Posts Tagged ‘Reform Judaism’

“[T]he adherents of Jewish liberalism… traced the origin of the Reform Movement to [Moses Mendelssohn]. Mendelssohn’s writings, however, in which every word of the Jewish text is declared to be divine wisdom, prove the error of this thesis.”

Hermann Schwab, The History of Orthodox Jewry in Germany, Ch. II

Abraham Geiger, 19th century founder of Reform Judaism in Germany, exhorts his fellow Jews to cast off the trappings of tradition and embrace brotherhood with their gentile countrymen, for the Jews can surely anticipate a most loving and warm welcome by their brothers in humanity. Well, we know how that turned out. His words:

Thou, beloved pilgrim, cast off thy rough coat of mail, contact with the world is no longer dangerous; cast off the coverings that hide and disfigure thee; it is no longer an icy, freezing breeze that breathes upon thee — love will blossom up everywhere; thou hast a warm heart, and the whole of mankind wishes to lean upon it ; thou must with fresh love embrace the whole.

          –Judaism and its History, p. 297

“That science, which, despairing of itself and aware of its own weak mind, denies the existence of a spirit, shows up with triumphant mien the apparatus of a system of bones, and thereby believes to have given an explanation of man, will with shame retire: it will yield to the healthful science which respects the spirit, and has a presentiment of the Spirit of all spirits. This science will anew enliven the world, and go hand-in-hand with Judaism, which has ever been permeated and quickened by such ideas.”
           -Abraham Geiger, Judaism and its History, p. 295

Read “Diaspora Jews” in place of “Grecian Jews” (i.e. Jews of the Greco-Roman empire), and it seems to me a sad but accurate description of affairs even today.

“For Jews lived not exclusively in Palestine; from ancient times they had established Congregations among the Greeks, and spread more and more, the gloomier the aspect of affairs grew in their own land. Although they felt deep sympathy with the sufferings of their brethern left in their old country; although every woe which befell Palestine, their original home, found the deepest response in the hearts of the Grecian Jews; although they looked with reverence toward the sacred Temple, which ever remained their mother soil: yet they were exempt from the struggle going on there. While arms clashed in Judea, all energies were roused from day to day to attend to the wants of the day, to endure labors and hardships, to avert animosities, — while thus in Judea mind and strength were directed entirely toward the present, the Grecian Jews were, after all, only passive spectators, who beheld with profound grief, perhaps also under the derision of the Greeks, the coming destruction of their holy land, the speedy loss of their spiritual centre. Such were the sentiments of the Grecian Jews.”
      –Judaism and its History, p. 229

The Greeks had no teachers or patterns in Art and Science, they were their own teachers and masters, — they speedily appeared with such perfect accomplishment, as makes them the teachers of mankind for all times. It is as though a higher, more vivid taste for the Beautiful, the Harmonious, the Symmetrical and the Pleasing had been innate in the Greek nation, — we observe a National Genius that enabled it to produce masters in every art and science. Therefore, even later centuries willingly listened to the words of this nation, hastened thither where they could see the works of the plastic arts, where they could enjoy, as it were, a rejuvenating bath in the spiritual fountain that springs thence and carries its waters through the streams of centuries. Is not the Jewish people, likewise, endowed with such a Genius, with a Religious Genius? Is it not, likewise, an aboriginal power that illumined its eyes, so that it could penetrate the higher life of the spirit, understand more vividly, and feel more intensely the close relation between the spirit of man and the Supreme Spirit, would more distinctly and clearly behold the innermost nature of Human Morality, and then present the result to the world as its native-born knowledge. If this be so, we may speak of a close contact between the individual spirit and the Supreme Spirit, of an illumination of individual spirits by the Power that fills everything, so that they could break through their confining limits: it is — let us not hesitate to pronounce the word — Revelation, and this, too, as it was manifested in the whole people.

          -Abraham Geiger, Judaism and its History, Lecture III: Revelation, pp. 59-60

For it is not alone nature around him that he (Man) must explain, — he himself must be explained together with it; he is part and parcel of nature, and to search himself is a task which he cannot avoid. But man becomes the greatest enigma even to himself, the more he reflects upon himself. It is true, it has been essayed to connect man very closely with similar beings; species of apes have been spoken of that are but very little different from man. It has been said, there are some species of apes appearing as sunk in profound sadness, as pervaded by a longing desire to be freed from that narrowed confinement; ’tis a contemplative sentiment that man attributes — merely attributes, indeed!— to the soul of an animal, when he regards and represents animal stupor as profound sadness. The distance between the most perfect animals and man himself will remain a gap that can never be filled. To draw a parallel, even only very distantly, between man who, despite his inconsiderable bodily strength, notwithstanding he is greatly inferior, with regard to corporeal attributes, to other animals which are more powerful and more adroit, has nevertheless become the lord of the earth, of the whole creation, who more and more subjects to himself everything in inanimate and animate nature; who accommodates himself to, and controls all places, conditions and circumstances: to draw even the most distant comparison between man and any one animal that lives secluded — remains fixed in the same state, is limited to a certain part of the world; that, without exercising the least influence upon the rest of creation, dies away and leaves no trace behind — such a comparison, it must be confessed, looks like the reasoning of a child that fondles — then throws away and destroys its own little mimic toys! No, man is of an entirely different genus. Man, who is bound to time and space like all other corporeal and earthly creatures; individual man, who is tied to a certain extent of soil, moves within a small particle of time, nevertheless, on the other hand, conquers time and space within him, can transpose himself into the most distant regions, can place the past before him, pre-suppose the future, has a conception of what is beyond the present. Such faculty cannot be the attribute of the body; the body is circumscribed by space and time, — nothing can proceed therefrom that conquers space and time. Let us pronounce the word which would not exist if the thing did not exist: it is the Spirit. Man has a spirit, a faculty within him which is connected with his body in so far as it moves, animates him, but which is still far more, because it impels him towards rational contemplation, opens for him an insight into objects which his physical vision is unable to perceive or to attract… For language, the most faithful reflector of the spirit, constitutes the connecting link between man’s inmost thoughts and the outer world ; language most decidedly distinguishes him from all other created beings — language, born, as it were, from inward clearness, renders, in its turn, thought intelligible, and gives it full and entire clearness… How ever far a single man may progress, he will nevertheless remain merely a part of mankind, mankind itself only a part of creation, and creation, in its turn, is but the work of a greater, higher Spirit.

          -Abraham Geiger, Judaism and its History, Lecture I: Of the Nature of Religion, pp. 10-14

Nature presents herself in a great variety of beings, according to classes and species, which, while disinct from each other, work together, and for each other, but are not transformed one into the other. Modern Natural Philosophy has ventured upon the bold step to examine the mystery, how beings of a higher order could grow out from those of a lower species; how higher organisms gradually developed themselves from the most inferior. Whether it will succeed to penetrate also into that mystery — whether such a transformation of one from another shall prove to be truth, is the office of naturalists to decide in the present or in future. But this much we see, that species do exist, that they do not change one into another, that they are and remain distinct from each other. The same Power which at the beginning created them — as is asserted, one out of the other — should necessarily continue the same process, should even this day create an animal from a plant and continuously perfect it to its higher organism. But the present world presents no such process; on the contrary, every species remains within its fixed limits, it continually begets individual beings of its own kind, but is not changed into another. Hence it is not a promoting, but ordering power that creates and preserves every kind in its individuality; not one that is blindly rushing forward without stopping, but which preserves nature as a whole, composed of different parts, so that it is unchangeable both as a whole and in its variety. Nature is arranged according to a fixed will, according to an independently ruling reason, and is preserved in this arrangement: the Universe is one system, held together by its great variety, composed of different parts, and yet forming one harmonious whole. This is wisdom, judicious and systematical order, so that even destructive powers present themselves as creative elements, producing new, nobler creations. This is the work of self-conscious Reason, — not that of a power propelling without a certain object in view. It is a bold word which an astronomer once uttered when he presented his work on astronomy to his monarch. The latter being astonished not to find God mentioned in the book, the former observed: ‘I need not that hypothesis.’ It is true, it was not necessary for him, in his explanation of the laws and their working, at the same time to state how they grew into existence, and who had fixed them everlasting and unchangeable; but what a man of profession may leave untouched, that a thinking man cannot avoid, he must seek a higher cause which creates according to rational principles.

          -Abraham Geiger (Founder of Reform Judaism), Judaism and its History, Lecture I: Of the Nature of Religion, pp. 8-10