Page 61 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 2

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KAUFMANN KOHLER
By
S a m u e l S. C o h o n
Dr. Kaufmann Kohler, one of the leading theologians of the
Reform movement in Judaism, was born in Fuerth, Bavaria, on
May 10, 1843, and was laised in an atmosphere of genuine piety.
He pursued talmudic studies at the
yeshibah
of Dr. M. Lehmann
at Mayence and of Dr. J. Ettlinger at Altona. For a year and a
half he studied with the exponent of neo-Orthodoxy, Samson
Raphael Hirsch, at Frankfurt a/M. At the age of twenty-one he
began to attend the Universities of Munich and of Berlin, where
his traditional views sharply clashed with new knowledge acquired
through the study of philology and historical criticism. Under
the influence of Professor Hayim Steinthal’s ideas of ethnology
and mythology, he wrote his doctoral dissertation,
Der Segen
Jakobs
(1867), which he submitted to the University of Erlangen.
In consequence of his radical conclusions, drawn from the appli-
cation of the principles of Biblical Criticism to the Pentateuch,
the doors to a rabbinical career were closed to him in Germany.
At Dr. Abraham Geiger’s suggestion, the young radical turned to
America as the land of promise for Progressive Judaism. On
August 28, 1869, he arrived in New York, where he was warmly
received by the distinguished Reformer, David Einhorn, whose
daughter Johanna he married a year later. After two years at
Temple Beth-El in Detroit (1869-71) and eight years at Sinai
Congregation in Chicago (1871-79), he succeeded Dr. Einhorn
in the pulpit of Temple Beth-El in New York (1879-1903). At
the age of sixty, he was called to assume the presidency of the
Hebrew Union College. Following eighteen and a half years of
service (1903-1922), he retired to private life. He died in New
York City on January 26, 1926, survived by his widow, his sons
Max J. and Edgar (all three have died since) and by his daughters
Rose and Lili.
Dr. Kohler distinguished himself by broad scholarship in the
fields of Bible, Comparative Study of Religion, Hellenistic Litera-
ture and Haggadah. His theological interest was animated by the
desire to harmonize the old faith and the new knowledge and to
lead the modern Jew to the pure fountain-springs of Judaism. In
Reform he recognized no break with the past, but an ever-potent
force inherent in Judaism whereby it has rejuvenated itself at
various stages of its development. Only this principle of Progress
worked unconsciously in former ages, and is now applied con-
sciously in our age of historical research (
Studies
, p. 325).
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