Thursday, December 08, 2005

S R Hirsch redux

I just gave a talk on Hirsch as part of my regular adult ed Jewish history course at the BAYT in Toronto. Hirsch is a most interesting individual, rather like Rav Kook in that everyone claims him as their own. Some aspects of his career (eg his compromises with early demands for liturgical change in his first rabbanut in Oldenburg 1830 - 41) are barely talked about today. The best book on Hirsch, which is Prof. Noah Rosenbloom's study 'Tradition in an age of Reform', JPS, 1976, is ignored in all Orthodox bibliographies.

But it struck me again what an unappreciated giant he was. He single-handedly created and articulated a Europeanised Orthodoxy that was intelligable and credible, operating over sixty years of his career in a most hostile environment. It is possible to critique him and his movement on a number of counts (and which movement cannot be criticised?), but his achievement was, and is, enormous - and, IMHO, far more radical than the self-appointed bearers of his standard would have us believe.

So, question: Who is the nearest we have today to a Hirsch? (My nomination is Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks)

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