"the People Do Not Understand": R. Hayim Hirschensohn and Political Elitism in Modern Judaism (The Vilna Gaon, Rabbi N.Ts.Y. Berlin, I. B. Levinsohn, and Herzl)

Benjamin Brown*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Rabbi Hayim (Chaim) Hirschensohn (1857-1935) was one of only a handful of Jewish thinkers to work out a Jewish political theology, and on account of his progressive stances he became a favorite of liberal circles within contemporary Judaism. Therefore, a passage in his book Malki Bakodesh, in which he expresses clear opposition to universal suffrage, invited mitigating interpretations. Yet, a survey of Hirschensohn's various writings reveals that they contain a trend of political elitism. Is this surprising? Hirschensohn's progressiveness notwithstanding, the article argues that his elitist sentiments are rooted in three major intellectual trends within modern Judaism: Mitnagdism, Haskalah, and Zionism. In the writings of seminal thinkers in each of these movements, we find political elitism and reservations about government by the people. Hirschensohn's personal history positioned him at the confluence of these trends, and so his elitist opinions should be viewed as the outgrowth of these intellectual traditions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)441-465
Number of pages25
JournalHarvard Theological Review
Volume115
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

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Keywords

  • Halakhic democracy
  • Haskalah
  • Hayim (Chaim) Hirschensohn
  • Jewish political theology
  • Misnagdism
  • Zionism
  • political elitism

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