Page 13 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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LEWIS M. BARTH
The Midrashic Enterprise
O
n e
h u n d r e d
f i f t y
y e a r s
have passed since the appearan ce o f
Leopo ld Zunz’ monumental study o f Jew ish preach ing , Die gott-
esdienstlischen Vortrage der Juden (1832), and slightly longer to the
birthdates o f Solomon Buber (1826-1906) and Meir Friedm ann
(Meir Ish Shalom , 1831-1908), who were eventually to edit and
publish many o f the m idrash collections Zunz described. B io­
graph ic details o f these three key figure s in nineteenth century
Jew ish scholarship have a representative quality. One forgets that
Zunz had practical pu rpo se s in writing a scholarly history o f the
Jew ish sermon : T h e book was to be used in the battle for religious
re fo rm in G e rm an y , to p ro v e that f rom an tiqu ity R abb is
preached in the vernacular, on a regu lar basis, in o rd e r to suppor t
effor ts to allow liberal rabbis to preach in Germ an . Zunz’ second
motive was to o f fe r an exam p le o f a “scientific” app roach to the
study o f Ju d a ism , from a Jew ish perspective, to serve in the
strugg le fo r Jew ish political rights and to coun ter Christian anti-
Semitic scholarship.
Equally forgotten is the striking contrast between the life situa­
tions o f Bub er and F riedm ann . Th e form er, a wealthy banker
and Jew ish community leader in Lemberg , did scholarly work in
his sp are time. On business trips through Eu rope he would visit
libraries, meet with scholars and search for manuscripts. Th e life
o f the latter was that o f an autod idact, teacher and p reacher in
Vienna with broad sp iritual impact, in constant strugg le against
poverty and illness.
T h e extent o f publication by Buber and F riedm ann was im­
mense as was their erud ition . Introductions and notes to their
editions are astound ingly rich in information and source m ate­
rial. Bu b e r ’s m idrashim , especially, have been criticized for d e ­
parting rather freely from manuscript read ings , often without
inform ing the reader. Many o f their historical ju d gm en ts re g a rd ­
ing dating , authorsh ip , or the interrelationship o f m idrash collec­
tions have been dism issed or d isproven . T h e se criticisms pale,
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