American rabbi; born at Thalfang, near Treves, Rhenish Prussia, June 8, 1815; died in Chicago, Ill., May 14, 1889; educated at the universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Leipsic (Ph.D.). In 1838 he was appointed rabbi of the congregation in Dessau, where he remained until 1841 ("Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 1841, No. 15), when, on account of his advanced views, he resigned. In 1843 he published his "Die Messias-Lehre der Juden in Kanzelvorträgen" and "Religionsphilosophie der Juden." In the same year he was appointed chief rabbi of the grand duchy of Luxemburg by the King of Holland, which office he filled until 1866.
During this period he published his "Die Humanität als Religion." He took an active part in the annual rabbinical conferences held at Brunswick (1844), Frankfort-on-the-Main (1845), and Breslau (1846). In 1844 he published his "Reform im Judenthum."Having received a call from the Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, Philadelphia, Pa., in 1866, he resigned his post in Europe and removed to the United States, where he succeeded Dr. David Einhorn, and where, from his arrival, he became closely identified with, and an open advocate of, radical Reform. In 1869 he was elected president of the rabbinical conference held in Philadelphia, at which the principles of Reformed Judaism were formulated; in that year he engaged also in numerous ritual and doctrinal controversies.
Hirsch remained officiating rabbi of the Philadelphia congregation for twenty-two years, resigning in 1888, after having spent fifty years of his life in the ministry. Removing to Chicago, he took up his abode there with his son, Emil G. Hirsch. During his rabbinate in Philadelphia Hirsch organized the Orphans' Guardian Society, and was the founder of the first branch in the United States of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. He was one of the first to advocate the holding of Jewish services on Sunday.
Hirsch is best known as the author of the "Religionsphilosophie," a work written from the Hegelian point of view, but for the purpose of vindicating the claim of Judaism to the rank denied it by Hegel, the rank of an "absolute religion." In this book he proved himself to be an original thinker (see "Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 1895, pp. 126 et seq.). His "Katechismus der Israelitischen Religion" was also constructed on original lines; he considered the Biblical legends to be psychological and typical allegories, and the ceremonies of Judaism to be symbols of underlying ideas. From this attitude his Reform principles are derived. He denied that Judaism is a law; it is "Lehre," but is expressed in symbolic ceremonies that may be changed in accordance with historic development. Hirsch was among those that wrote in defense of Judaism against Bruno Bauer (see his "Briefe Gegen Bruno Bauer," Leipsic, 1844). He was also a contributor to the "Archives Israélites," Paris, and to "Die Deborah," Cincinnati, Ohio.
- Jost, Gesch. des Judentums und Seiner Sekten, iii.;
- Karpeles, Literaturgesch. Index;
- Bernfeld, Da'at Elohim, Index.