Page 101 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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8 9
— A
b r ah am
was the final arbiter of truth. Origin and history, the implied
results of the application of these means and measuring rods,
became the dominant modes of scholarly orientation and occupa-
tion. Small wonder that Jews and Judaism recently roused from
medieval slumber should be confronted with the challenge of
the day and should answer it through the founding of the
“Science of Judaism” by Rappaport and Zunz. Geiger may be
linked with this duo; at all events he continued in their wake.
The very name of new discipline reveals the character of the
age and the nature of the Jew’s reaction to it.
Geiger’s childhood training had been along the accepted tradi-
tional lines. His father and older brother grounded him thorough-
ly in the prescribed Jewish curriculum, so that at a very tender
age the boy showed a remarkable acquaintance with the Talmud.
He continued his Jewish studies on his own account with fellow-
students (among them S. R. Hirsch) while at Bonn and at Heidel-
berg. At the universities he studied Latin and Greek as well as
the Semitic languages. He showed his philological bent by writing
on German grammar, a portent of his later work on the “Gram-
mar and Reader to the Language of the Mishna.” In fact all his
works reveal extraordinary philological acumen.
It was in all likelihood the Arabist Freytag who encouraged
Geiger to compose
Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judentum
This was a “first” which won him a doctorate
and later a literary prize. After a century and a quarter it is still
an indispensable reference work in its field.
Yielding to his family’s early hope for him and to his own
vacillating inclination, Geiger finally became a rabbi. It might
be said that the religious side of his character triumphed over
the scientific, though in him they were blended in a remarkably
harmonious amalgam. He loved Judaism—its ideas, its theology
and history—and he eagerly strove to discover as much about
it as possible. He yearned also to serve his fellow Jews, not
merely as a functioning rabbi, but by teaching his congregants
how to transform themselves into modern men and women and
how ultimately to become citizens in their contemporary state.
The tinkering by laymen with the prayer book and the divine
service did not please or satisfy him. Mere external paring down,
carried out more or less haphazardly for esthetic purposes, had
to give way to a reasoned philosophy of reform. Hence it was
imperative to learn what Judaism actually was and how it grew,
to examine its thought and its history (which heretofore had
not been done in any acceptable way), to ascertain how its prac-
tices developed, and the like.
Needless to say, he rejected supernatural revelation as it was
commonly understood. For him the Halakah was not heaven
ordained; it was rather a human creation. Here Geiger again
demonstrated his extraordinary capacity by his analysis of the