Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg 1884-1966

By J, Morton | Shofar, July 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg 1884-1966


J, Morton, Shofar


Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, 1884-1966

Based upon his Ph.D. dissertation, Marc Shapiro's analysis of the fascinating and rather tragic story of Rabbi Weinberg's life is a welcome addition to the scholarly bookshelf. Weinberg, known commonly as the "Seridel esh" (the title of his four-volume collection of responsa), was a rabbinic luminary, a polemicist, and a scholar of targumic literature. It is to Shapiro's credit that Weinberg's life is painstakingly mapped out and his ideological profile carefully portrayed.

Born in a medium-sized town in Poland (although it seems that Weinberg always claimed to have been born in Lithuania), Jehiel Jacob Weinberg came from a fairly undistinguished family. However, he early on proved himself an ilui (prodigy), rapidly gaining entry, in 1900, to the beit midrash (house of study) in Grodno. A year after lecturing there, Weinberg moved on to Slobodka, where he studied in the renowned yeshiva founded by a second-generation disciple of Rabbi Israel Salanter. In this setting, young Weinberg was exposed to the demanding discipline of musar, which stressed orderliness, personal hygiene, restraint, and introspection.

Everyone is a product of his time and environment. The atmosphere in which the young Weinberg grew up must have been an exciting one. Zionism, Bundism, Reform were all challenging the hegemony of Orthodox Judaism. Weinberg had the creative audacity to recognize this and to familiarize himself with the documentary theory formulated by Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) as well as the brilliant history of Judaism formulated by Nahman Krochmal (1785-1840). He was vigorously involved with the halahkhic issues of his day without tarnishing the integrity of his interpretation -- and adherence to -- tradition.

Weinberg's intellectual outlook was augmented and refined when he moved to the university town of Gie...en, where he moved in 1920 in order to study for a Ph. …

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