Samson Raphael Hirsch
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Samson Raphael Hirsch was the Frankfort pulpit Rabbi and ideologue behind the Neo-Orthodox philosophy of remaining Torah-true while accepting the cultural, aesthetic, and intellectual mores of the wider culture. Our example here of this ideology is his acceptance of Western civil society provided that the Jewish religion serves as a light unto the nations.
- And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great; become a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)
- The people of Abraham, in private and in public, follow one calling: to become a blessing. They dedicate themselves to the Divine purpose of bringing happiness to the world by serving as model for all nations and to restore mankind to the pure spiritual status that Adam had possessed. God will grant His blessing of the renewal of life and the awakening and enlightenment of the nations, and the name of the People of Abraham shall shine forth. (Commentary on Genesis, ad loc.)
The prophetic call of Jews as “light unto the nation” plays a central role throughout Hirsch’s theology. It is not only a tool by which to interpret non-Jewish religions, but serves as a consistent trope in his interpretations of the mitzvoth. Jews are to be role models, spreading the enlightenment of experienced, non-intellectual knowledge of God to all. Hirsch bases this theology on his direct readings of the words of scripture mediated by the thirteenth-century commentary of Rabbi David Kimkhi, who had already explained the verses as teaching that the goal of Judaism is to be a Light unto the Nations.
It is also worth noting that Hirsch’s approach is practically devoid of metaphysics. There is no talk of roots and branches, but rather of models and influences. These traits make him a useful starting point for contemporary Jewish theologies without metaphysics.