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Abraham Geiger, 1810-1874

Abraham Geiger (24 May 1810 in Frankfurt am Main – 23 October 1874 in Berlin) was a German rabbi and scholar who led the founding of Reform Judaism. He sought to remove all nationalistic elements (particularly the "Chosen People" doctrine) from Judaism, stressing it as an evolving and changing religion.



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 archaeology. 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 Geiger's 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 important vehicles in their day for publishing Jewish scholarship, chiefly historical and theological studies, as well as a discussion of contemporary events.

By that time Geiger had begun his program of religious reforms, chiefly in the synagogue liturgy. For example, he abolished the prayers of mourning for the temple, believing that since Jews were German citizens, such prayers would appear to be disloyal to the ruling power and could possibly spark anti-semitism. 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.[1]


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 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. He contributed 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 The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book edited by Ibn Warraq. Other works are Judaism and Islam (1833) and An Appeal to My Community (1842).


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).

Some critics also attacked Geiger's opposition to a Jewish national identity; most notably he was criticized when 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.[2]



Geiger's works

  • Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judentume aufgenommen? Bonn, 1833.
(translated as Judaism and Islam, F. M. Young, 1896.
  • 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


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Bayme, Steven (1997) Understanding Jewish History: Texts and Commentaries. Jersey City, NJ: KTAV. p. 282. ISBN 0881255548


  • 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

See also

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ABRAHAM GEIGER (1810-1874), Jewish theologian and orientalist, was born at Frankfort-on-Main on the 24th of May 1810, and educated at the universities of Heidelberg and Bonn. As a student he distinguished himself in philosophy and in philology, and at the close of his course wrote on the relations of Judaism and Mahommedanism a prize essay which was afterwards published in 1833 under the title Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judentum aufgenommen? (English trans. Judaism and Islam, Madras, 1898). In November 1832 he went to Wiesbaden as rabbi of the synagogue, and became in 1835 one of the most 1 The words gige, gigen, geic appear suddenly in the M. H. German of the 12th century, and thence passed apparently into the Romance languages, though some would reverse the process (e.g. Weigand, Deutsches WOrterbuch). An elaborate argument in the Deutsches Worterbuch of J. and W. Grimm (Leipzig, 1897) connects the word with an ancient common Teut. root gag - meaning to sway to and fro, as preserved in numerous forms: e. g. M.H.G gagen, gugen, to sway to and fro " (gugen, gagen, the rocking of a cradle), the Swabian gigen, gagen, in the same sense, the Tirolese gaiggern, to sway, doubt, or the old Norse geiga, to go astray or crooked. The reference is to the swaying motion of the violin bow. The English " jig " is derived from gige through the O. Fr. gigue (in the sense of a stringed instrument); the modern French gigue (a dance) is the English " jig " re-imported (Hatzfeld and Darmesteter, Dictionnaire)_ This opens up another possibility, of the origin of the name of the instrument in the dance which it accompanied. (W. A. P.) active promoters of the Zeitschrift fur jildische Theologie (18 351839 and 1842-1847). From 1838 to 1863 he lived in Breslau, where he organized the reform movement in Judaism and wrote some of his most important works, including Lehrand Lesebuch zur Sprache der Mischna (1845), Studien from Maimonides (1850), translation into German of the poems of Juda ha-Levi (1851), and Urschrift and Obersetzungen der Bibel in ihrer Abhangigkeit von der innern Entwickelung des Judentums (1857). The lastnamed work attracted little attention at the time, but now enjoys a great reputation as a new departure in the methods of studying the records of Judaism. The Urschrift has moreover been recognized as one of the most original contributions to biblical science. In 1863 Geiger became head of the synagogue of his native town, and in 1870 he removed to Berlin, where, in addition to his duties as chief rabbi, he took the principal charge of the newly established seminary for Jewish science. The Urschrift was followed by a more exhaustive handling of one of its topics in Die Sadducder and Pharisder (1863), and by a more thorough application of its leading principles in an elaborate history of Judaism (Das Judentum and seine Geschichte) in 1865-1871. Geiger also contributed frequently on Hebrew, Samaritan and Syriac subjects to the Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenldndischen Gesellschaft, and from 1862 until his death (on the 23rd of October 1874) he was editor of a periodical entitled Ji dische Zeitschrift fiir Wissenschaft and Leben. He also published a Jewish prayerbook (Israelitisches Gebetbuch) and a variety of minor monographs on historical and literary subjects connected with the fortunes of his people. (I. A.) An Allgemeine Einleitung and five volumes of Nachgelassene Schriften were edited in 1875 by his son Ludwig Geiger (b. 1848), who in 1880 became extraordinary professor in the university of Berlin. Ludwig Geiger published a large number of biographical and literary works and made a special study of German humanism. He edited the Goethe-Jahrbuch from 1880, Vierteljahrsschrift far Kultur and Litteratur der Renaissance (1885-1886), Zeitschr. far die Gesch. der Juden im Deutschland (1886-1891), Zeitschr. fur vergleichende Litteraturgeschichte and Renaissance-Litteratur (1887-1891). Among his works are Johann Reuchlin, sein Leben and seine Werke (Leipzig, 1871); and Johann Reuchlin's Briefwechsel (Tubingen, 1875); Renaissance and Humanismus in Italien and Deutschland (1882, 2nd ed. 1901); Gesch. des geistigen Lebens der preussischen Hauptstadt (1892-1894); Berlin's geistiges Leben (1894-1896).

See also J. Derenbourg in Rid. Zeitschrift, xi. 299-308; E. Schrieber, Abraham Geiger als Reformator des Judentums (1880), art. (with portrait) in Jewish Encyclopedia. Abraham Geiger's nephew Lazarus Geiger (1829-1870), philosopher and philologist, born at Frankfort-on-Main, was destined to commerce, but soon gave himself up to scholarship and studied at Marburg, Bonn and Heidelberg. From 1861 till his sudden death in 1870 he was professor in the Jewish high school at Frankfort. His chief aim was to prove that the evolution of human reason is closely bound up with that of language. He further maintained that the origin of the IndoGermanic language is to be sought not in Asia but in central Germany. He was a convinced opponent of rationalism in religion. His chief work was his Ursprung and Entwickelung der menschlichen Sprache and Vernunft (vol. i., Stuttgart, 1868), the principal results of which appeared in a more popular form as Der Ursprung der Sprache (Stuttgart, 1869 and 1878). The second volume of the former was published in an incomplete form (1872, 2nd ed. 1899) after his death by his brother Alfred Geiger, who also published a number of his scattered papers as Zur Entwickelung der Menschheit (1871, 2nd ed. 1878; Eng. trans. D. Asher, Hist. of the Development of the Human Race, Lond., 1880).

See L. A. Rosenthal, Laz. Geiger: seine Lehre vom Ursprung d. Sprache and Vernunft and sein Leben (Stuttgart, 1883); E. Peschier, L. Geiger, sein Leben and Denken (1871); J. Keller, L. Geiger and d. Kritik d. Vernunft (Wertheim, 1883) and Der Ursprung d. Vernunft (Heidelberg, 1884).

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