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202 The Jemsh Quarterly Review. 



SAMUEL HOLDHEIM : THE JEWISH REFORMER 

One of the most remarkable men whom our century has pro- 
duced among the Jews was Samuel Holdheim (born 1802, 
died 1860.) His greatness is not the least shown in this, that 
through his own energy and consistency he worked his way 
from the lowest and most narrow religious point of view to a 
position of complete freedom and enlightenment. Brought 
up by strictly orthodox parents, Holdheim spent his youth at 
Kemper, in the district of Posen. There he devoted himself 
exclusively to the study of the Talrrmd. So unabated was 
his industry that even while still a lad he became a master of 
his subject. Nor did he merely gain acquaintance with the 
varied contents of the Talmudic folios, but he made the 
spirit of their disputations so much his own, that wherever 
their thread might be broken he could take up the loose ends 
and continue the spinning. The knowledge thus acquired, 
and the sagacity with which he handled it, laid the founda- 
tion for those great works which he published 1 in after years, 
the influence of which has been so considerable upon the 
development of modern Judaism in Germany. It was only 
comparatively late that the youth, already deeply versed in 
Talmudic lore, became acquainted with letters and philosophy 
at the Universities of Prague and Berlin. But this learning 
came to him the more readily since his judgment and under- 
standing were already ripened by studies which demand the 
utmost depth and concentration. He now recognised that 
the opinion of the Rabbis, according to which all science and 
learning outside the Talmud are deemed worthless, was based 
on a fundamental error, and served only to the serious detri- 
ment of Judaism. He forthwith determined to prove in his 
own life that the union of specifically Jewish teaching with 
the culture of the age would, on the contrary, produce the 
richest fruits, and tend as much to the furtherance of 
Judaism itself as to its recognition in the eyes of the world. 



1 Cf. Geschichte der Judischen Reformation, Part III., Samuel Holdheim, 
by Dr. I. H. Kitter, Berlin, 1865. 



Samuel Holdheim, the Jewish Reformer. 203 

This intention he began to carry out in 1836, when he was 
appointed Rabbi at Frankfort-on-the-Oder. 

Among the Jews in Prussia at that time, things were at a 
very low ebb as regards both the conduct of Divine service 
and religious teaching. On the one hand, the king had for- 
bidden the Communities to introduce any ritual innovations, 
so that even the Berlin Synagogue, where Kley and Zunz had 
preached, was compulsorily closed. On the other hand, the 
State denied to the Rabbis the standing of minister and 
teacher of religion; their only privileges were to decide in the 
customary manner about forbidden and permitted foods, to 
solemnize marriages, and to perform other acts of ritual. 
Holdheim fought with all his might against this state of the 
law, according to which "the Jewish religion is merely 
tolerated, and its members have no recognised church officials." 
(Rescript, March 11th, 1823.) He demanded " that this sad 
legacy of a bygone day " should lose its force under the influ- 
ence of friendly and unbiassed consideration ; for, besides the 
guardianship of Ritual laws, the Rabbi had many far more 
important duties — to teach the ignorant by enlightened 
exposition of the Divine word, to convince the doubting, 
to bring back the erring to the path of duty, to strengthen 
the weak, to reconcile foes, and, in short, to give to all the 
blessings and consolations of religion. It was, however, 
equally necessary " to instruct the Jewish communities them- 
selves in their own religion, to show them something higher 
in the religious life of their ancestors than the mere observ- 
ance of certain Ritual laws, and to prove to them that in the 
sayings and rules of the Fathers there was contained every- 
thing great and ennobling that cultured minds could demand." 
He urged that the men of leading in religion should heal 
the breach between past and present, and that new laws 
of the State were also required to cure the ills of Judaism. 
With voice and pen, in sermon and essay, he gives vivid 
expression to his conviction of the necessity of such reforms. 
And this conviction became only the more firmly rooted in 
his mind as he grew acquainted with Hebrew learning, as it 
was displayed in the writings of Zunz and Geiger. With 
what eagerness he read the Gottesdienstliche Vortrage of the 
former, and followed up the articles in the Zeitschrift of the 
latter, may readily be imagined. In a speech on the subject 
"Prayer and teaching united constitute Jewish Divine 
worship," he painted a vivid picture of the devotion he 
deemed truly pleasing to God, and founded in the history of 
Judaism ; with Zunz for guide, he showed that the existing 
decay in the ardour of Divine worship was a product of later 

p2 



204< The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

degeneration. For from Bible times, and throughout the 
subsequent centuries until the two last (which had lost the 
sense for it), this fuller conception of worship had accom- 
panied and helped to maintain in freshness and fervour the 
religious life of the Jews. It was now the duty of the 
Rabbis, as it had once been that of the prophets and teachers 
of olden days, to send forth the enkindling word from the 
heights of their clearer conceptions, and to overcome the 
stagnation of Divine service which was merely a reflex of the 
stagnation of life. And in this task the communities should 
come readily to their help. It was then that he had to 
contend against the orthodox party, 1 who would not hear of a 
sermon delivered in the vernacular, and who, regardless of 
the consequences, desired nothing better than that the Syna- 
gogue services and their own lives should drag on in the old 
grooves. 

The sermons which Holdheim delivered in Frankfort were 
published in 1839 in a collected edition, under the title 
Gottesdienstliche Vortrage. All the various forms that Judaism 
has assumed during the course of centuries are here displayed 
and estimated at their full value and true significance. The 
major and minor festivals instituted by the Synagogue, the 
Rabbinical ordinances of Divine service, are all shown to be 
so many important links in the religious chain of Judaism. 
They should facilitate our comprehension, quicken our enthu- 
siasm. It is, of course, true that in these sermons Holdheim 
still takes his stand on the retention of the ceremonial laws ; 
but by his lofty spiritualisation he sufficiently proves that it 
is not the perishable shell, but the everlasting kernel — the 
noble truths and doctrines the former contains — with which 
he is concerned. About this time, the results of his thought 
and research having impelled him in the spirit of the Talmud 
itself to institute improvements in the order of Divine service 
and in the education of the young, he came violently into 
conflict with the orthodox party. He was thus not sorry to 
leave Frankfort. In the year 1840 he was offered and 
accepted the appointment of Chief Rabbi in Mecklenberg- 
Schwerin. Here he found himself in complete sympathy 
with the Jewish " Oberrath " appointed by the Grand Duke, 
and he had besides the opportunity of working in a wider 
sphere more suited to his great abilities. For he had under 
his care not one community alone, but a whole complex 
of communities, and it was his task to instil a high morality 
and a nobler religious culture into the most heterogeneous 
elements. He had not merely to instruct, according as the 
chances of life and special occasion demanded, but as shep- 



Samuel Holdheim, the Jewish Reformer. 205 

herd of his people he had to anticipate their spiritual and 
religious wants, and to give them in popular form the results 
of his own inquiry and research. He himself felt to the full 
the difficulty of his new task. For in Mecklenberg, as else- 
where, opinion was much divided on the subject of Form and 
Essence, Divine and Human, Changeable and Unchangeable 
in Judaism. But the harder the task the more did it please 
him, and the keener spur did it offer to those great powers, 
for whose worthy and exhaustive use he so ardently longed. 
He became the soul of the council-board, and ever knew how 
to overcome indolence and self-love, limpness and unthinking 
stagnation. He was incessantly active in instruction and 
encouragement ; now warning against errors, and now setting 
right those already committed. On all sides he sought to 
spread the fire which warmed and illumined himself. He 
introduced a new order of Divine service similar to that of 
Wiirtemberg, the aim of which was to set communal and 
Synagogue life on a firm basis, and to bring dignity, order, 
and unity into public worship. 

It was about this time that Holdheim became acquainted 
with the Hamburg " Temple," founded in 1818, in which 
prayer was offered up in the German mother tongue. When, 
in 1841, the Hamburg Association contemplated building a new 
Synagogue and issuing a new edition of its prayer-book, the 
orthodox Rabbis made a violent attack upon this " Temple." 
Holdheim hotly took up the cudgels in its defence. He recog- 
nised in it " a living manifestation of religious ideas, which 
still lacked verbal expression, the progressive impulses of 
modern times that needed yet a coherent and logical articula- 
tion. It took its stand," he said, " not in Judaism alone, but was 
rooted in the very Synagogue itself in its most concrete signi- 
ficance ; only it made a just distinction between the material 
and the religious elements in Judaism, and these latter 
elements it faithfully preserved." He acknowledged that there 
were some inconsistencies, but these were inevitable, since the 
" Temple " had arisen not from thorough-going principles, but 
from the necessities of the moment. And for this reason 
further progress was not excluded. Bernays, the orthodox 
Rabbi of Hamburg, forbade the use of the " Temple " Prayer- 
book. Thereupon Holdheim recommended it in an essay 
" Concerning the Prayer-book of the new Jewish Association 
at Hamburg." He showed that it answered all the require- 
ments of Judaism, and that the community had the absolute 
right to omit prayers relating to the re-establishment of sacri- 
fices. " Prayer," he said, " is the most holy communion with 
the God of Truth ; hence, a wish that does not really animate 



206 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

the heart of him who utters it before that Being is no 
prayer." On the authority of the Talmud and of Maimonides 
he proves the validity of the "Temple " Prayer-book for every 
Israelite. Still more emphatically in the following year does 
he refute an anonymous assailant of the Prayer-book, in the 
pamphlet : " Heresy Proclamations and Freedom of Con- 
science." (Hamburg, 1842.) The anonymous writer had 
attacked Holdheim's former defence on the ground of incon- 
sistency, inasmuch as it appealed to the Talmud, and yet de- 
cided against the Talmud. Holdheim clearly shows that the 
Talmud is neither the work of one man nor of one time, but 
that it includes within itself the varied opinions of most 
diverse scholars and of widely divided times ; hence, if any- 
one chooses to refute any particular expression of the Talmud 
by means of the Talmud itself, he is perfectly at liberty to do 
so, and is in no wise inconsistent. This latter essay of Hold- 
heim's is one of peculiar interest, for it marks the progress he 
had made since the commencement of his career. He had set 
out in complete accord with the received rules of life and 
faith. Later on, he began to distinguish between the teaching 
of the later Rabbis, and that of Talmudic times. And now 
he was at issue with his assailants on the Talmud and tradi- 
tion itself. They had accused him of unbelief in Divine 
tradition, and he was glad of the opportunity of frankly 
stating his convictions. He believed firmly, he said, in tradi- 
tion, since by it alone could the letter of the Scriptures gain 
spirit and meaning. But it was the rules only that had been 
handed do^n by tradition — the rules, according to which we 
must proceed in order to discover the true meaning of the 
Scriptures — and not the contents itself — the results of the 
application of those rules. All depends, therefore, upon right 
procedure, and in the Talmud itself controversies often arise as 
to the right or wrong use of the traditional hermeneutic. 
Error, therefore, could never be wholly eliminated. " All 
tradition is in the Talmud, but the Talmud is not all tradi- 
tion." Just as he had formerly distinguished between the 
teaching of the Rabbis and the Talmud, so he now distin- 
guishes between Talmud and Divine tradition. " To demand 
for every expression of every Rabbi in the Talmud traditional 
authority is to confuse things human and Divine." In the 
same spirit Holdheim defends his colleague, Geiger of Breslau, 
when the latter was accused by Tiktin of heterodoxy and 
illegal innovations. " Geiger never denied tradition like the 
Karaites, as he was accused of doing, but merely instituted an 
inquiry into its character, for which we ought to be grateful ; 
neither did he introduce any changes into the laws, but 



Samuel Holdheim, the Jewish Reformer. 207 

had merely begun a scholarly investigation of them which 
was ultimately to be submitted to a competent Synod. The 
spirit which gave life and movement to the old world of the 
Rabbis inspires and moves us also. It is the same striving to 
develop the ancestral religion for futurity, and so to pre- 
serve it from ruin. Divine tradition is in itself simply the 
principle of eternal youth, or, in other words, the principle of 
perpetual growth, self -regenerated from the seeds placed by 
God himself in the word of Scripture." Thus did Holdheim's 
views grow clearer and clearer, and his religious experience 
deeper and deeper, until in 1843 he published his truly epoch- 
making work, " Autonomy of the Rabbis and the principle of 
the Jewish marriage laws : a contribution towards the better 
understanding of some of the Jewish questions of the day." 

The immediate occasion of this book arose from the fact that, 
in Mecklenburg, marriage and inheritance among the Jews 
were regulated according to Talmudic laws, whence difficulties 
often ensued. Holdheim insisted that this state of things 
must be abolished, and that the laws of the State and not the 
laws of the Talmud must invariably be followed. This was, 
indeed, already the case in the rest of the German States, with 
the full consent and sanction of the Jewish communities. 
But still more important did it now appear to him to contend 
against the interpretation which the Prussian Government 
sought to place upon the then contemplated Act of Incorpora- 
tion. By this Act citizens of the Jewish faith were to be in- 
corporated together in separate communities of their own, and 
strictly shut off from the rest of their fellow subjects. Hold- 
heim declared that the Jews did not wish to have a separate 
nationality. Just as excommunication had ceased because it 
no longer possessed any vital power, so also was the Jewish 
jurisdiction at large coming to its natural end. This surrender 
became the foundation of civil and spiritual emancipation 
among the Jews. By means of the submission of his private 
interests to the common laws of the country, the Oriental had 
become European, the stranger a native. Several Governments 
had, however, thought that they must pay some attention to 
certain apparently religious considerations, as e.g., that of 
Mecklenburg, in the case of the Jewish laws of inheritance, 
according to which the first born son perforce inherits a double 
portion, while the daughters are left entirely to the father's 
pleasure. But the fact was that, since the civic incorporation 
of the Jews into the various countries of Europe, obedience to 
the laws of the State was transformed in their eyes into a 
religious duty. The new Prussian Incorporation Act, on the 
contrary, seemed to be a deplorably retrograde step from the 



208 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

law of 1812, which separated the Jews in matters of religious 
worship only, while this new law robbed them of their most 
important duties, such as the defence of their Fatherland, and, 
indeed, seemed to aim at a renewal of mediaeval isolation. 
Even the ancient Rabbis, Holdheim goes on to say, made a 
distinction between obedience to the Mosaic law within and 
without Palestine, inasmuch as they allowed the observances 
especially bound up with that land to fall into disuse after the 
exile. But had they then possessed the true conception of a 
State, what they ought to have said was this: Whatever 
Jewish rite or law concerns our State ceases with our State's 
cessation. Our duty to-day is to fill up this gap, and to effect 
a consistent separation between matters of x'eligion and civil 
or political affairs. 

Three propositions of great range and importance are 
brought to light in Holdheim's essay : (1.) The autonomy 
of the Rabbis must cease. (2.) Matters of religion must be 
separated from civil or political questions. (3.) Marriage ac- 
cording to the teachings of Judaism is a civil act. The 
learned men among the Jews at that time already recognised 
the validity of Holdheim's arguments. Geiger says (cf. 
Freund Zur Judenfrage, 1843, p. 170), " It is to such theo- 
logians that we Jews shall owe perfect spiritual freedom, to- 
gether with complete adhesion to the State with the moral 
power thence derived. The clearness, decision and consistency 
with which Holdheim handles these subjects has brought 
them to such a point that the confused mingling together of 
the judicial and religious spheres will henceforth no longer be 
possible." " The book creates an epoch," exclaimed M. Hess 
{cf. Israelit I., 1844), " in the further development of Judaism 
and in its emancipation from the impure elements that have 
clung around it : in its return to its high divine import, and in 
its progress towards its true mission." Still more eagerly than 
the theologians did the more liberal lay members of the com- 
munity give in their adhesion to Holdheim's views. They 
were only a little doubtful as to the policy of promoting in- 
terference on the part of the various Governments in the 
religious affairs of the Jews, and particularly of constantly 
mingling together the Talmudic with the purely Reform point 
of view, according to which the Bible itself is not a revelation, 
but merely a witness of a revelation, a witness, in other words, 
of the religious consciousness of our ancestors. This objection 
was specially raised by a prominent leader of the Berlin 
liberals, A. Bernstein. 1 Holdheim rejoined that he could not 

1 See Freuad's Zeitschrift : " Zur Judenfrage in Deutschland," 1844, p. 35. 



Samuel Holdheim, the Jewish Reformer. 209 

understand how anyone at one and the same time could re- 
gard the Bible as merely the work of a consciousness of the 
Divine revealing itself in man, and yet still speak of religion ; 
for himself, he openly declared his faith in positive revelation. 
" True reform," he said, " can rest only on the assumption that 
God has given definite laws for definite times and circum- 
stances. To try and carry these laws out in changed times 
and circumstances in some unreal and factitious sense, is to 
act against God's will." At this time Holdheim still clung to a 
simple supernaturalism, and in accordance with it he explained, 
that God did indeed give the laws of the Bible, but he meant 
them to remain in force only so long as the circumstances 
lasted under which they had been given. " If the conditions of 
life are changed," he said, " it is God himself who has wrought 
the change, it is he who has thus wrought the abolition of his 
own laws." Holdheim had to fight a harder battle with the 
orthodox Rabbis. Thus Samson Raphael Hirsch (who died a 
short while ago at Frankfort-on-the-Main) laid down the 
principle that, " Every distinction between eternal and tem- 
porary, absolute and relative in religious affairs is both false 
and conducive to falsehood." To him the Rabbinic laws, like 
the Mosaic laws, were strictly Divine, the civil and criminal 
ordinances of the Shulchan Aruch j ust as binding as the Ten 
Commandments. Moreover, he violently denounced the idea 
to which Holdheim had given expression, that the Rabbis had 
sought to bring the letter of the Mosaic law into harmony 
with the continually changing circumstances of the time, and 
he declared that the author of the " Autonomy " had made 
out the Rabbis to be scoundrels, and attributed to them dis- 
honest manoeuvres. But Hirsch and those that thought with 
him forgot in their zeal that Holdheim had represented the 
Rabbis as acting in all good faith, and with the complete con- 
sciousness of full justification for all their acts. What Hold- 
heim was really seeking to show was that in the Mosaic law 
we must distinguish between two totally different factors. 
We have, on the one hand, what concerns the relation of the 
Israelites to God as human beings, as mortal children to their 
eternal Father. This factor has a purely religious character. 
All, on the other hand, that concerns the relation of Israel as a 
chosen people to its God and Lord, he calls relatively religious 
only. This latter peculiar relationship should be regarded as 
mere symbolism, since it is founded only on the temporary 
side of Mosaism, the ideal import of which had, nevertheless, 
already spiritually permeated the Theocracy itself. For from 
the very beginning the Mosaic idea embraced the whole of 
mankind, and its particular embodiment was meant only to 



210 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

preserve and prepare the way for its universal application. 
The same people who first realized the Theocracy in their own 
state, must also be the first to break through its limitations. 
The Jews, above all other men, must recognise ideal Mosaism 
as the true religion of humanity. This, indeed, is already in- 
dicated in the very beginnings of Scripture, where it is said 
that man is created in the image of God. Thus Holdheim's 
conceptions grew gradually clearer and clearer, as he was 
forced to justify the views he had expressed in the "Autonomy." 
The cardinal error of the Rabbis, their insistence on the equal 
and eternal binding force of every precept in the Mosaic code, 
was more and more peremptorily laid aside. More urgent 
also, grew his demand for a trenchant distinction between the 
Pentateuchal laws themselves, while the original opposition of 
things political and things religious underwent a considerable 
enlargement. 

Another bitter assailant of Holdheim's " Autonomy " was 
Zacharias Frankel, then Chief Rabbi of Dresden, and later 
Director of the Hebrew Theological College at Breslau. 1 This 
was the more remarkable, as Frankel considered himself in 
contrast to the ultra-orthodox Hirsch as a man of reasoned 
faith. Holdheim replied with "Religious and Political Elements 
in Judaism." In this literary duel Frankel's weakness and in- 
consistency stood out in clear contrast against Holdheim's 
keenness and strength of conviction. Holdheim had a further 
opportunity of proving the growing liberality of his views, 
when, in 1844, a member of the Reform Synagogue, at Frank- 
fort-on-the-Maine, omitted to have the rite of circumcision 
performed upon his son. The German Rabbis wanted to 
expel either the father or the son from the Communion of 
Judaism. Holdheim took up the cause of both with all his 
energy, although at that time he still regarded circumcision as 
one of the eternally binding precepts of the Mosaic code. By 
his pamphlet — " Circumcision, especially in its Bearings on Re- 
ligion and Dogma " (1844) — he brought order and lucidity into 
the whole question. He showed that neither on Biblical nor 
on Talmudic grounds was exclusion justifiable, and that the 
Jewish religious authorities must avoid all compulsion. 

In his " Lectures on the Mosaic Religion " (1844), he sought 
to show that the Frankfort Reform Society had stopped short 
at pure negation, and himself made an attempt to complete 
their work through positive development. To this aim, too, he 
devoted his pamphlet — " Ceremonial Law in the Messianic 

1 See his Zeitschrift fiir die rcligiosen Interessen des Jvdenthums, 1844, 
Parts v.-Tiii. 



Samuel Holdheim, the Jewish Reformer. 211 

Kingdom " (1845). According to its conclusions, the Talmudic 
view of the unbroken continuance of the theocratic system — 
albeit Temple, State, and Autonomy have passed away — 
must fall to the ground. In our purely spiritual conception 
of the Messianic idea the special sanctity of the priesthood 
as well as the outward sanctification of people and places, 
with all the ceremonial laws thereto pertaining, must for 
the future disappear. And from the level of this higher 
consciousness it is already incumbent upon the Jews of to- 
day to attempt a withdrawal of separative elements, and 
thus more and more to effect a union in spirit and in love 
with humanity at large. In a reply to a critique of Herz- 
f eld's, he adds, " Since the continuance of Judaism is no more 
actively threatened from without, Particularism in our re- 
ligion is no longer necessary. No need to wait till the idea 
of brotherly union has taken root outside our ranks. He 
who first discovers a truth should be the first to lay it upon 
the altar of humanity, the first to prove its power by the 
force of living examples. As Jews it is our duty to outstrip 
other faiths in the realisation of those ideas that are to pre- 
vail in the Messianic Kingdom. As ours, we claim the mission 
to bring that kingdom to pass. Far higher than the Par- 
ticularism of legal Judaism is the Universalism of the 
Prophets, which appeals to all mankind. As surely as we 
recognise its beginnings in the destruction of our former 
nationality, so surely is it our duty to promote the building 
up of that future kingdom where all men shall be as 
brothers." 

It was in the Jewish Reform Community which had been 
formed at Berlin, in 1845, that Holdheim found the positive 
complement to the Frankfort Reform Union. In 1846, Hold- 
heim, as the most courageous and consistent exponent of 
their principles, was chosen as their minister. 

On the 2nd of April he consecrated their synagogue. In 
vivid colours he pointed out to the assembled congregation the 
high importance of their own work. " New departures in 
history," he exclaimed, " have often very small beginnings, 
but if the seed is good, and the power of growth strong, they 
may gain a force and significance undreamt of by their first 
founders. The principles for the sake of which this Sanctuary 
is built contain within them sure seeds of fertility. Preserv- 
ing all that may still live in our general spiritual develop- 
ment, it is not sought merely to lop off the dead twigs, but 
to develop living branches, which, nourished by the sap of 
the tree, may bring forth good fruit. Our essential faith is 
eternal, for our close and child-like relation to God, by this 



212 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

our faith revealed to us, and the command of moral holiness 
are unchangeable and everlasting. But the more we free our- 
selves from what is merely human in this faith, the changing 
outward forms, the closer must we cling to what is Eternal 
and Divine. He who recognises with Hosea that God does 
not demand sacrifice, must with Hosea remember that God 
does demand love. It is only the attainment of the higher 
level of inner religious life which justifies an abandonment 
of outer religious forms, that on a lower level are both a 
duty and a necessity." So runs the message of the prophetic 
Judaism that supersedes the Judaism of legality. 

Holdheim was the very man who could best teach the young 
community what it had already accomplished and what it had 
still to do. For he was able to trace back the whole move- 
ment to the very point from which he himself had once set 
out. And inasmuch as it was no new religion, but simply a 
new embodiment of the old faith that had been devised ; 
since only the forms were borrowed from the present, but the 
substance was rooted in the past, it was a piece of rare good 
fortune that a leader was found in the very man who, of all 
others, had made the traditional wealth of Jewish learning 
his own, and in his own person enacted and experienced the 
whole series of transformation scenes from past inconsistent 
confusion to present purity and strength. 

One of the first tasks Holdheim undertook in the service 
of the Reform Community was a systematic collection of the 
scientific results and conclusions he had hitherto gained in 
the course of his life. These he embodied in a work en- 
titled " The Religious Principles of Reformed Judaism " 
(1847). The whole falls naturally into seven sections, of 
which the first sets forth the historic growth of the necessity 
for Reform. The sacred Scriptures were at all times the 
source of Judaism, but their exposition had always remained 
open and free. Yet as a matter of fact the religious life 
of post- Biblical Judaism had followed one definite line of 
exposition — namely, the Talmudic. But now since a belief 
in the validity of this interpretation — with its assumption 
of a future restoration of the Mosaic sacrificial rites and 
ritual, and of the agrarian, Levitical and other external 
laws — has ceased, the necessity for a new interpretation and 
a new conception of the religious life that is thereby entailed 
has inevitably arisen. The ideas of truth and morality 
laid down in the Bible have become of supreme importance 
for this new interpretation. It entirely repudiates the whole 
principle of heteronomy, so that for it the conviction of the 
truths of Judaism, the religious attitude of mind dependent 



Samuel Holdheim, the Jewish Reformer. 213 

upon this conviction, and the ethical teaching that these 
imply, have alone ahsolute value. The outward forms, on the 
other hand, which serve to picture forth those truths are 
merely transitory, and have only a relative worth, inasmuch 
as they may awaken religious feelings, incite to praiseworthy 
action, and strengthen spiritual communion through public 
ceremonial. The election of Israel is explained to mean 
simply that this people in the midst of heathendom felt itself 
inspired and led by a Divine providence. But God's all-em- 
bracing love knows no distinctions, for he has created all 
men in his Image, and is the Father of all. From the idea of 
the theocracy the higher conception is retained that to take 
part in the life of the State is incumbent on the Jew, and that 
religion must realise itself in, and by its influence transform, 
the daily duties of life. The Talmud is honoured as the 
treasury of important truths, and the literature connected 
with it as a witness to the development of Judaism. It is 
the function of Divine service to impress upon our minds 
the history of our religion, and to root so deeply in our souls 
its fundamental and joy-giving truths that they become an 
imperishable possession. 

Holdheim's opinions, after a gradual but continuous pro- 
cess of growth, had now fully ripened. Tradition he no 
longer regarded as originally revealed at Sinai, and now per- 
manently recorded in existing documents, or deducible at any 
rate from divinely given rules of interpretation. For tradi- 
tion is but a mirror in which the peculiar conceptions of the 
Scriptures held by the post-Biblical ages have been reflected : 
it is a witness and proof of history's power. The intrinsic 
worth of the Bible itself is only gradually revealed to us by 
the teaching of history, and the slowly perfected separation 
of all that is theocratic, political and symbolic from universal 
and eternal religious truths. 

In his paper, " Mixed Marriages between Jews and Chris- 
tians," he gained a great moral victory over the fanaticism 
and narrow Talmudism of his opponents. So long ago as 
the first assembly of Rabbis at Brunswick he had endeavoured 
to get the principle of marriage with Monotheists accepted- 
He now took up the question again, not merely on account of 
one particular instance in which the Konigsberg Consistory 
and the Berlin Rabbis had refused to recognise a mixed 
marriage, but because the problem was intimately bound up 
with the whole subject of Jewish Reform. The reform 
movement, he held, was meant to effect not merely communal, 
but also general social progress, while before all else it main- 
tained the principle of freedom of conscience, which is so 



214 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

essentia] an element in true Judaism. It was only Jewish 
and Christian zealots, to both of whom the reform of Judaism 
is an abomination, who could consistently protest against 
all mixed marriages, as the destruction of Jewish and Chris- 
tian exclusiveness. But the adherents of reform — having 
experienced in themselves the power of purified Judaism — 
trust in its strength, and know that reform is as far removed 
from religious indifference as is fanaticism from true religion. 
Marriage is a civil act, and the religious element in its cele- 
bration consists in combining with this civil ordinance certain 
religious conceptions. If, then, the Jewish minister is asked 
to awaken these conceptions, and to implore the blessing of 
heaven on a married pair, he is only performing his duty in 
obeying that call. To bring help towards the diffusion and 
appreciation of Judaism, we must trust solely to its own 
essential truth. 

For the use of his own congregation Holdheim compiled two 
small school books — (1) " The Religious and Moral Teachings 
of the Mishnah" (1854) ; and (2) "Jildische Olaubens- und Sitten- 
lehre" (1857). In various pamphlets he sought to make them 
realise the grave necessity of an intimate union between 
knowledge and culture on the one hand, with a keen and fer- 
vent religious life on the other. In this combination there lay 
to his mind the corner-stone of modern Judaism. His essays 
" On Improved Religious Education " (1858), and " Reflections 
on the Mutual Relations of Religious and Secular Educa- 
tion " (1860), are important in this respect. In 1857, he also 
published " A History of the Rise and Development of the 
Reform Community at Berlin," in which he expressed his 
views as to its value, and the direction in which its future 
efforts should lie. But his chief work in these latter years 
consisted in his numerous sermons. Three volumes appeared 
during his lifetime, 1 in 1852, 1853, and 1855. Upon these his 
activity was gradually more and more concentrated. Through 
them he sought to let men enjoy the fully-ripened fruits of 
his inward experiences, and his unqualified love for the 
Jewish religion and its literature. Inasmuch as he himself 
had become calmer and cooler as his views had grown purer 
and more elevated, the sermons necessarily mirrored forth his 
full serenity of soul. The restless striving, which more or 
less blurred his earlier sermons, had now changed to the 
thoughtful, happy restfulness of assured conviction. 

Thus Holdheim attained the summit and final goal of his 

1 After his death a small collection waa published, with a preface by 
Geiger (18fi'J), and a larger one, with a preface by myself. 



Samuel Holdheim, the Jewish Reformer. 215 

eventful life. He had struggled much both with himself and 
with others, and had spared neither others nor himself in his 
battle against prejudice. In the search for wisdom he had learnt 
from both friend and foe. He had never let himself be forced 
from his chosen path by the bitter attacks made, not merely 
on the scientific value of his achievements, but even more on 
the character of his purposes and motives. Bearing within 
himself the consciousness that his own aims were pure, he 
assumed the same with others, and in the battle of opinions he 
heeded no interest other than that of truth. But his op- 
ponents did not know what to make of him, for they were in- 
capable of appreciating the ceaseless travailing and continuous 
development of his great mind. They could not value aright 
his energetic activity of thought. Even after his death he has 
had to suffer from such misconceptions. No opponent has done 
him more grievous and baseless wrong than Professor Graetz 
in the eleventh volume of his " History of the Jews." The very 
qualities that were Holdheim's most marked characteristics, 
idealism of disposition and ardent love for Judaism, Graetz 
denies that he possessed. He utterly misconceives the purity 
of Holdheim's yearning to remove from Judaism the reproach 
of particularism and narrowness, and at the same time to 
awaken its followers to a knowledge of the rich, eternal and 
all-embracing contents which, long buried under the old 
forms, its new embodiment is to reveal to the world. For 
Holdheim was convinced — and I share his conviction — that he 
had struck out the right path to lead soonest and straightest 
to the recognition of the everlasting truths of Judaism, and 
to its ultimate and universal triumph. 

Immanuel H. Ritter.