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Abraham Geiger, 1810-1874
Abraham Geiger (24 May 1810 in Frankfurt am Mainmarker – 23 October 1874 in Berlinmarker) was a Germanmarker rabbi and scholar who led the founding of Reform Judaism. He sought to remove all nationalistic elements (particularly the "Chosen People" doctrine) from Judaism, stressing it as an evolving and changing religion.

Biography

As a child, Geiger started doubting the traditional understanding of Judaism when his studies in classical history seemed to contradict the biblical claims of divine authority. At the age of seventeen, he began writing his first work, a comparison between the legal style of the Mishna, and Biblical and Talmudic law. He also worked on a dictionary of Mishnaic (Rabbinic) Hebrew.

Geiger's friends provided him with financial assistance which enabled him to attend the University in Heidelberg, to the great disappointment of his family. His main focus was centered on the areas of philology, Syriac, Hebrew, and classics, but he also attended lectures in Old Testament, philosophy, and archeology. After one semester, he transferred to the University of Bonn, where he studied at the same time as Samson Raphael Hirsch. Hirsch initially formed a friendship with Geiger, and with him organized a society of Jewish students for the stated purpose of practicing homiletics, but with the deeper intention of bringing them closer to Jewish values. It was to this society that Geiger preached his first sermon (January 2, 1830). In later years he and Hirsch became bitter opponents as the leaders of two opposing Jewish movements.

At Bonn, Geiger began an intense study of Arabic and the Koran, winning a prize for his essay "Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?". The essay earned Geiger a doctorate at the University of Marburg. It demonstrated that large parts of the Koran were taken from, or based on, rabbinic literature. (On this see Origin and development of the Qur'an).

This book was Geiger's first step in a much larger intellectual project. Geiger sought to demonstrate Judaism's central influence on Christianity and Islam. He believed that neither movement possessed religious originality, but were simply a vehicle to transmit the Jewish monotheistic belief to the pagan world.

At this time, no university professorships were available in Germany to Jews, so Geiger was forced to seek a position as rabbi. He found a position in the Jewish community of Wiesbaden (1832-1837). There he continued his academic publications primarily through the scholarly journals he founded and edited, including Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift fuer juedische Theologie (1835–39) and Juedische Zeitschriftfuer Wissenschaft und Leben (1862–75). His journals became important vehicles in their day for publishing Jewish scholarship, chiefly historical and theological studies, as well as a discussion of contemporary events.

By that time Geiger had begun his program of religious reforms, chiefly in the synagogue liturgy. For example, he abolished the prayers of mourning for the temple, believing that since Jews were German citizens, such prayers would appear to be disloyal to the ruling power and could possibly spark anti-semitism. Geiger was the driving force in convening several synods of reform-minded Rabbis with the intention of formulating a program of progressive Judaism. However, unlike Samuel Holdheim, he did not want to create a separate community. Rather, his goal was to change Judaism from within.

Reformer

In the Germany of the 19th century, Geiger and Samuel Holdheim, along with Israel Jacobson and Leopold Zunz, stood out as the founding fathers of Reform Judaism. Geiger was a more moderate and scholarly reformer, seeking to found this new branch of Judaism on the scientific study of history, without assuming that any Jewish text was divinely written.

Geiger was not only a scholar and researcher commenting on important subjects and characters in Jewish history, he was also a rabbi responsible for much of the reform doctrine of the mid 19th century. He contributed much of the character to the reform movement that remains today. Reform historian Michael A. Meyer has stated that, if any one person can be called the founder of Reform Judaism, it must be Geiger.

Much of Geiger's writing has been translated into English from the original German. There have been many biographical and research texts about him, such as the work Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus by Susannah Heschel (1998), which chronicles Geiger's radical contention that the New Testament illustrates Jesus was a Pharisee teaching Judaism.

Some of Geiger's studies are included in The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book edited by Ibn Warraq. Other works are Judaism and Islam (1833) and An Appeal to My Community (1842).

Criticism

Samson Raphael Hirsch devoted a good many issues of his journal Jeschurun to criticizing Geiger's reform stance (published in English as Hirsch, Collected Writings).

Some critics also attacked Geiger's opposition to a Jewish national identity; most notably he was criticized when he refused to intervene on the behalf of the Jews of Damsacus accused of ritual murder (a blood libel) in 1840. However, Jewish historian Steven Bayme has concluded that Geiger had actually vigorously protested on humanitarian grounds.

Books

Geiger's works

  • Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judentume aufgenommen? Bonn, 1833.
(translated as Judaism and Islam, F. M. Young, 1896.
  • Das Judenthum und seine Geschichte von der Zerstörung des zweiten Tempels bis zum Ende des zwölften Jahrhunderts. In zwölf Vorlesungen. Nebst einem Anhange: Offenes Sendschreiben an Herrn Professor Dr. Holtzmann. Breslau: Schletter, 1865-71.
(translated as Judaism and its history: in 2 parts, Lanham [u.a.]: Univ. Press of America, 1985. ISBN 0-8191-4491-6.
  • Abraham Geiger and liberal Judaism : The challenge of the 19th century. Compiled with a biographical introduction by Max Wiener. Translated from the German by Ernst J. Schlochauer. Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society of America 5722.
  • Nachgelassene Schriften. Reprint of the 1875–1878 ed., published in Berlin by L. Gerschel. Bd 1-5. New York: Arno Press, 1980. ISBN 0-405-12255-1


Footnotes



References

  • Susannah Heschel: Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus. Chicago; London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1998. (Chicago studies in the history of Judaism). ISBN 0-226-32959-3.
  • Ludwig Geiger: Abraham Geiger. Leben und Werk für ein Judentum in der Moderne. Berlin: JVB, 2001. ISBN 3-934658-20-2.
  • Hartmut Bomhoff: Abraham Geiger - durch Wissen zum Glauben - Through reason to faith: reform and the science of Judaism. (Text dt. und engl.). Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin, Centrum Judaicum. Jüdische Miniaturen ; Bd. 45. Berlin: Hentrich und Hentrich 2006. ISBN 3-938485-27-2
  • Jobst Paul (2006): "Das ‚Konvergenz’-Projekt – Humanitätsreligion und Judentum im 19. Jahrhundert". In: Margarete Jäger, Jürgen Link (Hg.): Macht – Religion – Politik. Zur Renaissance religiöser Praktiken und Mentalitäten. Münster 2006.ISBN 3-89771-740-9
  • Encyclopedia Judaica (2007), entry Abraham Geiger


See also



External links




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