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I admit not being well read in the writings of R' Shamshon Rafael Hirsch, but I was recently taken aback when someone suggested that he was anti-Zionist. Is this true, is it obvious in his writings (which one[s]), and why?

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I wouldn't be taken aback personally. Zionism's primary promoters at the time were secular and were probably on a similar blacklist as the haskalah. – YDK Dec 11 '11 at 21:29

Just to clarify the terms: we wouldn't be talking about Herzl's Zionist movement, since that was founded only in 1897, nine years after R. Hirsch's passing. The reference would be to the various "proto-Zionist" groups and ideologies of his time. (As YDK noted, a lot of the leaders of those movements were indeed secular Jews, although it is only fair to note that there were a number of religious Jews, including respectable rabbanim, who supported or even led such movements.)

The Artscroll biography of R. Hirsch, by R. E.M. Klugman, has a chapter mostly about this subject, titled "Exile and Redemption." To quote:

Rabbi Hirsch opposed movements which agitated for a return to the land, including those attempts to settle Eretz Yisrael for messianic purposes. He expressed this opposition over a lifetime, from his first published work, The Nineteen Letters, to his last, the commentary to the Siddur.

To summarize the next few paragraphs, his reasons included:

  1. Such resettlement is not worthwhile unless preceded by teshuvah;

  2. He feared that Eretz Yisrael would become an arena for further divisiveness among Jews (prophetic words, those!);

  3. It would be a violation of the "Three Oaths" (Kesubos 111a).

The author goes on to mention that R. Hirsch did approve of and assist efforts to improve the conditions of the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, and encouraged private associations for its resettlement.

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" (prophetic words, those!);" Not so prophetic. Israel today often unites Jews from various backrounds that otherwise would not be united. – avi Dec 12 '11 at 12:53
@avi: looking at it in a glass-half-full kind of way, I guess so. But I was thinking more along the lines of something that R. Berel Wein wrote in one of his history books, that the political fragmentation of the Jews in interwar Poland was transplanted to Israel "and survives there as a hardy weed." – Alex Dec 13 '11 at 2:12
R. Berel Wein's comment also doesn't make Rav Hirsh's comments prophetic, as Israel in this case did not create new divisions but just allowed the old ones to continue. With or without Israel existing, the argument exists. Now that Israel exists, there aren't new arguments but there are more reasons for unity. – avi Dec 13 '11 at 15:22
@avi, "Eretz Yisrael would become an arena for further divisiveness" does not contradict "With or without Israel existing, the argument exists." The point (I believe) Alex was making was that R' Hirsch foresaw that, whatever its potential to unite us, it was likely to perpetuate longstanding (not necessarily create new) friction. – Seth J Aug 17 '12 at 13:40

To further Alex's answer:

  • Many forms of proto-Zionism believed that Judaism could only survive with Jews living on their own in their own country; Hirsch fiercely believed that the Jew could live as a good citizen but a foreigner.
  • Hirsch was opposed to most forms of collaboration with non-observant Jews. The teachers of secular studies in his educational system could be observant Jews, or non-Jews; but not non-observant Jews. He would not allow his synagogue (or cemetery) to belong to a ritual organization also encompassing Reform institutions. I believe he was quoted as saying that non-observant Jewish movers & shakers such as Adolphe Crémieux could not be tools of the Redemption, because of their non-observance. (Interestingly, when Meir Leibush Malbim was expelled from his position as Chief Rabbi of Bucharest due to Reform pressure, it was Crémieux who, on Malbim's request, petitioned the right people to reinstate him.)
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