternal value that will return us to an ideal state in Zion.

    If yes, why is he ranting against those bourgeois Frankfort Jews who valued Goethe and Schiller?

    It is the bourgeois elements that he hated- cramming for exams, professionalism, materialism. He like high culture and Avant Garde not mid-brow pretend to care. He also wanted this ideal Torah-state to appear.

    But Scholem in his review of The New Kuzari, (see Prof. Kaplan’s, comment to your 4/23 post), disparages Breuer for precisely the sins that Breuer is projecting onto his friends and neighbors in the kehila?

    All the German Jews continued to bicker like Polish Hasidim in their new homes in Rehavia. But yes, Scholem has a point. Scholem who was reading anti-nomianism, mysticism, surrealism in the 1930 would not consider a bildungsroman as Avant Garde.

    I mean complaining about Weimar Culture is itself an example of bourgeois Orthodox provincialism.

    You said it!

  3. Funny, but my first reaction was: How quaint it was that men were writing modern Orthodox novels! Today it all seems to be women.

  4. Any of these available in translation? I actually bought one of I. Breuer’s in German, but my German is next to negligible.

  5. Lawrence Kaplan

    Much fascinating detail can be found in Breuer’s memoir Darki, translated from the German. Jacob Rosenheim opposed R. Raphael Beuer’s suceeding his father. R. Joseph Breuer, then the head of the Hirsh school, was not in the running. Rosenheim was a separatist, but, unlike the Breuers, he did not make it into an ikkar of emunah. Rosenheim supported the idea of a union of all Orthodox rabbis in Germany, separatists and non-separatists. R. Solmon Breur scotched the idea. Isaac Breuer criticized Rosenheim for being “soft” on non-separatism. He also criticized him and R. Pinhas Kohen for not pushing Agudah to take an activist stance re settling the land of Israel. In his memoir he is much more sharply critical of Rosenheim than Kohen, with whom he seems to have been friendly. The editors of Darki note that some harsh phrases were removed from the book at the request of Breuer’s widow. Given the book’s sharpness as it stands, one can only imagine what was removed!

    The evidence that Breuer read Mann and Goethe comes from Kurzweil and Jacob Katz. One need not rely on Daphne Merkin. As Alan correctly noted, high culture is one thing, bourgeois values another.

  6. If someone were in a position to translate previously Breuer’s previosuly untranslated works, ie. they had the necessary German knowledge and translation skills, and familiarity with Breuer, his works and his context, who would publish the translation?

  7. Pinchos Kohn is described as a life-long friend and adversary of Isaac Breuer, a nice description.

    The description of his pinings for rural life is a bit disingenous. He did study kabbalah however, as did his father, and considered himself to be ‘acharon le’chasidei ashkenaz’.

  8. Already, in a 1907 story, an orthodox university student leaves university for a few weeks at home with his extended Hirschian family, a philistine among philistines. He sees the only ones who care about Zion, anti-semtiism, Torah, ideas, and Sinai are the college Orthodox students.

    When I was in college, several of us found out about R. I.Breuer and were reading the essays that are in English translation. But noone I know has any time or interest in that now.

    Interesting that R. Breuer read Mann. Mann’s “Buddenbrooks” is an amazing portrait and critique of the pre-WWI German bourgeoisie.

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