Posts Tagged ‘history’


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.


Jews lived in Cologne as long as Christians

June 15, 2008


Reuters reports about a new museum that shows that the Jews of Cologne, Germany have been around the block for quite a while. The picture above shows a writing by Emperor Constantine from 321, in which he appointed the Jews of Cologne to the city council.

A new Cologne museum will show how Jewish life in the city goes back more than 1,700 years and, civic leaders hope, help revive it decades after the Holocaust. An archaeological site from Roman times will be at the heart of the museum which the organizers also want to illustrate modern Jewish life and customs. 

The strongly Catholic city, best known for its Gothic cathedral, claims to have the oldest Jewish community north of the Alps, dating back to at least 321, during Emperor Constantine’s reign. “This project is extremely important to show that Jews have been in Germany for as long as Christians — people in this country should be made more aware of that,” Wilfried Rogasch, head of the project, told Reuters.

Late on Friday, a jury chose German architects Wandel Hoefer Lorch + Hirsch to design the museum due to open in 2010 or soon thereafter. It is being financed partly by a private foundation and partly by the city. 

The same architects designed an award-winning synagogue in Dresden which opened in 2001 and a Jewish center in Munich. 

“The concept is for an integrated project which will bind together the archaeological remains and the museum which will bring us to the modern day,” Rogasch said. 

The remains include a synagogue and a “mikve,” or Jewish ritual bath house, and the museum will be suspended over the site, said Rogasch. 

Cologne’s 5,000-strong Jewish community backs the initiative but says it wants the museum to have relevance to their lives by including a meeting area or a place of worship. [See Cologne’s main synagogue on the photo to the left.] 

“We welcome the project and want people to learn about history but we also want something today’s Jewish community can actively engage in,” Abraham Lehrer, a board member of Cologne’s Community of Synagogues, told Reuters. 

Germany’s Jewish community has more than tripled in the last 15 years, mainly due to immigrants from the former Soviet Union who account for most of the country’s 105,000 registered Jews. A similar number of non-practising Jews live in Germany. 

Jewish schools, theaters and shops have sprung up but Lehrer said the population’s dynamic growth of recent years is slowing. 

With neo-Nazi crime on the rise, police guard synagogues round the clock and the community is haunted by the memory of the Holocaust in which Nazis killed about 6 million Jews. 

Only 12,000 Jews were left in Germany after World War II from some 600,000 before. 

Medieval Cologne’s strategic location on the river Rhine at the crossing of trade routes brought it prosperity. Its Jewish community thrived until pogroms and explusions in the 14th and 15th centuries. 

Although not on the scale of Berlin’s Jewish museum which opened to great fanfare in 2001, locals say the historical connection will give Cologne’s museum special appeal. 

“It is a unique opportunity we have because of the history and I think the project will become a landmark in Germany and even Europe,” Mayor Fritz Schramma told Reuters.