ABSTRACT: Classical Protestant theology distinguishes between the dead letter of Judaism and the living spirit of Christianity. German Judaism has been seen as adopting these Protestant categories by portraying the Bible as the “spirit of authentic Judaism” and denigrating the Talmud as dead letter. I demonstrate that view is mistaken as both the leading figure of the Berlin Haskalah, Moses Mendelssohn, and the “founding father” of Reform, Abraham Geiger saw the Talmud as expressing the living spirit of the biblical letter. I further argue that in his early work, the architect of German Neo-Orthodoxy, Samson Raphael Hirsch followed this approach. But with the massive growth of Reform in the 1840s, Hirsch changed his view developing an entirely novel account of the Talmud’s relation of the Bible, which broke free of the Protestant dichotomy between dead letter and living spirit. Instead, Hirsch cast the Talmud as the oral letter and the Bible as written trace. I further argue that Hirsch presented these new concepts in the form of a Bible translation and commentary, in order to counter the enormously popular Reform Philippson Bible.
Jewish Quarterly Review – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Sep 9, 2016
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