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On Abraham Geiger’s Reform Judaism

Author: SunJiaBao
Tutor: FuYouDe
School: Shandong University
Course: Foreign Philosophy
Keywords: Reform The history of Judaism The science of Judaism The history of Judaism Personal Jewish Universal Judaism .
CLC: B985
Type: PhD thesis
Year: 2008
Downloads: 159
Quote: 0
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European Jews was deeply influenced by the Enlightenment and Modernization like their European neighbors. On the one hand, the Enlightenment and Modernization helped the European Jews getting the emancipation and leaving the Ghetto to live a new life; but on the other hand, they brought new living problems and new tremendous pressure to the Jews. It is because that for the European Jews, acclimatizing themselves to the modern European society usually means giving up their traditional Judaism, which was seen outdated and thoroughly incompatible to the Modernity."Whether the traditional Judaism could or should be reformed" became the most controversial problem to the Jews then. The Jews in that time had various ideas to that problem: some Jews reacted to the new situation by preserving their tradition more firmly and keeping themselves away from that new world; some Jews reacted by converting to the Christianity; while some Jews abandoned all of their traditional faith and became secular Jews. However, there were still a large number of Jews who seriously concerned on the destiny of Judaism and sought to harmonize their traditional faith with the Modernity through reformation. One of those reformers named Abraham Geiger, who was seen as the "founding father of the Reform Judaism", brought forward the theory of the Reform Judaism.My dissertation was main focusing on Geiger’s thoughts of the Reform Judaism. In this thesis, I will briefly introduce the background of the Reform Judaism and the source of Geiger’s thoughts firstly, and then will dissertate in detailed on Geiger’s thoughts. At last, I will try to make some conclusions to Geiger’s thoughts, in order to make his theory much clearer to readers. In short, there are six parts in my dissertation:The first part is the "Introduction", which mainly aims to introduce the background in which Geiger’s theory of the Reform Judaism sprouted.During that time before the French Revolution, the German Jews, like most of the West-European Jews, had been isolated away from the wider social and intellectual life by both the confines of Ghetto and the numerous discriminatory laws. The fact was that the Jews had been isolated from their European neighbors and their status was indeterminate as the non-Europeans. The living conditions of the Ghetto were so terrible that many Jews living in Ghetto became rigid and numb. What’s worse, they were described as contemptible, closefisted and even evil animals by many Europeans living outside of the Ghetto.The Enlightenment happened in Europe brought out great changes to the European culture and to people’s life style. It also had great influence to some European Jews; the collapse of the Ghetto, following the upheavals of Napoleonic Wars, brought out a rush of new knowledge and opportunities. Therefore, an Enlightenment named Haskalah happened in the Jewish communities. During that time, the Jews were firstly granted by full civil rights by Napoleon in 1807 in France and later in some other countries like in Prussia, but they were still held in contempt by cultured Europeans socially. In Germany, the Jews in the Ghetto only eked out slightly better living conditions. They were not better than pariahs in the eyes of their Christian neighbors.The tremendous pressure forced them to give up their strange particularistic ways and leap into the richness of science, music, art, literature and philosophy. It seems that the old ways of superstitious religious laws and tenets were out of time. Some Jews reacted by hiding themselves away from that new world; some others by converting to Christianity; while some others by abandoning all of their faith. However, a large number of Jews sought to harmonize their traditional Judaism to the Modernity through reformation. As a result, the whole traditional Judaism broken into different sects: the Reform Judaism, the Historical Judaism and the Orthodoxy (Neo-orthodoxy) Judaism. It was the historical background in which the Reform Judaism came into being.The second part of my thesis is "The Course of Geiger’s Thoughts Coming into being", which mainly introduces the intellectual sources of Geiger’s Reform Judaism.There were some negative limitations to the efforts of the reformers, during the early period of the Reform Judaism, such as no effective organization, no enough theory as support, etc. what’s worse, facing the thinkers’ criticism and prejudice from the Christian world, even from the inner Jewish community, the reformers nearly had no capability to justify themselves. As early as in the Seventeenth century, a Jewish philosopher, who was named Spinoza living in Holland, challenged Judaism sharply and deeply. He not only shook the foundation of Judaism with his Pantheism, but also described Judaism as an exclusive and political religion. As a result, Spinoza was declared to be excommunicated from Judaism.In the later time, some German idealists such like Kant and Hegel, who were influenced by Spinoza and by Mendelssohn, deemed Judaism as a material and political organization; so they thought that there was no faith, no living power and no hope in Judaism. Schleiermacher, one of the most important romanticists, also denied the capability of the existence of Judaism, and described it as a childish religion contrasted to Christianity. All of them even attempted to reject the Jewish source in Christianity, by depreciating Judaism while elevating Christianity at the same time. Though Mendelssohn had ever tried to make Judaism known by their European neighbors and adapted to the modern European society, he was unsuccessful to get to his targets. On the contrary, more and more Jews, including Mendelssohn’s offspring, converted to other religions.As a result, in the early Nineteenth century, the second generation of the reformers, such as Abraham Geiger, emerged onto the historical platform. Geiger was influenced by both modern education and traditional Jewish edification, so he could not only controvert with the thinkers from the Christian world, but also form a systemic theory that could effectively support their reformation, and therefore bring their thoughts into flower organically. Through critically absorbing the main western philosophical thoughts, such as the thoughts of Kant, Hegel, Herder and Schleiermacher, Geiger worked out his theory of the Reform Judaism. His theory included three parts. There were the "Historical Judaism", the "Personal Judaism" and the "Universal Judaism". It was not until then that the Reform Judaism began to develop rapidly and widespreadly.The third part is "The Legitimacy of The Reform Judaism: Geiger’s ’Historical Judaism’", which mainly attempts to answer the questions of "Whether Judaism need to be reformed or could be reformed". It is the cornerstone of the Reform Judaism.Just as what Geiger had seen, contemporary Judaism was bereft of historical consciousness. The inner history of Israel was commonly seen as to be an essentially uniform one. As Judaism was unchanging in the past, so could it be true to itself only if that it remained so in the present-despite of all the unprecedented challenges of modern life. But if the opposite aspect could be shown, if Judaism had displayed extraordinary variety indeed, if its texts reflected historical vicissitude, then reform at present would represent an arbitrary break both with the past and with its logical constitution.Therefore, Geiger advocated that it is quite necessary for us to study the history of Judaism, because only through this way can we get the successive and comprehensive knowledge on Judaism. The history must be "counter-history", that is to say the history of Judaism should be written by using the ready categories and notions from mainstream culture, but on the standpoint of Judaism. Based on the methodology of a historical evaluation, Geiger viewed Judaism as "a grand world-historical phenomenon", which had four periods: the period of revelation, the period of tradition, the period of rigid legalism and that of liberation. He considered it as an unassailable historical truth. So Geiger thought that modern Jews’ task was to cast off the rigid legalism and to get a grand-new development. It was no doubt that reformation was the best way to realize the ideal; and it was not only legal but also necessary to change Judaism.The fourth part of the dissertation is "The Reformation of Ceremonial Laws: Geiger’s ’Personal Judaism’", which mainly aims in how to look upon the canon and the laws. It is the essential part of Geiger’s Reform Judaism.In this part, Geiger firstly criticized Orthodoxy (Neo-orthodoxy) Judaism for their blind worship on the Bible, the Talmud and the ceremonial laws. In Geiger’s opinion, the Bible was a man-made works and was not the one-off revelation from God, so it was not sacred and unchangeable just like what the Orthodoxy Judaism said. And so was the Talmud. The proper attitude to the Bible and the Talmud is to study and to learn them critically. Israel was a nation full of religious gift in the history. Just for that reason, the Bible and other ideas grew up in Judaism basing on the collective work of prophets, who had the most gift of revelation and was seen as the representations of Israel. That is to say, the accomplishment of the Bible and the Talmud is a historical process and many contents of them have been changing till the final versions are authorized.During different periods in the history of Judaism, there were many changes to the ideas of Judaism; but believing in the only one God and his ethical principles had never changed throughout the whole history of Judaism; and thus it could be seen as the nature or the kernel of Jewish religious faith. And such a faith was liberal, equal and personal for each believer. The Bible, the Talmud and the ceremonial laws were the shell serving to the kernel, and therefore their authority was endowed by human writers instead of by God. So the primary duty for the Reform Judaism was to abolish the meaningless ceremonial laws; to make those inapplicable ones fit into the modern society; and to harmonize the Jewish tradition with the Modernity, in order to preserve the Jewish faith in modern society.The fifth part is "The Reformation of Prayer-book: Geiger’s ’Universal Judaism’", which aims at resolving the problem "How to deal with the Nationality? ".For Geiger, Jew was not a political concept of Nationality, but a religious notion of community. In the Jewish history, Jewish nation had disappeared for a long time, along with the collapse of the Kingdom of Israel. But Jews remained alive in the history, because Judaism remained alive. Therefore, every man who had a faith in Judaism should be called a Jew when Judaism developed in Israelites’ life in the beginning; but the Nationality became an obstacle when Judaism developed into its mature stage. It’s because that Judaism was a universal religion and its great mission was to transmit the faith in the only one God and his ethical principles to all human beings in the entire world. On account of those reasons, Geiger used the concept of expecting the Kingdom of God in the future to replace all the contents related to the Nationality in the Jewish prayer-book, such as "return to Zion", "chosen people", "Messiah", etc.The last part of my thesis is "The Traits and the Meaning of Geiger’s Reform Judaism", which aims at getting a summary of Geiger’s thoughts.According to the mission that Geiger had undertaken, the traits of Geiger’s thoughts could be concluded into two words: "both/and". For example, the most important trait of his thoughts is "both modernity and tradition", which means: On the one hand, the Reform Judaism required Jews to adapt to the modern world; on the other hand, it claimed that Jews should preserve the tradition in Judaism. Under the guide of Geiger’s theory, the Reform Judaism made some progress firstly in Germany, and then got a great success in the U.S.A. Because of his successful contribution, Geiger was respected as "the founding father of the Reform Judaism". However, just like many other Jewish reform pioneers, Geiger was a little more radical on some ideas of Judaism; but other Jewish reformers in the later time made even more success through making Geiger’s theory more moderate to the modern world.

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