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200 years ago, Samson Raphael Hirsch was born

June 20, 2008

He was and will forever remain the figurehead of Orthodox German Jewry: on June 20, 1808, Rabbi Samson (ben) Raphael Hirsch was born. He was an important scholar and community leader and is often credited with the creation of Modern Orthodoxy. (Read more about his life and achievements here.)

A few years ago, the blog Hirhurim quoted a brief passage from Rabbi Hirsch’s Collected Writings that demonstrates how his thought, albeit “Orthodox” in its core, never shied away from modern ideas.

Judaism is not frightened even by the hundreds of thousands and millions of years which the geological theory of the earth’s development bandies about so freely. Judaism would have nothing to fear from that theory even if it were based on something more than mere hypothesis, on the still unproven presumption that the forces we see at work in our world today are the same as those that were in existence, with the same degree of potency, when the world was first created. Our Rabbis, the Sages of Judaism, discuss (Midrash Rabbah 9; Tractate Hagigah 16a) the possibility that earlier worlds were brought into existence and subsequently destroyed by the Creator before He made our own earth in its present form and order. However, the Rabbis have never made the acceptance or rejection of this and similar possibilites an article of faith binding on all Jews. They were willing to live with any theory that did not reject the basic truth that “every beginning is from God.”

As befits a great leader, a flood of homages should be expected for the next few days. Already in is this interesting look at Rabbi Hirsch’s bid to become Britain’s chief rabbi. [German readers also shouldn’t miss this brilliant article in Die Zeit written by Rabbi Dr. Leo Trepp, who received rabbinic ordination from the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary in 1936.] 

Incidentally, this year marks not only Rabbi Hirsch’s 200th birthday, but, on December 31, also the 120th anniversary of his death. A full lifetime after the passing of one of German Jewry’s greatest leaders – who knew when to build bridges and when to tear them down – let’s hope that among today’s German Jews there will arise a leader appropriate for our time. Much like in the nineteenth century, traditional Jewry is in grave danger in Germany. A new Samson Raphael Hirsch is needed, someone who can combine tradition and modernity and revive the true spirit of Judaism once again.

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4 comments

  1. Modern day Minhag Ashkenaz community in Jerusalem. Many MP3 recordings of yekkish nusach.


  2. There is a recently organized TIDE group at Facebook.


  3. I would like to know the German name for Samson. And how to pronounce it.

    Thank you.


  4. Hello,

    We are a book packaging company based in New Delhi. We are mainly into packaging books for children on behalf of our UK & US based clients.

    Currently we are into a project entitled “Judaism” for which we require an image of Rabbe Samson Raphael Hirsch.

    Would be grateful if you could provide us with a high resolution image

    Thanking you in anticipation

    Poulomi Ghosh
    Art Editor



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