Zacharias Frankel (1801 – 1875)

Zacharias Frankel (1801 – 1875)

Zacharias Frankel (1801 – 1875)

Zacharias Frankel was one of the leading advocates for Conservative Judaism in Germany. Born and trained in Prague, he was the first rabbi in Central Europe with a university degree and the first to deliver his sermons in German.
In 1854, he was appointed director of the newly founded Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau, where he remained until his death.
As the exponent of “positive historical Judaism” he held that Reform Judaism ignored the national component of Judaism and focused mainly on its intellectual aspects. He agreed that religious reforms were necessary and advocated the right of researching Judaism as a scholarly discipline. However, he insisted on retaining customs that were deeply ingrained in Judaism, such as the prayer for returning to Zion. His middle position was sharply attacked by representatives of Orthodox as well as Reform Judaism.

Der gerichtliche Beweis nach mosaisch-talmudischem Rechte
Berlin, 1846 LBI call number BM 520 F73
This study of legal evidence in Talmudic law was the companion to an earlier work on the concept of oath-taking in Jewish tradition. Frankel had an explicit political motive for both; Prussian law discriminated against the Jews in so far as the testimony of a Jew against a Christian was valid only in civil cases, and in these only when they involved a sum less than fifty talers.
Frankel demonstrated that the assumption on which this policy was based—that the sworn testimony of a Jew was less trustworthy than that of a Christian—had no basis in Jewish law or tradition.
Frankel’s work was cited as an authority in the Prussian Diet when it abolished this form of discrimination in 1847.

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