Abraham Geiger

Abraham Geiger

Abraham Geiger (1810–1874) was a German rabbi and scholar who led in the foundation of Reform Judaism, seeking to remove all nationalistic elements (particularly the "Chosen People" doctrine) from Judaism, stressing it as an evolving and changing religion.


Already as a child, Geiger started doubting the traditional understanding of Judaism when his studies in classical history seemed to contradict the biblical claims of divine authority. At the age of seventeen he began writing his first work, a comparison between the legal style of the "Mishna", and Biblical and Talmudic law. He also worked on a dictionary of Mishnaic (Rabbinic) Hebrew.

Geiger's friends provided him with financial assistance which enabled him to attend the University in Heidelberg, to the great disappointment of his family. His main focus was centered on the areas of philology, Syriac, Hebrew, and classics, but he also attended lectures in Old Testament, philosophy, and archeology. After one semester, he transferred to the University of Bonn where he studied at the same time as Samson Raphael Hirsch. Hirsch initially formed a friendship with Geiger, and with him organized a society of Jewish students for the stated purpose of practicing homiletics, but with the deeper intention of bringing them closer to Jewish values. It was to this society that Geiger preached his first sermon (January 2, 1830) In later years he and Hirsch became bitter opponents as the leaders of two opposing Jewish movements.

At Bonn, Geiger began an intense study of Arabic and the Koran, winning a prize for his essay "Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?". The essay earned Geiger a doctorate at the University of Marburg. It demonstrated that large parts of the Koran were taken from, or based on, Rabbinic literature. (On this see Origin and development of the Qur'an).

This book was his first step in a much larger intellectual project. Geiger sought to demonstrate Judaism's central influence on Christianity and Islam. He believed that neither movement possessed religious originality, but were simply a vehicle to transmit the Jewish monotheistic belief to the pagan world.

At this time, no university professorships were available in Germany to Jews so Geiger was forced to seek a position as rabbi. He found a position in the Jewish community of Wiesbaden (1832-1837). There he continued his academic publications primarily through the scholarly journals he founded and edited, including "Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift fuer juedische Theologie" (1835–39) and "Juedische Zeitschriftfuer Wissenschaft und Leben" (1862–75). His journals became an important vehicle in its day for publishing Jewish scholarship, chiefly historical and theological studies, as well as a discussion of contemporary events.

By that time Geiger began his program of religious reforms, chiefly in the synagogue liturgy. For example, he abolished the prayers of mourning for the temple believing that, as German citizens, such prayers would appear to be disloyal to the ruling power and could possibly spark Antisemitism. Geiger was the driving force in convening several synods of reform-minded Rabbis with the intention of formulating a program of progressive Judaism. However, unlike Samuel Holdheim he did not want to create a separate community. Rather, his goal was to change Judaism from within. [Meyer, Michael A. "Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 90, 419 (footnote #109). Conclusions based on published correspondence between Abraham Geiger and a close friend, Joseph Derenbourg.]


In the Germany of the 19th century, Geiger and Samuel Holdheim, along with Israel Jacobson and Leopold Zunz, stood out as the founding fathers of Reform Judaism. Geiger was a more moderate and scholarly reformer, seeking to found this new branch of Judaism on the scientific study of history, without assuming that any Jewish text was literally divinely written.

Geiger was not only a scholar and researcher commenting on important subjects and characters in Jewish history, he was also a rabbi responsible for much of the reform doctrine of the mid 19th century, contributing much of the character to the reform movement that remains today. Reform historian Michael A. Meyer has stated that, if any one person can be called the founder of Reform Judaism, it must be Geiger.

Much of Geiger's writing has been translated into English from the original German. There have been many biographical and research texts about him, such as the work "Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus" by Susannah Heschel (1998), which chronicles Geiger's radical contention that the New Testament illustrates Jesus was a Pharisee teaching Judaism.

Some of Geiger's studies are included in "" edited by Ibn Warraq. Other works are "Judaism and Islam" (1833) and "An Appeal to My Community" (1842).


Although originally a colleague of Geiger, Galician Rabbi Solomon Judah Loeb Rapoport penned a sharp criticism of Geiger's program of reform (posthumously printed as Nachalat Yehuda). Samson Raphael Hirsch devoted a good many issues of his journal "Jeschurun" to criticizing Geiger's reform stance (published in English as "Hirsch, Collected Writings").

Geiger's opposition to a Jewish national identity was also sharply criticised, most notably an accusation made that he refused to intervene on the behalf of the Jews of Damsacus accused of ritual murder (a blood libel) in 1840. However, Jewish historian Steven Bayme has concluded that Geiger had actually "vigorously protested" on humanitarian grounds. [ Bayme, Steven (1997) Understanding Jewish History: Texts and Commentaries. Jersey City, NJ: KTAV. p. 282. ISBN 0881255548]


Geiger's works

* "Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judentume aufgenommen?" Bonn, 1833. : (translated as "Judaism and Islam", F. M. Young, 1896. [http://answering-islam.org.uk/Books/Geiger/Judaism/index.htm Online Edition]
* "Das Judenthum und seine Geschichte von der Zerstörung des zweiten Tempels bis zum Ende des zwölften Jahrhunderts. In zwölf Vorlesungen. Nebst einem Anhange: Offenes Sendschreiben an Herrn Professor Dr. Holtzmann". Breslau: Schletter, 1865-71.: (translated as "Judaism and its history: in 2 parts", Lanham [u.a.] : Univ. Press of America, 1985. ISBN 0-8191-4491-6.
* "Abraham Geiger and liberal Judaism : The challenge of the 19th century". Compiled with a biographical introduction by Max Wiener. Translated from the German by Ernst J. Schlochauer. Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society of America 5722.
* "Nachgelassene Schriften". Reprint of the 1875–1878 ed., published in Berlin by L. Gerschel. Bd 1-5. New York: Arno Press, 1980. ISBN 0-405-12255-1



* Susannah Heschel: "Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus". Chicago; London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1998. (Chicago studies in the history of Judaism). ISBN 0-226-32959-3.
* Ludwig Geiger: "Abraham Geiger. Leben und Werk für ein Judentum in der Moderne". Berlin: JVB, 2001. ISBN 3-934658-20-2.
* Hartmut Bomhoff: "Abraham Geiger - durch Wissen zum Glauben - Through reason to faith: reform and the science of Judaism." (Text dt. und engl.). Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin, Centrum Judaicum. Jüdische Miniaturen ; Bd. 45. Berlin: Hentrich und Hentrich 2006. ISBN 3-938485-27-2
* Jobst Paul (2006): "Das ‚Konvergenz’-Projekt – Humanitätsreligion und Judentum im 19. Jahrhundert". In: Margarete Jäger, Jürgen Link (Hg.): "Macht – Religion – Politik. Zur Renaissance religiöser Praktiken und Mentalitäten". Münster 2006.ISBN 3-89771-740-9
* Encyclopedia Judaica (2007), entry Abraham Geiger

ee also

*Origin and development of the Qur'an

External links

* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=117&letter=G&search=Abraham%20Geiger Article in the] Jewish Encyclopedia written by Isidore Singer & Emil G. Hirsch
* [http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/JewishDiscovery.htm Jewish Discovery of Islam] by Martin Kramer, includes discussion of Geiger.

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