Page 205 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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with both Jewish and Christian pupils. Hirsch’s grandfather
headed one such school, the Altona Talmud Torah Schule,
which already early in the century offered secular studies within
an Orthodox framework. Hirsch himself attended a mixed
The reported tension between Hirsch and his family over
his future career plans illuminates the context o f educational
planning at that point in history. Reference to the Enlighten­
ment readily brings forth images o f Mendelssohn and his dis­
ciples occupying themselves with questions o f philosophy, but
we tend to forget that most children receiving instruction in
German language, arithmetic, and some knowledge o f English
and French were preparing themselves for a career in com­
merce. Most parents — including Hirsch’s — sought such stud­
ies for their children to facilitate their later economic well-being.
In 1830, Hirsch registered for study at the University o f
Bonn. There, he became friendly with his fellow student Abra­
ham Geiger. The two were part o f a larger group o f Jewish
students preparing for a career in the rabbinate. It may seem
surprising that among the first Jewish students in German uni­
versities the rabbinate was a popular choice o f career, but there
are several explanations for this.
The number o f Jewish students at German universities was
growing, but these students who represented such a blatant step
forward in the Jewish pursuit o f secular studies, still faced crit­
ical problems in earning a livelihood once they had completed
their studies, especially since the practice o f law and university
teaching remained closed professions for Jews. In addition, it
seems that many o f these students were not so prepared to
cut their ties with Judaism and the Jewish community as they
have usually been described. O f course, these rabbinical can­
didates themselves adopted the stance that they were returning
to the communities to further the cause o f enlightened adap­
Hirsch’s relationships with several leading personalities o f
19th century Jewry indicate the changing conditions surround­
ing the German Jewish community. His friendship with Geiger
during student days is not just a stroke o f historical irony —
it indicates a statement on the ebbs and tides o f changing re­
ligious life. The circle o f students preparing for the rabbinate
was not limited to those who later became identified with Re-