Page 102 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

Basic HTML Version

e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
spiritual heritage. For this reason it would not be sufficient
to treat Hirsch as just another religious writer. To understand
his works and their significance in Jewish history, it is impera-
tive to take a glance, however brief, at the fundamental changes
that took place in European life preceding and during the epoch
in which Hirsch’s works were written.
Hirsch grew up during a period in history which may be
traced back to the Renaissance and the subsequent intellectual
theses of the French Revolution. Renaissance and humanism,
evolving a new type of European man, produced the modern
world with its new conceptions of philosophy and religion, its
reawakened arts and sciences, its manifold inventions and dis-
coveries, its changed political systems, its expansive and progres-
sive forces. This new civilization was not favourably disposed
towards religious authority. Individualism became the order of
the day. Only such ideas and moral imperatives were accepted
as could be justified before the forum of the individual con-
science. Humanism was about to supplant religion. Man and
nature were the two objects of importance, and gradually hu-
manism became antagonistic to any conception of revealed reli-
gion. In science the new age meant unlimited and unfettered
research and the enthroning of human reason as the ultimate
source and sole arbiter of truth. In economics the new epoch
led to an expansion of capitalism and heralded the age of the
Another essential point in the transition from medieval to
modern history is marked by the Renaissance. I t is decentraliza-
tion, the destruction of the unity of life, the separation of life
into so-called religious and secular departments. The Middle
Ages had concentrated and subjected man’s forces to a central
spiritual authority. Now, however, science, art, political and
economic life, society and culture became autonomous. The
religious bond linking the various spheres of intellectual, social
and cultural life had become relaxed and these spheres became
independent. Tha t is the essential character of modern history.
Thus a new civilization arose which coincided with what is
known in Jewish history as “Emancipation.” When the new
civilization of individualism, humanism, science, and capitalism
with its separation of the religious from the secular element
in life broke upon the Jews, they were just about to leave the
Ghetto. There the new wave could hardly affect them, for they
enjoyed a life of religious and cultural autonomy, ruled in all
its aspects by the
Shulchan Aruch.
But all that ceased when the
walls of the Ghetto crumbled and the flood of the new civiliza-
tion rushed in, blinding the dwellers with its dazzling light.
The natural reaction to the new ideals of enlightenment, equal-
ity and fraternity seemed to be
niheye kechol hagoyim
“let us