Zechariah Frankel

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Rabbi, theologian, and historian of the Talmudic period (1801–73). Frankel studied Talmud in his native Prague under Rabbi Bezalel Ronsberg and philosophy, natural science, and philology in Budapest. His combination of traditional and general learning equipped Frankel to become one of the leading lights of the Jüdische Wissenschaft movement in which the tools of modern historical criticism were used to explore the development of the classical sources of Judaism. Frankel became principal of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau in 1854. In 1871 he founded the learned journal Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthum, the foremost organ of modern Jewish scholarship.

The Breslau school, as Frankel and his associates came to be called, played an important role in its insistence that while freedom to investigate the origins of Jewish beliefs and institutions is granted and must be granted, this does not affect the need for strict observance of the precepts, since such observance belongs to the living religion, as accepted in a kind of mystical consensus by the Jewish people, and this is independent of origins. Frankel coined the expression ‘positive-historical’ for his approach to Judaism; ‘historical’ because it acknowledges that Judaism did not simply drop down from heaven ready-made, so to speak, but has had a history; ‘positive’, because, whatever the origins, this is what the religion has come to be under the guidance of God.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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