Philosopher of Revelation: The Life and Thought of S. L. Steinheim

Philosopher of Revelation: The Life and Thought of S. L. Steinheim

Philosopher of Revelation: The Life and Thought of S. L. Steinheim

Philosopher of Revelation: The Life and Thought of S. L. Steinheim

Excerpt

By the time Steinheim had completed the first volume of The Revelation, German romanticism had nearly run its course as a literary and philosophic movement. Friedrich Schleiermacher, its most influential religious philosopher, had died in 1834. He had been the dominant figure in the intellectual revival of Christianity ever since the publication, in 1799, of his book On Religion: Addresses to Its Cultured Despisers. Schleiermacher had reacted against the rationalism of the eighteenth century, which, during the Enlightenment, had degenerated into a cold, soulless, and mechanistic world view. He stressed the emotional dimension of life, locating the sources of religion in the individual's "feeling" of absolute dependence.

In the preface to his book, Steinheim analyzes the spiritual condition of contemporary Jewry. His was the first generation of Jews to participate freely in the intellectual life of the non-Jewish world and, consequently, the first generation of Jews in modern times to be profoundly affected by contemporary currents of thought as well as cultural and religious fads. However, there was a discrepancy in timing between the Jewish and non-Jewish response to intellectual movements. Jews, still enamored of the shallow rationalism of the Enlightenment, were deserting religion in droves. Meanwhile, educated Christian circles were aglow with the new religious enthusiasm stirred up by the immensely persuasive Schleiermacher. As a result, young Jews, no longer emotionally bound to their own religion, were swept up in this tide of Christian revival. It is estimated that approximately one-half of Berlin's Jews converted during that time.

Steinheim explains the astonishing mass conversion of German Jews during the first three decades of the nineteenth century in terms of the new religious mood of the environment as well as the very tangible, material advantages in baptism. He makes it clear that the object of his book is to provide a new religious conviction that will fortify the Jews against the seductions of a more open society and the challenges of philosophic and religious currents that might alienate them from their own heritage. However, despite its risks, he would not sacrifice the new freedom, confident that Judaism abhors doctrinal coercion and that, in fact. Jewish beliefs could well stand the test of a critical, comparative examination.

Steinheim outlines a basic position with regard to the powerful stirrings for religious reform in Judaism that were then current. He recognizes the need to let go of the defensive insularity, the self-ghettoizing tendency of previous centuries, when Jews faced a hostile world and retreated behind a defensive line of rigid . . .

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