When a Rabbi Quoted a ‘Christian’ Philosopher to Beat Back Reform Judaism

When even Gentile scholars saw the importance of Hebrew, rabbis were incredulous that reformists wanted to put away the Holy Tongue

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: Judaism, Hebrew
Famed French philosopher Charles Montesquieu recognized the importance of Hebrew to the divine role of the Jewish people. Photo: Public domain

Reform Judaism was spreading across Germany and the rest of Europe in the early 19th century, prompting Orthodox rabbis to find answers to this worrying trend.

One such rabbi, Samuel Landau of Prague, son of the noted halachic authority Yehezkel Landau, found an answer in the writings of the French philosopher Charles Montesquieu, the man deemed responsible for the concept of separating the powers of church and state.

At the time, Reform Judaism was questioning the need for continuing to use Hebrew as a sacred tongue in synagogues when not all congregants could fully understand the language.

In a fiery sermon against the reformists, Rabbi Landau noted that even a Gentile philosopher like Montesquieu recognized the importance of Hebrew to the Jewish people and their divine role.

Rabbi Landau cited Montesquieu’s book The Persian Letters, in which the famed philosopher references the Hebrew language as that which held the Jewish people together through millennia of exile and persecution.

Other peoples had faded into memory and disappeared after being conquered or dispersed. But not the Jewish people, a fact that Landau insisted had earned them the admiration of all the great philosophers of the time.

And Hebrew played no small role in this longevity, which is why Orthodox rabbis then and until this day consider it sacrilegious to even consider replacing the Holy Tongue in the rites of the Jewish faith.

Hat tip: Kikar Hashabat

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