Tuesday, June 17, 2008

R Hirsch and the Zohar

R Samson b. Raphael Hirsch is not the first name that springs to mind when the subject of Kabbalah comes up. In fact, in his Nineteen Letters #18, he bemoans his lack of initiation into the Kabbalistic mysteries, and remarks upon the danger of Kabbalah, far from the possibility of its informing Mitzvah observance with soul, rather changing mitzvah observance into a "magical mechanism".

However, his entire approach of symbolism, is in essence the same route as kabbalah. His path makes mitzvah observance symbolize ethical and thelogical truths, rather than theosophic and cosmogonic truths, as things which are "shaveh lechol nefesh" - equally approachable by all. Not everyone has a mind to deal with Kabbalah, but every Jew must develop a Torah ethic and approach to God.

Further, it is known that R Hirsch used the Zohar in preparing his monumental Horeb, the philosophy of mitzvot and their symbolism. R' Joseph Breuer wrote of finding a manuscript with notes on the Zohar used for Horeb.

More recent scholarship apparently has started to look into unstated kabbalistic influences on RSRH's writings.

And now R' Hirsch's copy of the Zohar is for sale. It was in his family since his grandfather's day, in the late 18th century (printed Amsterdam 1715, by Proops). It came down to R' Joseph Breuer, then his descendants, and is now for some reason for sale at the upcoming Kestenbaum auction (#40, on 26 June 2008). It was given to RSRH by his father, R' Raphael Hirsch, as a wedding present. The catalogue description doesn't mention any marginal notes, though.

Kestenbaum Catalogue #40, p. 41
Dayan Grunfeld's introduction to Hirsch' Horeb, pp. cxx-cxxix.

1 comment:

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

There is in fact a machloket between Ravs Joseph Elias and Shelomo Danziger on Rav Hirsch's attitude towards Kabbalah.

Rabbi Danziger critiques Rabbi Elias's perush to 19 Letters:

Rabbi Elias responds, and Rabbi Danziger responds to the response:

In summary: Rabbi Elias said Rav Hirsch held by normative Kabbalah, and challenged only the gross corporeal understanding of the masses. Rabbi Danziger says Rav Hirsch disagreed with the Kabbalists themselves, and held that while Kabbalah is true per se, it is meant to teach not theosophic/theurgic truths, but rather rational truths like any midrash; just as the midrashim clothe rational truths in metaphorical language, this would say the Zohar clothes rational truths in mystical language.