(In) Frankel's magnum

opus, Darkhei HaMishnah (literally, The Ways of the Mishnah 1859) Frankel amassed considerable scholarly support for the contention that Jewish law had always developed in response to changing historical conditions. He never outlined the theological assumptions of his position, but by acknowledging the possibility of change and development in Jewish religion and by locating the authority for that change within the community, Frankel was implying that whatever God had to do with Torah, its fate had now been rendered into the hands of a human community, which was subject to changing conditions of history. This community had always determined and would continue to determine the shape of Jewish belief and practice in every generation.

In contrast to the polar positions of Reform and Orthodoxy, Frankel was proposing a program of development that would be carefully disciplined, academically justified, and communally based.

He attempted to authenticate his approach through an appeal to history and community. He was saying, in effect, that there was nothing radically new in his approach. Since the community had always sanctioned changes in Jewish beliefs and practices over time, it was in fact he, and not Hirsch, who had captured the dynamic of Judaism over the ages.

At the same time, however, Frankel was trying to delineate the parameters within which this process of development took place. Above all, he insisted, the integrity of both the Jewish past and the Jewish community as a whole had to be preserved. It was this broader concern that Frankel felt had been sacrificed by Reform. Frankel's position was an extraordinary vote of confidence both in the internal dynamics of Jewish life and in the inherent goodwill of the Jewish religious community. He had faith that the caring core of the community, under the guidance of its rabbinic and scholarly leadership, would intuitively continue to locate the fine balance between continuity and development, between what to retain and what to change. His leap of faith was that Jews would not let Judaism die.

From Conservative Judaism: The New Century by NEIL GILLMAN, Behrman House, Inc., 1993


We may now understand the apparent contradiction between the theory and practice of the Positive-Historic school. One may, for instance, conceive of the origin and idea of Sabbath rest as the professor of Protestant theology at a German university would conceive it, and yet minutely observe the smallest detail of the Sabbath observances known to strict Orthodoxy. For an adherent of this school the sanctity of the Sabbath reposes not upon the fact that it was proclaimed On Sinai, but on the fact that the Sabbath idea found for thousands of years its expression in Jewish souls. It is the task of the historian to examine the beginnings and developments of the numerous customs and observances of the Jews; practical Judaism on the other hand is not concerned with origins, but regards the institutions as they have come to be. If we are convinced that Judaism is a religion of deed, expressing itself in observances which are designed to achieve the moral elevation of man and give reality to his religious spirit, we have a principle in obedience to which reforms in Judaism are possible. From this point of view the evaluation of a law is independent of its origin, and thus the line of demarcation between biblical and rabbinical law almost disappears. Characteristic of Frankel's attitude toward this problem is the statement given by him in his Darke ha-Mishnah concerning Sinaitic Traditions, which caused a great deal of controversy.

In the first section of the Darke ha-Mishnah Frankel makes the assertion that the frequently recurring talmudic expression, halakah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai, "a tradition of Moses from Sinai," properly designates those ordinances whose reason and origin were unknown and which, being of remotest antiquity, were looked upon as if they had actually originated on Sinai. Strict Orthodoxy, of course, perceived in this statement a declaration of war against traditional Judaism inasmuch as it denied Sinaitic authority for the "Oral Law." Men like Samson R. Hirsch and Benjamin Auerbach in Germany, Wolf Klein in France, Gottlieb Fischer in Hungary-to mention only a few attacked Frankel vigorously, accusing him of undermining traditional Judaism. But there were not lacking, on the other side, defenders like Raphael Kirchheim, Saul Kaempf, and to some extent also Solomon L. Rapoport. Curiously enough Frankel took no further notice of these attacks other than to publish an explanation (Erklarung) in the Monatsschrift, in which, however, the same unclearness of thought and indefiniteness of expression concerning the term "Sinaitic Tradition" prevail as in the Darke ha-Mishnah. This was the very cornerstone of offense, and both sides desired a clear statement on the point.


From ZECHARIAH FRANKEL: POSITIVE-HISTORICAL JUDAISM Jewish Law as an Expression of the People of Israel's Religious Consciousness (1938) Louis Ginzberg in CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM AND JEWISH LAW Edited by SEYMOUR SIEGEL with ELLIOT GERTEL, THE RABBINICAL ASSEMBLY NEW YORK, 1977