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GEIGER, ABRAHAM:

German rabbi and scholar; born at Frankfort-on-the-Main May 24, 1810; died at Berlin Oct. 23, 1874; son of Rabbi Michael Lazarus Geiger (born 1755; died April, 1823) and Roeschen Wallau (born 1768; died Aug., 1856.) Geiger was one of the most important exponents of Reform Judaism; as author, historian, and critic, one of the pathfinders of the science of Judaism ("Wissenschaft des Judentums"). He was editor of Jewish scientific reviews, and teacher at the Berlin Hochschule (now Lehranstalt) für die Wissenschaft des Judentums.

Early Studies.

Geiger's early life and education, because typical of the experience of the great rabbis of the German Reform movement, deserve to be told in some detail. When a mere infant of three years, he mastered the Hebrew and German alphabets. Making rapid progress in the Hebrew Bible, he took up at four the study of the Mishnah. At six his father inducted him into the Talmud. The next two years he spent at a Talmud school "doing nothing" (his own statement in "Nachgelassene Schriften," iii. 4, Berlin, 1875). This induced his parents to take him home, where until his thirteenth year he studied Talmud under his father, in the meantime also acquiring in a desultory way a knowledge of history, Latin, and Greek. His father died soon after his "bar miẓwah," on which occasion he delivered, in addition to a Hebrew "derashah," a German address, much to the discomfort of some of his pious relatives. Under his brothers and others he continued both his Talmudical and secular studies; his religious views, however, underwent a great change, partly as a consequence of his reading, partly as a result of his intercourse with other young men; so that when the choice of his profession was considered he was inclined to disregard the wishes of his family, who had predestined him to theology, and to decide in favor of Oriental philology. In this frame of mind he entered in the summer of 1829 the University of Heidelberg, where he remained one semester, devoting his time to courses in the classics, while privately mastering Syriac. He also continued working on a grammar and glossary of the Mishnah which he had begun two years earlier. The next winter he repaired to Bonn to study Arabic under Freytag. Here he met and became intimate with such men as S. Scheyer, editor and translator of the "Moreh Nebukim"; S. R. Hirsch, his subsequent colleague and opponent, who influenced him in many directions (Geiger, "Nachgel. Schriften," iii. 18, 19); Ullmann, translator of the Koran; and Hess, a rabbi in Eisenach. With them he founded a society for the practise of preaching, of which later Frensdorff (the editor of Masoretic works) and Rosenfeld also became members. It was to this society that Geiger preached his first sermon (Jan. 2, 1830). Later the exercises consisted of regular divine services. Geiger confesses that the lectures of his professors had a far less stimulating influence on him than the association with fellow students. His studies, however, were of a very ambitious scope, embracing the classics and history as well as logic and philosophy. While a student at Bonn, mainly encouraged by Professor Freytag, he prepared hisessay on the Jewish elements in the Koran, in competition for a prize offered by the faculty. Written originally in Latin, this essay, after receiving the prize, was also published in German under the title "Was Hat Mohammed aus dem Judentume Aufgenommen?" (Bonn, 1834). Toward the close of his student days at Bonn Geiger became intimate with Elias Grünbaum (later rabbi at Landau) and Joseph Derenbourg.

On June 16, 1832, Geiger preached at Hanau as a candidate for its vacant pulpit. He did not succeed in being elected, though two months later the faculty at Bonn awarded him the prize for his dissertation on Mohammed. On Nov. 21, 1832, he was called as rabbi to Wiesbaden. Soon afterward he became en gaged to Emilie Oppenheim (May 6, 1833), but the wedding did not take place until seven years later (July 1, 1840).

The "Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift für Jüdische Theologie." Abraham Geiger.

Geiger remained in Wiesbaden until 1838, devoting much time to the preparation of his sermons as well as to the other duties of his office, such as teaching. He introduced certain changes in the synagogal services with a view to heightening their impressiveness, and did his utmost to induce the government to amend the laws affecting the Jews' standing, especially those bearing on the form of the Jews' oath. A plan to publish a Jewish theological review soon took root in Geiger's mind. It was carried into effect in 1835, and three volumes and two parts of the fourth (1835-38) appeared as "Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift für Jüdische Theologie"; the remaining parts of iv., as well as v. and vi. 1, appeared later while Geiger was in Breslau. Through this periodical he was brought into closer relations with Zunz and Rapoport. It contained in the main articles from his own pen. Their contents are remarkable both for thoroughness of treatment and for variety of subjects, comprising learned investigations, penetrating criticisms, polemics in defense of Judaism and against high-stationed Jew-baiters, and proposals for reforming Jewish life and liturgy. In 1834 the University of Marburg conferred on Geiger the degree of doctor of philosophy. Among the articles published in the "Zeitschrift" (ii. 1 et seq.) that entitled "Ueber die Errichtung einer Jüdisch-Theologischen Fakultät" merits special mention. It pleads for a recognition of the science of Judaism and the placing of the study of theology on an equality with other sciences in method and freedom. This dream of his younger days Geiger was privileged to see realized only in part and in the declining years of his life (Berlin, 1872). While in Wiesbaden he succeeded in bringing together a number of rabbis (in 1837) for the purpose of discussing measures of vital concern to Judaism. Nevertheless, he found Wiesbaden too limited a sphere. As early as 1835 friends had tried to secure for him a call to Gothenburg, in which they were not successful because Geiger's orthodoxy was suspected. Three years later (July 2, 1838) he resigned his office, his parting word as it were, a sort of "apologia pro vita sua," and a program of his further intentions, being his essay "Der Schriftsteller und der Rabbiner" ("Nachgelassene Schriften," i. 492-504).

Rabbi at Breslau.

Shortly before, one of the positions in the rabbinate of Breslau had become vacant, and Geiger was induced to visit this important center of Jewish activity. He was asked to preach on Sabbath, July 21, 1838. Rabbi S. A. Tiktin, in order to forestall this, invoked the intervention of the police on the plea that the king had inhibited German sermons in the synagogue. The chief of police, Heineke, was a man of liberal ideas. To gain time he referred the matter to a higher authority. The decision, which favored Tiktin, arrived on the very day set for Geiger's sermon; but Heineke went to the synagogue himself, leaving the decree of his superior officers unopened on his desk until his return from the services. Geiger's sermon (published in "Nachgel. Schriften," i. 355-369) led to his election (July 25),despite the peculiar manner of appointing the fifty-seven delegates who had the power to nominate the rabbi. Geiger was chosen "Rabbinatsassessor" and second rabbi. But it being necessary for him to become naturalized in Prussia, a chance arose to circumvent the confirmation by the Prussian government. A heated controversy ensued, lasting eighteen months. During most of this time Geiger stayed in Berlin (Sept., 1838-Dec., 1839), interviewing the authorities and enlisting in his behalf the good offices of Alexander von Humboldt. On Dec. 6, 1839, Geiger was naturalized, and on Jan. 2, 1840, he was installed at Breslau. The first years in his new field of activity were disturbed by agitations against him on the part of S. A. Tiktin and his partizans (see "Nachgel. Schriften," i. 52-112), who resorted to all sorts of schemes to induce the government to depose Geiger. This led to the publication of a number of "Gutachten" (expert opinions) by other (Reform) rabbis in defense of Geiger ("Rabbinische Gutachten über die Verträglichkeit der Freien Forschung mit dem Rabbineramte," Breslau, 1842 and 1843). Tiktin died March 20, 1843, and Geiger paid him a glowing but just tribute ("Der Israelit," 1843, p. 64). Geiger now became the first rabbi; H. B. Fassel, elected as the second, would not accept the election. Nevertheless, the conditions in the congregation continued on a war-footing until 1849, when two congregations ("Kultusverbände") were constituted, one with Geiger as rabbi, the other with G. Tiktin (first with the title "Landrabbiner in Schlesien," and finally, in 1856, when this second congregation became again a part of the Breslau congregation, with the same title as Geiger's)—an arrangement that at last overcame all friction. Geiger's congregation willingly sustained their leader in his efforts to reconstruct the ritual on a modern basis. In 1854 his prayer-book ("Israelitisches Gebetbuch," Breslau, 1854), carrying out his "Grundzüge und Plan zu einem Neuen Gebetbuche," formulated in 1849 ("Nachgel. Schriften," i. 203-229), was adopted.

His Views of Judaism.

The program of the Frankfurt Reform Verein had in the meantime stirred up all German Jewry (see "Israelit des 19ten Jahrh." 1843, pp. 170-182). While endeavoring to keep in touch with the leaders and to interest others in the cause, Geiger did not sympathize with the means proposed nor altogether with the demands contained in that pronunciamento. He pleaded, as a historian naturally would, for a gradual evolution; this brought upon him the distrust of the extremists (for instance, Hess, in the "Israelit"). This "historical temper" marks Geiger's attitude also in the three rabbinical Conferences, in the discussions at which he took a prominent part (Brunswick, 1844; Frankfort, 1845; Breslau, 1846). It also decided his relations to the Berlin Reformgenossenschaft, whose rabbi he otherwise would have become ("Nachgel. Schriften," iii. 117). He would not be the preacher of merely one part of the congregation, but the rabbi of the whole congregation. Yet in his theories he was consistently the exponent of the principles underlying the most radical Reform. Judaism for him was not a given quantity, not a national law. It was a process still in flux; tradition itself was the result of this continuous process of growth. He was less inclined than Einhorn and others to emphasize the "election of Israel." He met Frankel's arraignment of the conference in a way that left no doubt as to where he stood on all the vital questions. He vehemently opposed the policy of the "via media" so characteristic of the school of Frankel. He brooked no limitations to criticism. The Torah as well as the Talmud, he demanded, should be studied critically and from the point of view of the historian, that of evolution, development. These views he took occasion often to emphasize in his later "Jüdische Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft und Leben," the editorials in which are for the most part dedicated to the exposition of Reform principles. As from 1844 to 1846 he was one of the leading spirits in the "Rabbinerversammlungen," so later he took a prominent part in the Leipsic (1869) and Augsburg (1872) synods, and in the preliminary gathering at Cassel (1868).

His Publications.

During his stay at Breslau his "Zeitschrift" was continued. His "Lehr- und Lesebuch zur Sprache der Mischnah" appeared there in 1845. The history of Jewish medieval literature likewise engaged his attention ("Niṭ'e Na'amanim," 1847). In 1850 he published a monograph on Maimonides. Among other fruits of his investigations were contributions on the Ḳimḥis, etc., in Hebrew periodicals; a life of Judah ha-Levi, with metrical German translations of some of his poems; similar treatment of the Spanish and Italian Jewish poets; studies in the history of exegesis ("Parschandatha," etc., Leipsic, 1855), the history of Jewish apologetics (e.g., Isaac Troki), and that of Jewish philosophy ("Leo da Modena; Rabbiner zu Venedig," Breslau, 1856). He was also a faithful contributor to the "Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft." Besides, he gathered around him a number of young students of theology, before whom he delivered lectures on Hebrew philology, Jewish history, and comparative studies of Judaism and Christianity. He was greatly disappointed at not being called to the directorship of the Jewish Theological Seminary, to which he had induced Jonas Fränkel to leave his fortune.

His greatest work is his epoch-making "Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel" (Breslau, 1857), which owed its origin to the author's intention to write a history of the Karaites. Thus he came to take up the controversies between the Sadducees and Pharisees; and this led him still further back to those between the Samaritans and the Judeans. In this work he shows that the growing Jewish religious consciousness is reflected in the readings of the Biblical text, the Masoretic being as little exempt from intentional changes as any other of the ancient versions. He also proves the absolute falsity of the notions concerning Pharisees and Sadducees. The former were the nationalists, the latter sacerdotalists (Ẓadoḳites); the former the "people" and an aristocracy of learning and piety, the progressists, the latter the aristocrats by birth, the literalists. In the older Halakah as distinct from the younger, is reflected a divergence of opinions within Phariseeism itself, and it is this distinction which throws light onthe old literature of the post-Biblical schools (Mekilta, Sifra, Sifre). The "Urschrift" led Geiger to begin the publication of another magazine, "Jüdische Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft und Leben"; in its eleven volumes (from 1862 to 1874) are contained many studies supplemental to his chief work. The death of his wife (Dec. 6, 1860) was the remote cause of Geiger's removal from Breslau to Frankfort-on-the-Main (1863). His hope of finding in Frankfort men and means to realize his project of founding a genuinely scientific Jewish theological faculty was doomed to disappointment. His lectures on Judaism and its history ("Das Judenthum und Seine Geschichte," 2d ed. of vol. i., 1864; 3d vol., 1869-71) were in the nature of "university extension" courses. Brilliantly presented, his views lost none of their scholarly thoroughness. His introductory lecture, giving his views on revelation, is especially worthy of note: "the genius of the people of Israel is the vehicle of revelation"—a view at once liberal and loyal, though hopelessly in opposition to the mechanical theory of revelation held to be orthodox. In these lectures, too, Geiger gave without reserve the results of his studies on the origin of Christianity, while in connection with the second series he prepared a biography of Ibn Gabirol (Leipsic, 1867). Called to Berlin, he preached his inaugural sermon Jan. 22, 1870. The opening of the Hochschule (1872) finally gave him, during the last two years of his life, the opportunity for which he had prayed and pleaded so long. He lectured on "Biblical Introduction," and "Introduction to the Science of Judaism," inspiring his students with his own fervor for truth and research. Death came without premonition, almost literally taking the pen out of his hand.

In stature Geiger was small. His head, framed by long, flowing hair parted in the middle, was leonine. His eyes, shielded by very strong glasses on account of myopia, shone with a rare luster even behind the double windows. As a preacher Geiger was impressive. He moved his auditors by both the beauty of his diction and the profundity of his thought. Among others the following may claim the honor of having been his pupils: Immanuel Löw (chief rabbi at Szegedin), Klein (at Stockholm), Loewy (Temesvar), Richter (Filehne), Felix Adler (New York), Sale (St. Louis), Schreiber and E. G. Hirsch (Chicago). Geiger left two daughters and two sons, Prof. Ludwig Geiger of Berlin, and Dr. Berthold Geiger, attorney-at-law, Frankfort-on-the-Main.

Bibliography:
  • L. Geiger, A. Geiger;
  • Leben und Briefe, in Nachgelassene Schriften, vol. v.;
  • Meyers Konversations-Lexikon;
  • E. Schreiber, Abraham Geiger als Reformator des Judenthums, 1880
S. E. G. H.
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