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Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

Scholar, Patriot, and Servant of God

The extraordinary decline of European Civilisation over the past century is a subject much commented upon by assorted historians and social analysts. A wide range of theories have been advanced for this downward spiral. Socio-historical reflection, however, is most relevant to academics. For the vast majority of contemporary Europeans the decadence enveloping us is demonstrably manifest throughout our lives in hundreds of ways large and small — in the ebbing of respect of elders, teachers, police and all authority figures, in a lack of dignity for dress, speech, courtesy and in respect for social norms and communal rituals ranging from military discipline to sportsmanship (both on and off the playing field). We note the passing of both the “soft” and “hard” virtues of our way of life : of romance, poetry, song; village life and the rural rhythm; and of courage, honour, loyalty and unyielding effort. It is to the restoration of those virtues we have lost and are in danger of losing that that the Third Way is dedicated. Indeed we are a Movement that sees the flowering of the innermost spirit of all peoples throughout the world as the only means to achieve true respect and peace amongst mankind.


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) of Germany was an Orthodox Rabbi whose life was devoted not only to the preservation of traditional Judaism, but also to the material and spiritual well-being of all Germans. His teachings are especially relevant to our troubled age.

Born in Hamburg, he completed his Rabbinic studies under the great Talmudist Rabbi Jacob Ettinger in Mannheim. While pursuing his religious disciplines he also concluded his formal secular education at the University of Bonn. In 1830 at the remarkably young age of 22 he was appointed the Chief rabbi of Oldenburg. It was there that his first book Nineteen Letters on Judaism was published. This work, written as a series of letters from a learned Rabbi to a confused young student, is essentially a presentation of basic Judaism and a sharp critique of the then nascent Reform movement. This was the beginning of Rabbi Hirsch’s lifelong struggle against any and all attempts to change what he termed “Torah-true” Judaism. His position was uncompromisingly Orthodox, and viewed the basics of the Jewish faith as of Divine Origin. There could be no “reform” of the Word of God.


In 1838 the Horeb : Essays on Israel’s Duties in the Diaspora, was published. This was a legal-philosophical presentation of the basic laws of Judaism. Ever mindful of his task as leading polemicist against the Reformers, Rabbi Hirsch also issued in that same year First Communications a powerful attack on those seeking to establish a new Wissenschaft Des Judentums (Science of Judaism) designed to abandon basic beliefs and practices of the ancient faith by means of modern exegesis of its primary sources.

Subsequently the Rabbi served as the Land Rabbiner of Hanoverian Districts as well as Chief Rabbi of Moravia. In Auguts of 1851 he accepted the position for which he is well known, that of Rabbi of the Orthodox Community of Frankfort Am Main. He held that position for 37 years until his death.

In Frankfort his prodigious literary output continued. In 1854 he launched Jeschuvin : a Monthly For the Inculcation of the Spirit of Judaism in Home, School and Community and served until 1870 as its editor. A multi-volume commentary on the Pentateuch was issued by Rabbi Hirsch in 1867. This work, generally issued in eight volumes, was finally concluded in 1878. Within four years the Rabbi’s lengthy commentary on the Psalms was published, and posthumously his “study of prayer” book. Years later Rabbi Hirsch’s Collected Writings including letters, essays, sermons, speeches etc. were offered to the public. This ran to six volumes, but such a hefty literary project did not prevent the Rabbi from involving himself in all manner of public controversy as well as attending to his normal clergy activities. Perhaps the crowning communal achievement of his career was secured in 1876 when the Prussian Parliament passed the Law of Secession. This legislation allowed all Orthodox congregations in Germany to sever their ties with Reform Temples and the central Jewish communal structure. To Rabbi Hirsch this was a most important matter, as he saw inherent in communal linkage with the reformers implicit recognition of their legitimacy as an alternative form of Judaism. There was, he taught, only one Judaism forever “Torah-true” and the Reform movement was sheerest heresy and apostasy.


Rabbi Hirsch passed away in 1888. His son-in-law Rabbi Solomon Breuer succeeded him as the spiritual leader of Kehal Adas Jeschuran in Frankfort. The Hirschian Kehilla (community) continued to grow and flourish, spreading the messages of fervent Orthodoxy, good citizenship and (as we shall now see) uncompromising patriotism until the 1930s. It was then that the NSDAP (Nazi) Government turned on this pious, loyal community closing its schools, shutting down its journals and brutalising its members. Fortunately, after the war some of Frankfort’s surviving Orthodox Jews went to America and there in the Washington Heights section of New York they have re-established their way of life. They have also published most of Rabbi Hirsch’s writings in English translation, thus spreading his unique message to a different place and time. This is certainly a factor that bodes well for the future.


One of the areas of Jewish teaching with which Rabbi Hirsch was most concerned was that governing interaction between Jews and Non-Jews. One of the finest introductions to his presentation of traditional Jewish teachings on this matter may be found in his essay The Talmud and Its Teachings On Social Virtues, Civic Duties and Commercial Integrity published as a pamphlet in 1884. This article owed its appearance to the intention of the Tsarist government in Russia to forbid the printing of the Talmud. At the advice of a German Prince who had close connections to the Tsar, Rabbi Hirsch wrote the essay which was sent to Russia. Its contents persuaded the Tsar not to enact the decree in question. An abridged English translation of the piece may be found in Judaism Eternal: Selected Essays From The Writings of Rabbi Solomon Raphael Hirsch (Soncino Press, London 1967. pp.155-186)

The Essays is divided into several sections which present Talmudic attitudes on “Honesty”, “Ways of Earning a Livelihood”, “The Attitude of the Jew to his Government and Fellow-citizens”, “Formations of Character”, “The Family” and “The Community”. Even a superficial reading of any of the above sections would suffice to dispel the usual anti-Semitic canards about the Talmud. On honesty for example he writes : “The Talmud teaches us that when a man appears hereafter before God the first question he will be asked is ‘Were you honest and straightforward in your business dealings?’….. It is forbidden to cheat any man, Jew or Non-Jew, in buying or selling, or to deceive him, or to leave undisclosed any defect in the article offered for sale. The goods must not be made to look different from what they are, nor may their value be diminished by adulteration.” (ibid. pp.160-161)

The above would seem to be extremely relevant to our capitalistic age. In fact, Distributists of the Chesterton-Belloc school of adherents of Morris, Cobbet, Jeffries and their followers might find Rabbi Hirsch to their liking, as he writes : “… for any moral progress the regular employment demanded by agriculture is of great service; in fact the entire Jewish religious legislation places agriculture in the forefront and all the Jewish festivals are connected with… work in the fields. The Jewish ideal of national well-being was that every man should have his own ‘fig tree and vine’… If Jews in later periods in Europe abandoned agriculture and turned largely to trade, the fault is not that of the Talmud… it is the fault of the States and peoples who would not let Jews acquire land which they could work. If Jews were given the right and opportunity to own a piece of land and to work it, they would soon return to their original occupation of tilling the land and earning their living in agriculture.” (ibid. p.167)


The above is a small sampling of Rabbi Hirsch’s writings on the make-up of an honest Jewish Citizen. Yet he goes beyond mere integrity when he tells us that : “the Talmud pledges the Jew to be loyal to the country of which he is a citizen, to love it as his fatherland and to promote its welfare.” (ibid. p.168)

Or, to quote from Horeb : “God demands that every Jew find his well-being only in that of his country…. to work and pray for welfare of the country… (to) salute the soil which gave him birth… and whose weal and woe Israel has not shared for thousands of years…. In whichever land Jews shall live as citizens…. they shall honour and love the princes and government as their own, contribute with every possible power to their good.” (p.400)

In fact in the Nineteen Letters he declares that Jews are to see themselves as an integral part of the nation in which they dwell : “It is our duty to join ourselves as closely as possible to the state which receives us into its midst, to promote its welfare and not to consider our own well-being as in any way separate from that of the state to which we belong.” (p.107)

It was not to be a cold patriotism devoid of feeling. According to Rabbi Hirsch, Jews were to “with heartfelt and genuine affection… to the soil upon which their cradles had been rocked, on which they had greeted the first laughter of their children… with deep and strong love (cling) to the land of your birth.” (Judaism Eternal Vol.1, p.129)


The horrors unleashed upon the Jews of Europe by German ‘Nationalists’ in the name of race and country have considerably dampened Jewish enthusiasm for the Hirschian agenda. For many Jews the only alternatives are political Zionism or support of cosmopolitan, contractual government (or, as contradictory as it may seem, some combination of the two). Both consciously and subconsciously Jews have come to associate a heightened sense of religious, cultural, ethnic and national identity among Non-Jews with a threat to their well-being.

It is at this point that the teachings or Rabbi Hirsch and those of the Third Way can coalesce to provide a way out of the current impasse. The Rabbi exhorted Jews to be nationalists, patriots in the finest sense of the term, and the Third Way is a movement dedicated to the preservation of peoples, nations, regions and localities. It has also taken a firm stand against any form of racial or religious hatred and, truth to be told, has already done battle against these forces in society.

For Jews and Non-Jews who feel increasingly alienated by those societal trends we described at this article’s inception, the Third Way would seem to offer a means to preserve our way of life without falling prey to bigotry, violence and fanaticism. The hour is not yet too late, but the battle must soon be joined if our way is to be preserved.

By Rabbi Mayer Schiller, an instructor of Talmud in New York City.


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