Page 105 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

Basic HTML Version

9 3
e v y
— A
b r a h a m
e ig e r
to write a history of the Karaites, and though he never did so,
it led him to study and write about the differences between the
Sadducees and Pharisees. He saw the latter as the people, na-
tionalist and progressive, aristocrats of learning and piety; the
former as aristocrats by birth, literalists and unprogressive. Out
of this work grew the JZWL mentioned above and his
and its H istory
(1864-71). During his brief tenure as professor
at the newly established
in Berlin, he delivered a
course of lectures on “Introduction to the Science of Judaism” and
on “Introduction to the Bible.” These represent his ideas of
the development of Israel’s religion and, together with the
have exercised a profound influence on Jewish studies.
Geiger has been corrected in many places and his explanations
often are no longer tenable. It is, however, generally accepted
today that the text of the Bible is almost impossible to recover
in the original, that it has been deliberately changed to meet
doctrinal exigencies, that the ideas it proclaims have had a his-
tory of growth and transformation, and so on. It is remarkable,
with the comparatively small scientific apparatus Geiger had,
how often he was correct, how much he discovered that was new,
and how many fresh directions for research he could point to.
While his scholarly stature has increased over the years, his
theological impact has perhaps waned. Few will any longer deny
him as a reformer, or to the Jewish people, the right to adjust
their religion to life—that is his victory and his abiding contribu-
tion. His weakness lay in his theological narrowness, or perhaps
in his too broad a conception of Jewish theology in identifying
it with religion in general, i.e., the fatherhood of God and broth-
erhood of man. Schechter is, however, both incorrect and unkind
when he delineates Geiger’s religion “the species of divinity
preached by the Broad Church.” Geiger was never a humanist or
a secularist, Jewish national or other. His theology may have con-
sisted of fine slogans and subtle rhetoric, but he himself was a
proud Jew who always identified himself with his people, even
when he mistakenly reduced Judaism to ideas and abjured all
national specificities. He believed his universalistic and ethical
outlook had captured the purest essence of Judaism, and so of
religion itself, and this he wanted to preserve.
After all is said and done, we must recognize Geiger as a
titan of the spirit and of the mind. He pointed the way to mod-
ernity and to honest investigation; he even succeeded in saving
the Jew for himself, preventing him from assimilating complete-
ly or deserting. What he failed to understand was that we are a
historic people, with a determined will to survive as such; that
our expression of religion did not, in spite of its high moral at-
tainment, stop with prophetism or reduce itself to an ethical
monotheism. The nationalistic component, however this may
be defined and whatever name we give it, race, people or denom­