Wednesday, November 24, 2010

R' S. R. Hirsh: Consequences of religious anti-intellectualism

R’ S. R. Hirsch (Nineteen Letters #18): [The leaders of Orthodoxy] became at first enemies of this philosophical spirit, and later of all specifically intellectual and philosophical pursuits in general. Certain misunderstood utterances [e.g., Bereishis Rabbah 44:1] were taken as weapons with which to repel all higher interpretations of the Talmud . . . The inevitable consequence was, therefore, that since oppression and persecution had robbed Israel of every broad and natural view of world and of life, and Talmud had yielded about all the practical results for life of which it was capable, every mind that felt the desire of independent activity was obliged to forsake the paths of study and research in general open to the human intellect, and to take its recourse to dialectic subtleties and hairsplitting. Only a very few [e.g., R’ Yehuda HaLevi’s Kuzari and Ramban] during this entire period stood with their intellectual efforts entirely within Judaism, and built it up out of its own inner concept [Drachman translation]…. we are left with two generations confronting each other. One of them has inherited an uncomprehended Judaism, as practiced by men from habit, a revered but lifeless mummy which it is afraid to bring back to life. The other, though in part burning with noble enthusiasm for the welfare of the Jews, regards Judaism as bereft of any life and spirit, a relic of an era long past and buried, and tries to uncover its spirit, but, not finding it, threatens through its well﷓meant efforts to sever the last life nerve of Judaism - out of sheer ignorance [Paritzky translation].

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