The Relationship of Edmond Fleg and Andre Neher. (Jewish Teachers)

By Sungolowsky, Joseph | European Judaism, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview
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The Relationship of Edmond Fleg and Andre Neher. (Jewish Teachers)


Sungolowsky, Joseph, European Judaism


At the dawn of the twenty-first century, it is only natural if not essential to reflect upon and evaluate the relationship that existed between Edmond Fleg (1874-1963) and Andre Neher (1914-1988), two eminent Jewish thinkers who exerted a profound influence upon French Jewry of the twentieth century and perhaps on Jews in the rest of the world considering the number of their works that were translated in several languages. As a son of moderately observant Jews, Fleg became a part of the Parisian intellectual and artistic life as a student at the Ecole Normale Superieure and a successful playwright and theatre critic. Having lived through the turmoil of the Dreyfus Affair as well as the exhilarating days of the three Zionist Congresses, Fleg made a dramatic return to traditional Judaism and devoted the rest of his life to bring forth its message in his writings. Such was the intent of Hear O Israel, a vast poetic panorama that depicts the history of the Jewish people from biblical to modern times, of his biographies of Moses and King Solomon rooted in the Midrash, of his novel The Boy Prophet and above all of his numerous essays where he presents to diversified Jewish as well as non-Jewish audiences the essence of an authentic Judaism.

The scion of an old Jewish Alsatian family, Andre Neher was nurtured in the principles of a strictly observant Judaism that nevertheless remained open to modern thought. He began his career as a professor of German language and literature but specialised in Biblical and Hebraic studies soon after the end of the Second World War. He was ordained as a rabbi by a Beth-Din composed of three prominent French Alsatian rabbis and completed a monumental thesis on the prophet Amos. This work bears the subtitle `A Contribution to the Study of Prophecy' soon to be followed by works on the essence of prophecy, Moses, Jeremiah, The Ecclesiastes. As Neher states in his autobiography, in those works, he sets for himself the task of counteracting the theories of the 19th century biblical criticism reaffirming the fact that the message of Jewish prophecy is not merely historical and ethical but finds its origins in the Revelation of God to the Jewish people at Sinai. (1) Neher held the professorship of Judaic Studies at the University of Strasbourg until his retirement to Israel after the Six-Day War. He was the author of further studies on the Maharal of Prague, on the theme of silence in the Bible inspired by the Shoah, on the methodology of translating Hebrew into French and of numerous other works concerning the main problems that confront the post-Holocaust Jew.

Both Fleg and Neher experienced in their personal lives as well as in their lives as Jewish writers and thinkers the consequences of the crises that affected modern day Judaism, namely the Dreyfus Affair, the Shoah and the onslaught of rationalistic thought that undermined to a great extent the faith and identity of Jews. Both understood that a task of re-education and spiritual reconstruction was to be undertaken without delay. The essential teachings of Judaism, the meaning of Jewish identity and Jewish life, the attitude towards the Shoah, the centrality of the State of Israel and the significance of Jewish messianism were to be redefined and reaffirmed especially in the light of the progress that was achieved in the humanistic, social and scientific fields. In these endeavours, Fleg and Neher acknowledged each other's work. A community of thought was soon established between them as they both realized that they were working towards a common goal.

Edmond Fleg's Jewish Anthology is a unique work that has lost nothing of. its timelessness. It consists of a collection of texts which Fleg has divided among the following periods: Biblical, Hellenistic, Talmudic, Rabbinic, Modern and Contemporary. It evokes the great figures of Jewish history from Moses to Bergson and it provides a succinct view of the ethical, religious, political, social, legislative, literary and philosophical aspects of Judaism.

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