Page 203 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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ROBERT LIBERLES
Samson Raphael Hirsch
On the Centennial of His Death
S
a m s o n
R
a p h a e l
H
i r s c h
set out to be a man o f his times —
the nineteeth century. He demonstrated this at the outset o f
his literary career by entitling his first major work
The Nineteen
Letters of Ben Uziel,
which was, in fact, an attempt to synthesize
traditional Judaism with the spirit and opportunities o f the day.
O f course, over the next fifty years, there were changes in
Hirsch’s outlook, but then again the entity called the nineteeth
century did not remain static either.
Hirsch was born in Hamburg in 1808 and died in Frankfurt
a century ago in 1888. During those eight turbulent decades
Hirsch witnessed and participated in many o f the explosive de­
velopments that were taking place at that time in both German
and Jewish life. The establishment o f the Reform Temple in
Hamburg in 1818 played a key role in the shaping o f Hirsch’s
career.
Hirsch’s family, especially his grandfather, head o f the Ta l­
mud Torah School in nearby Altona, was active in the conflict
between traditionalists and the group o f reformers who estab­
lished the renowned temple when Hirsch was ten years old.
According to Hirsch’s later recollections, strategy meetings were
held in his parents’ house. Thus, Hirsch was aware o f the con­
flict between Reformers and the Orthodox as a young lad, and
Hirsch’s own testimonies indicate how significant this was in
the shaping o f his life plans.
He himself often said that it had, in fact, been the defection
from Judaism in his native city that had brought him to the path
o f life on which he led the exhausted holy heritage o f the fathers
from victory to victory. As an eleven and twelve year old lad,
he witnessed the meetings in his parents’ home, in which the
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