The Nineteen Letters on Judaism

The Nineteen Letters on Judaism

The Nineteen Letters on Judaism

The Nineteen Letters on Judaism

Excerpt

The first decades of the 19th Century reeled under the impact of the young French Revolution. The political upheaval which followed in its wake was accompanied by a profound re-evaluation of the cultural and spiritual precepts prevalent heretofore. The new Liberalism unleashed the forces of Capitalism; science and research proclaimed the human mind to be the final authority; individualism and humanism relegated religion to be on an equal footing with the secular in life.

Simultaneously, under the impact of these new forces, the walls of the Ghetto began to break down. Until then, most of its inhabitants had taken little part in the cultural life of the outside world. The influx of the revolutionary ideas found many unprepared. The result was spiritual chaos of the first magnitude. Concepts which had shaped Jewish thinking for untold centuries fell by the wayside. Many paid homage to a watered down Christian-Protestant Church religion by outright baptism. Others chose to baptize Judaism rather than themselves. Old Synagogues were transformed into modern temples, German prayers took the place of the Jewish Tefilla, the traditional Drasha gave way to the timely sermon, church bells and organs invaded the sanctity of the Bet Haknesset -- in short, Judaism was brought "up-to-date." And these acts of aggression were labeled, not treason or revolt, but -- Reform of Judaism.

NOTE: While it may be assumed that the Jewish literary public is familiar with the headlines of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's life and accomplishment, a brief recapitulation of the man and his work, with special emphasis on the "Nineteen Letters," seems entirely in place.

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