This article originally appeared in the Jewish Free Press, Calgary

"In Every Generation..."*

The Strange Omission in Rabbi Kalischer's Haggadah

Over the ages, the Passover Haggadah has provided Jewish thinkers with an effective instrument through which to express their most profound thoughts on a variety of religious topics. It was therefore to be expected that when Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer published his own Haggadah in 1864, it would be filled with original and timely insights about the issues that were of concern to him.

Rabbi Kalischer (1795-1874) was one of the pioneering figures who, decades before Herzl, called upon his fellow Jews to take an active role in creating an independent Jewish society in the land of Israel.

It therefore does not surprise us to discover that his Haggadah included penetrating observations on the contemporary situation, such as this assessment of the political emancipation of European Jewry: "At present, the Almighty has proclaimed liberty for the Jews in most states, and this is a prelude to the time when we shall be free people in the Land of Israel."

Similarly, Kalischer's description of how the ancient Hebrew slaves retained their religious distinctiveness served as a contrast to the rampant assimilation that was overtaking many Jews in his own days: "They did not choose to be like the gentiles--like the Egyptians--as one nation, in order to ease their poverty and subjugation, as our contemporaries believe, who wish to be esteemed in the eyes of the gentiles, and are ashamed to observe the Jewish religion." He preached that these manifestations of Jewish self-deprecation would ultimately make them even more despised, and that it was by proudly maintaining their uniqueness that Jews would earn respect among the nations of the world.

Indeed, Rabbi Kalischer's commentary fulfils all our expectations in serving as a sounding board for his proto-Zionist ideology.

Nevertheless, historians have been troubled my the glaring absence of one theme that had formerly been dear to Kalischer's heart, but which is virtually absent from his Haggadah in spite of its appropriateness to the context.

The topic is the renewal of sacrificial worship.

As early as 1836, Kalischer had approached Baron de Rothchild urging him to purchase Palestine from the Turkish emperor for purposes of Jewish colonization. At that time Kalischer insisted that, even if the entire homeland could not be acquired, the Baron should at the very least gain possession of the Temple site so that sacrifices might be offered as soon as possible.

In Kalischer's messianic scenario, the resumption of the sacrificial cult must occur at the earliest stages of the process, so that atonement could be obtained for the sins of the people, an essential prerequisite for the subsequent stages in the redemptive process.

Kalischer made it clear that the sacrifices he was speaking of would precede the actual rebuilding of the Temple. He discussed the details of these controversial opinions with some of the leading rabbinic authorities of the time, posing his initial halakhic question to his own teacher Rabbi Akiva Eiger of Posen, who responded quite disapprovingly.

Eiger subsequently turned the matter over to his son-in-law, the renowned Rabbi Moses Schreiber (the "Chasam Sofer") of Pressburg. While assenting in principle to the legality of Kalischer's proposal, the latter noted, with a sense of realism lacking in the young Kalischer, that the Muslims were unlikely to consent to the construction of a Jewish Temple on the site of their mosque.

The Chasam Sofer also noted, citing a previous discussion by Rabbi Jacob Emden of Altona, that according to Jewish law the only sacrifice that could be offered prior to the construction of the Temple, and while the majority of the people were still in a state of impurity, was the Passover offering.

Rabbi Schreiber's statement was not published until several years later, in a book by his student Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes, in which Chajes added his own arguments for the legitimacy of restoring sacrifices. Among other things, he noted that according to the Talmud sacrifices continued to be offered for about eighty years after the destruction of the Temple.

In 1857 rumours were circulating in the Hebrew press that the Jews in Jerusalem were preparing to offer the Passover offering, in accordance with Rabbi Kalischer's ruling.

This inspired a spirited correspondence between several of Europe's foremost scholars and rabbinical figures. Those who opposed Kalischer's ideas (including the historian Heinrich Graetz) cited Maimonides' ruling that prayer was not merely an inferior replacement for sacrifices, but an evolutionary step beyond it.

And yet, for all his early enthusiasm for the renewal of sacrifices, Rabbi Kalischer's commentary on the Passover Haggadah, which seems like the perfect vehicle for advocating this idea, tacitly abandoned the call for immediate renewal of the sacrifices, replacing it with discussions about political emancipation and national liberation. Though the text of the Haggadah provided him with a perfect opening when it prays for the time when "we shall eat of the sacrifices and the Passover offerings," Rabbi Kalischer did not exploit the opportunity to argue for his youthful dream.

Evidently, the key to this inconsistency lies in the extensive changes that European Jewry had undergone in the intervening decades.

At the beginning of the century, Jewish traditionalists were up in arms over radical attempts at liturgical reform, such as the notorious 1819 Hamburg prayer book that had deleted references to sacrificial worship and the return to Zion. These time-honoured Jewish values were felt by the champions of religious reform to be at odds with their aspirations to be accepted as enlightened, patriotic European citizens "of the Mosaic faith." The traditionalist forces fought a lengthy campaign to ban the publication of the new-style prayer books.

At that time, responding to these challenges, Kalischer deemed it important to promote traditional Jewish values and aspirations, and it made perfect sense to present the renewal of sacrifices as an indispensable prerequisite of Messianic redemption. With very few exceptions (including Rabbi Akiva Eiger), the views that had been voiced for and against Kalischer's proposal had been drawn precisely along ideological lines, between the traditionalists and the reformers.

However thirty years later, when he published his Haggadah commentary, the situation had changed considerably. For one thing, his ideas about sacrifices had proven very unpopular, even among individuals who were in other respects supportive of his programme.

More importantly, there were now more urgent matters on the public agenda. The Jews in the Holy Land were in dire economic distress in the wake of the Crimean War. The European emancipation was a fait accompli, and the pressing need for political action and economic self-sufficiency took priority over issues that had seemed so important thirty years earlier. Furthermore, the reports (untrue, as it happens) that the Jews of the Holy City were on the verge of actively offering sacrifices caused alarm among rabbis who had hitherto been dealing with the matter on a comfortable theoretical level and as part of their anti-Reform polemic; but who generally shied away from messianic enthusiasm. A newer generation of Orthodox and Neo-Orthodox rabbis in Germany, including Jacob Ettlinger and Samson Raphael Hirsch, shared many of the modernist assumptions about the superiority of prayer over animal sacrifice. Therefore, the tide of halakhic opinion now turned solidly against Kalischer.

The Haggadah teaches us that in each generation we ought to see ourselves as if we had personally experienced the Egyptian Exodus. In the case of Rabbi Kalischer, the pace of social and political changes had accelerated so much that, within a single generation, he was impelled to interpret the lessons of the Haggadah in very different ways

This article and many others are now included in the book

In Those Days, At This Time
In Those Days, At This Time:
Holiness and History in the Jewish Calendar

published by

University of Calgary Press
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  • First Publication:
    • Jewish Free Press, March 30 2000, pp. 14-15.

  • Bibliography:
    • Bleich, J. David. "A Review of Halakhic Literature Pertaining to the Reinstitution of the Sacrificial Order." Tradition 9 (1967): 103-24.
    • Katz, Jacob. "Demuto ha-historit shel ha-rav zevi hirsch kalischer." Shivat Zion 2-3 (1952-3): 26-41.
    • Myers, Jody Elizabeth. "Attitudes Towards a Resumption of Sacrificial Worship in the Nineteenth Century." Modern Judaism 7, no. 1 (1987): 29-49.
    • Salmon, Yosef. "The Rise of Jewish Nationalism on the Border of Eastern and Western Europe: Rabbi Z. H. Kalischer, David Gordon, Peretz Smolenskin." In Danzig, East and West: Aspects of Modern Jewish History, edited by Isadore Twersky, 123-37. Cambrdge: Harvard Center for Jewish Studies and Harvard Semitic Museum, 1985.
    • Ticker, Jay. The Centrality of Sacrifices as an Answer to Reform in the Thought of Zvi Hirsch Kalischer. Vol. 15, Working Papers in Yiddish and East European Studies, 1975.