Events as Shaping Identity: Rabbi S. R. Hirsch and Multi-Cultural Discourse


Source: International Journal of Jewish Education Research (IJJER), 2013 (5-6), 47-70


The fashioning of Jewish identity is, on the one hand, a central goal and, on the other, a mysterious and amorphous thing. It is difficult to imagine proper socialization of a learner to the “target–community” without shaping that identity within the contours of a specific community; but, simultaneously, it is not clear what components are necessary in order to create this identity, both on the level of contents and on that of the educational act.

On the level of contents: it is not clear to what purpose we need to create an identity. What is the group of contents with which the learner needs to identify? And, on the pedagogic level, it is not clear how one creates an identity, nor what are the signs of success that this has in fact been accomplished.


This paper will engage with a number of these questions, while touching upon insights derived from the realms of Jewish thought, philosophy of halakhah, and philosophy of education. I shall relate to the definition of that area known as “Judaism,” which is prior to the question of “Jewish identity”: that is, what is the “Judaism” towards which we are socializing? What is the cultural framework that serves as the subject of our discussion, and what is the educational goal?


Within the framework of this paper, I cannot relate to all those issues deserving of discussion raised by the questions posed in our introduction. My purpose here is merely to point to a direction for a deeper study that needs to be done. The present paper will only focus upon one model, that of “theory and praxis,” examining its possible contribution to advancing our understanding of the issue of Jewish education and socialization to the Jewish world.


My remarks shall be divided into three parts: (1) examination of basic concepts and the model of “theory and praxis”; (2) discussion of the modern context of this issue, through examining the teaching of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, founder of Neo-Orthodoxy in Germany, as a faithful expression of confrontation with the challenge of socialization to Judaism in the modern world; (3) the creation of some initial contours towards understanding the contribution of praxis to processes of socialization in multi-cultural contexts (commonly found in post-modern discourse).

Updated: Mar. 12, 2014