Page 98 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

Basic HTML Version

ABRAHAM G E I G E R
B
y
F
elix
A.
L
evy
O
N this occasion of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary
of Abraham Geiger’s birth it is fitting that we do homage
to this great scholar whose signal achievements have so often
been heralded abroad but who suffers from comparative neglect
in this country. His religious ideas and his reforms have perhaps
been sufficiently treated, but except for an essay by Schechter,
which attacks his religious ideas, there is little outside the
encyclopedias that shows appreciation of this tremendous figure
in the annals of Jewish scholarship. Schechter, because of his
own religious bias, damns him with faint praise; and when it
comes to evaluating Geiger the scholar, he only grudgingly yields
a word of commendation. This brief paper will try in some small
measure to remedy the deficiency and to supplement the scanty
literature in English dealing with this nineteenth century Jewish
personality.
Geiger was to my mind not only the greatest of the moderns
but also of the modernists among us. In many areas he was the
first to pioneer, exploring the old literature, uncovering new
areas, devising new methods of approach and making discoveries
that were frequently startling. Whatever he touched he il-
luminated, whether it was Bible, rabbinical and Karaitic litera-
ture, medieval poetry, commentaries, history, philology, liturgy
or theology, to mention a far from exhaustive list of his interests.
Besides this prolific literary activity, he was engaged in working
for Jewish emancipation and in propagating the Reform move-
ment. Before him and his co-workers, this had largely been in
the hands of laymen who “reformed” slightly the prayer book
and the service. He sought to put Reform on a scientific or ra-
tional theological basis by invoking fundamental principles ac-
cording to which it must be propounded. At the root of this
desire to make over the traditional religion there was always the
scholar who demanded a thorough investigation of ideas and in-
stitutions of Judaism and who insisted on academic freedom
released from the restraints of traditional practice and outlook,
lest these prejudice the discovery of truth. Hence his devotion
to the Science of Judaism, of which he was one of the earliest
protagonists and certainly one of its most illustrious exponents.
He made himself and his ideas felt not only among his own
liberal group; both conservative and neo-orthodox owe much
86