Solomon Schechter

(1847—1915) Hebraist

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Scholar, theologian, leading thinker of Conservative Judaism (1847–1915). Schechter was born in Fascani, Romania. His father, a Habad Hasid, was a shoḥet (see SHEHITAH), hence the family name, Schechter. Schechter received a thorough grounding in traditional Jewish learning but, in his early twenties, went to Vienna to study at the Rabbinical College, where his main tutor was Meir Friedmann, a renowned Talmudist in the modern idiom. Later Schechter took courses at the University of Berlin and the Berlin Hochschule, where a fellow-student was Claude Montefiore. Montefiore brought Schechter to England to be his private tutor. In England, Schechter cultivated the exquisite English style of writing (by reading numerous English novels, it is reported) which has made his Studies in Judaism and his Aspects of Rabbinic Theology classics of English literature as well as of modern Jewish thought, though, to his dying day, he spoke English with a strong foreign accent.

Schechter's philosophy of Judaism is based on the ideas of Zechariah Frankel. Both Reform and Orthodoxy fail, in this view, to understand ‘positive historical’ Judaism. Reform, according to Schechter, fails to appreciate the positive elements in traditional Judaism, while Orthodoxy fails to grasp the dynamic aspects of the tradition itself. Schechter thus sought to encourage a marriage between the old learning and the critical methodology adopted in the Jüdische Wissenschaft school.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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