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Adolph Büchler, the Principal of Jews' College,1906-1939

Bruno Marmorstein

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Adolph B?chler, Principal of Jews' College, 1906-1939* BRUNO MARMORSTEIN We are told that when a prominent teacher of the Academy of Tiberias passed away, one of his colleagues ascended the pulpit and exclaimed: 'Babylon gave him birth, Palestine developed his fame and his greatness, and the scholars of Tiberias mourn the loss of a precious crown'. Rabbi Zeira was a Babylonian and came to the school of Tiberias under somewhat unusual circumstances. The reception of Babylonian scholars in Galilee was none too friendly. All the same, Rabbi Zeira achieved prominence in his new spiritual home. It is as necessary today as it was seventeen centuries ago, in order to appreciate the worth of a scholar, to know something of his background and the conditions under which he worked. What is true of the Palestinian Amora of the third century is equally true of the Jewish scholar in our own day. Adolph B?chler was born in 1867 in Priekopa, Hungary. The year, as well as the place of his birth, was decisive as regards his future. In that small village at the foot of the Carpathian mountains, there lived for more than two centuries a pious, scrupulously honest and hardworking breed of Jews. They settled there after the persecution of Jews in Austria in 1670. Their number was increased by newcomers from the neighbouring province of Moravia, where harsh laws compelled them to seek new homes and establish new communities. The year 1867 opened a new chapter in the history of Hungary, which, after many struggles and wars, was again united with the Imperial House of Hapsburg. This general revolution in the life of the country created favourable conditions for the Jews. First a congress was convened of the various religious sections of the Jewish community. The traditional elements separated from the more liberal Jews into separate camps. On the whole, Hungarian Jewry adhered to a traditional way of living and teaching, but minor points led to internal division. One of these was the establishment of a modern rabbinical seminary. The emperor had granted a considerable sum to endow such an institution, the funds for which were drawn from the fortune amassed as a result of the special taxes paid by Jews during the previous century. As leaders and professors for the newly created seminary, Rabbi Moses Lob Bloch, David Kaufman and Wilhelm Bacher were chosen. The parents of Adolph B?chler knew of no loftier aspiration for their son than to see him at the head of one of the orthodox * Paper presented to the Society on 15 December 1982. 219</page><page sequence="2">Bruno Marmorstein communities in their native country. For them the combination of Torah and modern culture represented the highest ideal. The old rabbinate in Hungary differed a good deal from the type now familiar in Western countries. The rabbi was by reason of his learning, piety and personal character, the highest authority in the community, and the best exponent and representative of Judaism to the outside world. The young B?chler presented himself to the rector and professors of the Budapest school of learning. After completing his course in Budapest, the student left for Breslau, where in the Rabbinical seminary such giants as Graetz, David Rosin and Israel Levy were on the faculty; and Buchler's fellow-students included Ludwig Blau, Martin Schreiner, Samuel Krauss, Bernhard Heller and Michael Gutmann. Adolph B?chler then left for Leipzig, where he was awarded his doctorate in Philosophy and Semitic Languages, with a thesis on the Hebrew accents, subsequently to become one of the publications of the Imperial Academy of Vienna. From there he returned to his alma mater where he received his rabbinical diploma. After some time the young scholar left for England where he worked under his uncle, Dr Adolf Neubauer, the sub-librarian of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Here, the homes of such great English Bible scholars as Driver and Cheyne, and those of other Christian Hebraists were open to the young Hungarian rabbi. Together with his uncle he studied the ancient Hebrew manuscripts and the increasing number of Hebrew fragments which were reaching Oxford from the Cairo Genizah. These scholars, and among them B?chler, identified the fragments which are described in the second volume of the catalogue of Hebrew manuscripts at the Bodleian Library. That period saw a revival of Jewish learning in England, which will for all time be connected with the names of Solomon Schechter, a native of Hungary, and Moses Gaster, from Romania, who died within a month of Buchler's death, as well as Solomon Schiller-Szinessy amd Adolf Neubauer. These four men transplanted the methods and techniques of modern research and investigation from the Continent to the English seats of higher Jewish learning. At Oxford, Dr B?chler studied the earlier collections of Hebrew manuscripts, such as the Talmudic Lexicon of a medieval scholar under the title of Yihusey Tannaim we-'amo'raim. Dr B?chler unselfishly handed over all his notes and extracts to Abraham Epstein, who published the results of his labours. He himself discovered a fragment of an ancient triennial cycle for reading the Torah in synagogue, which was for centuries in vogue among the Jews in Palestine and in Egypt. Dr B?chler linked up this system of reading the Law among the Jews in Fostat with the earliest period of public Bible readings in the synagogues of the first century CE, a system preserved in some synagogues up to the time of Maimonides. This essay, which appeared in the Jewish Quarterly Review, became (and has remained) the main source of this branch of liturgical study up to this day. 220</page><page sequence="3">Adolph B?chler, Principal of Jews' College, 1906-1939 After his stay in Oxford, Dr B?chler was offered the chair of history at the Hochschule f?r das Wissenschaft das Judentums in Berlin, as successor to the historian David Cassel. On the way to the Continent, passing through Berlin, he met Moritz Lazarus, the popular philosopher, and a writer on the ethics of Judaism, Siegmund Maybaum, the great preacher in the Prussian capital, as well as Moritz Steinschneider. B?chler declined the offer, and accepted a similar post at the newly created rabbinical seminary in Vienna. He enjoyed there several years of successful teaching and research; after this he received a call to Jews' College. He was welcomed by all sections of the Anglo-Jewish community and his appointment was greeted as marking a new epoch in the history of the college. The kindliness and hospitality of his wife Hermione made their At Homes social events of significance in the life of the community. With exemplary self-restraint, B?chler confined his investigations to a limited period of Jewish history. A few of his works went beyond this self-imposed limit, but in the main, his contributions to Jewish learning were confined to a detailed study and investigation of the first century of the Christian era. His major works cover almost all the important aspects of life and thought of this vital century in Jewish history. Dr B?chler was fully aware that the questions he tackled (and he says so plainly in many of his introductions to his major and minor works) had been frequently discussed by his predecessors. Every scholar knows that there is no problem, however often dealt with, which cannot be presented in a new form by changing the method of research, enlarging the field of investigation, or adducing new material from sources hitherto neglected or overlooked. This is especially true in rabbinic learning and scholarship. Christian scholars, like K?nen and Julius Wellhausen, Emil Sch?rer and Bossuet, were guided by the assumption that knowledge of the history and doctrines of Judaism in the early Christian era could be gained only from the New Testament, Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphia. The rabbinic literature was entirely neglected by them, either because they could not navigate the vast ocean of Talmud and Midrash, or because they thought that the whole literature was younger than the Christian era, and therefore useless for throwing light on the rise and early growth of Christianity. Dr B?chler availed himself of the rabbinic sources and brought them to the knowledge of Christian and Jewish scholars. His works are characterized by the fullness of the material gleaned from rabbinic writings, and his method of analysing their teachings and thoughts. Before attempting this task he devoted years of study to the pre-Christian century. With his mastery of Greek and Latin, he was able to make valuable contributions to the history of the Jews in Egypt, and to examine the value of the history of Josephus by checking his sources and his detailed description of Jewish antiquities. Furthermore, he enriched Jewish literature with special studies on Sirach, the Fourth Book of Ezra, the Psalms of Solomon, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Book of Jubilees, and other apocryphal 221</page><page sequence="4">Bruno Marmorstein writings. Equipped with these essays, he went on to describe the life and service of the priests in the Second Temple. His main idea was that the Pharisees in the last decade before the destruction of the Temple, in the year 68 CE, gained a decisive victory over their Sadducean opponents, and cleansed the Temple of all the abuses and abominations attributable to that hierarchy. (It is perhaps necessary, writing at the present date, to recall that in Buchler's time the Dead Sea Scrolls still lay undiscovered.) While the first of his major works describes the sanctuary and its personnel, his second great contribution to this period centred round the Sanhedrin, a problem which was and still is of considerable interest to students of the life of Jesus. Here, too, Christian scholars ignore the rabbinic information about the Sanhedrin, which was situated in the wing of the Temple called the Chamber of the Hewn Stones (Lishkath ha-Gazith), the chief religious authority of the Jewish people before the destruction of the Temple. Gentile historians know only of a Sanhedrin of the High Priest, often referred to in the life-story of Jesus and familiar to readers of the Gospels, which was responsible for handing Jesus over to the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. The rabbinic sources relating to the other Sanhedrin were considered much later in date, and therefore of no importance. Dr B?chler maintained that side by side with the Sanhedrin presided over by the High Priest, there existed another and no less important authority presided over by the Patriarchs, the descendants of the House of Hillel. The presidency and the officials of this religious Sanhedrin, to be distinguished from the political and priestly Sanhedrin, are fully described in this book, which throws light on the religious as well as the political life of the community in the last century of the second Jewish commonwealth. Some critics had reluctantly to admit that their earlier theories, influenced by their conception of Pharisaic Judaism, required modification. A similar result was brought about by the third work of the Vienna period, on the Galilean 'Am Ha'aretz. Dr B?chler's major contributions to the history of this period had appeared in the publications of the Vienna Seminary before he left for London. At Jews' College his main interest still lay in the same period, but was concentrated more on the theological than the historical background, although the first publication of Jews' College was devoted to a description of the social conditions and the political leadership of the Jews in Sepphoris and Tiberias in the second century. The second dealt with the economic conditions in Judea, from the destruction of the Temple until the Bar Kochba War. Yet the greater part of his studies in London was dedicated to the investigation of Jewish religious life in the first century. Here again he endeavoured to correct the image of the religious life of the Jews projected in the works of Protestant theologians. Dr B?chler's main works include Types of Jewish Piety from 70 BCE to 70 CE, and the book which many consider his most valuable contribution, on Sin and Atonement. The former is directed mainly against Bossuet, who, without consulting rabbinic 222</page><page sequence="5">Adolph B?chler, Principal of Jews' College, 1906-1939 sources, depicted the Jewish religion as a decadent movement, ignoring figures such as Hillel, or the early Pietists, whom he presented in a new light, giving the reader fresh insight into the mentality of the pious Jew in the first century. The Jewish concepts of sin and atonement are disposed of by Protestant theologians in half a dozen lines. Dr B?chler has shown in the 461 pages of his book that to do justice to the Jewish views of sin and atonement in the first and second centuries it is insufficient to consult the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. From the Bible to the Mishnah there is a line of thought on the idea of the Covenant between God and Israel; between the Father in Heaven and the individual created in the image of God. The yoke of Heaven, the yoke of the Commandments, the yoke of the Torah, are all steps leading to the Kingdom of Heaven, which will ultimately supersede the kingdom of man. Dr B?chler showed that the sacrificial system never descended to mere mechanical worship. It was always joined with deep feelings of prayer and confession. Without prayer and confession sacrifice had no cleansing effect or religious value. In this work rabbinic piety and Jewish religious values are clarified and emphasized. In a number of minor studies Dr B?chler devoted his attention to the heretical movements and sectarian ideologies which divided Palestinian Jewry in the first and second centuries. An earlier religious division in Judaism, that of the schools of Shammai and Hillel, engaged Dr B?chler's attention in many of his essays, and he produced investigations which serve as a basis of discussion for future historians and theologians. They will serve in the future for a comprehensive survey of the political and religious, historical and literary, social and economic life of the Jews in the first century. Many other aspects, like the cultural and intellectual life of the Jews in the first century, which occupied his mind in the last years of his life, may be in fragmentary form among his writings. These may appear some day in print, completing the picture of Jewish life in that period to which he devoted the greater part of his life and study. We have spoken of B?chler the scholar, but what of B?chler the man? Scholars of the type of B?chler do not easily project a clear image of themselves. It is less that they cannot, than that they do not see the need for it. The persistent hostility of the Jewish Chronicle to Jews' College during his principalship and beyond, has led to a biased view of B?chler the man. There was certainly an air of austerity, even at times severity, about him. He set himself extremely high standards, possibly intolerably high ones, in every aspect of his life. He was a perfectionist, but he was not lacking in a sense of humour, although he kept it severely in check. I doubt whether he allowed it to intrude into the lecture-room. I frequently saw him amused by a witty remark and give a broad smile of pleasure. I never saw him give a full-throated laugh. I well remember a sabbath morning in a small private synagogue in Hampstead^in the years between the Wars, when a worshipper with Chasidic leanings produced a 223</page><page sequence="6">Bruno Marmorstein bottle of whisky and invited us to drink le-hayyim as he had Yahrzeit I recall Dr B?chler saying to my father, 4Dr Marmorstein, is there any authority for this custom?' and I remember my father replying 'I don't know off-hand if there is any precise precedent, but I am sure that between us we should be able to find one.' There was another aspect of Dr B?chler's character of which the general public was unaware, and that was his kindness and generosity, exemplified by the quite extraordinary patience he would show to students who were motivated and anxious to learn. Like most teachers he had little patience with the idle and the frivolous. A keen but needy pupil would have his immediate help, not mere encouragement. For such people he would dip into his own far-from-ample pocket, and would personally seek financial aid from well disposed but more affluent members of the College Council. His personal rectitude and integrity were apparent to all. Perhaps less well known was his meticulous performance of even the minutiae of traditional Jewish observance. I well remember the last Yom Kippur before his passing. Although in his seventieth year he remained standing?a strong, dignified and resolute figure, fortified by his iron will and an indomitable spirit?from early morning until the sound of the Shofar at night announcing the termination of the Holy Fast. It seemed to me that throughout those long hours he never once allowed himself to be distracted from the intensity of his devotions. As regards the impact he made on his students, it is perhaps sufficient to note that for the last three-quarters of a century there is hardly a rabbinic or ministerial position of importance in this country and in the Commonwealth which has not been occupied by an alumnus of Jews' College, including a Haham, Chief Rabbis, Dayanim and scholars of international repute, a number of whom are happily still with us. By his encouragement and example he also stimulated scholarly research and publication among his colleagues on his academic staff. B?chler held firmly to the view that an institution of higher learning must have among its main objectives the promotion of original creative research and sound sys? tematic scholarship. Hence the series of Jews' College publications between the Wars which have been recognized as classics and have gained international acclaim for Jews' College as a seat of advanced learning. His influence on non-Jewish scholars and students of Judaism and Jewish history was immense. George Foot Moore, Travers Herford and Herbert Danby, to mention only a few, have all acknowledged the debt they owed B?chler in opening their eyes to a new understanding of the Pharisees and Rabbinic Judaism. I shall refer to only three areas of B?chler's involvement with the Anglo-Jewish establishment. One was the proposal to teach the New Testament to the top class at the Hampstead Synagogue in 1921. It was clearly not a very wise suggestion, and the facts are not easy to discover as there is no record in 224</page><page sequence="7">Adolph B?chler, Principal of Jews' College, 1906-1939 the minutes of the Hampstead Synagogue. Weeks and months of agitated debate were recorded copiously in the Jewish press. Particularly difficult to understand is the vacillation of the Chief Rabbinate on this issue, usually so firm and decisive. Dr B?chler was consulted not on the merit of the proposal, but as to how it should be implemented. But he does not appear to have been adequately briefed, since he appears to have been told that the average age of the class was sixteen. Another source suggests that this figure was arrived at by admitting a young lady of thirty to this pre-Barmitzvah class. Dr B?chler took the view that the best method of instruction was by the study of selected original texts. The second area is the long-ranging debate on Robert Waley-Cohen's proposal to turn Jews' College into a postgraduate academic institution and move it to Oxford or Cambridge. There was bound to be a clash here, as the United Synagogue (which has always tended to regard Jews' College as its private domain) and the Principal held diametrically opposed ideas as to the qualifications of a spiritual leader. Dr B?chler's ideas I have already indicated. The United Synagogue had in mind more the concept of a pastoral functionary in line with the clergy of the dominant faith. This is seen in the title Minister/Reader and Reader/Minister still retained to this day. The third area is the saddest of all, and I touch on it with restraint. In 1938, some leading members of the College Council thought the time had come to consider a successor to Dr B?chler. They approached this perhaps not in the most sensitive way, especially as there was no age limit in the principal's contract of service. A Curriculum Committee was set up to revise the syllabus, but it was not long before the discussions became acrid. A note of personal criticism of the principal emerged, and according to some contemporary evidence was encouraged if not fomented by some members of the Committee. Particularly distasteful and hurtful to Dr B?chler was the fact that past and present students of his were invited to give, and indeed gave, evidence to the Committee. Some of these appeared to find no difficulty in keeping their sense of fairness and loyalty well under control. While the investigations were still in progress, Adolph B?chler passed away on Sunday 20 February 1939. An hour before his death he asked his wife to convey to his colleagues the work load for the following day. I do not think I can conclude this paper better than by quoting from an address which my late father, Arthur Marmorstein, a lifelong friend and colleague, gave to the students' College Union a few weeks after Dr B?chler's death. Now I address myself to you past and present students of Jews' College, after I have tried to put before you the life and work of your master. In doing so, I will remind you of an old rabbinic story: we are told that a great Master in Israel was once sitting in his College surrounded by his students. Suddenly there arrived 225</page><page sequence="8">Bruno Marmorstein two newcomers whom their colleagues recognized as their former fellow students. They were greeted and welcomed and asked of their experiences during their absence. The travellers reported on their journeys in the outside world, and spoke of their substantial attainments and achievements. When the students heard the account of the wealth and riches their colleagues had acquired, the desire to imitate their example rose in their hearts. The Master who had noticed how restless and dissatisfied worldly ambition had made them, commanded them to follow him to one of the valleys surrounding his Galilean birthplace, Meron. Arriving in one of the valleys, the Master ascended the height of a rock and under the clear Galilean sun lifted up his eyes to Heaven and prayed: Valley, Valley, be filled with golden denarim! Turning to the students he said: Go, and take therefrom as much as you wish, but I would have you know that he who touches these golden denarim loses his share in the world to come. This, my friends, is as true today as it was seventeen hundred years ago. This is the fateful decision which in every generation the student of our Holy Law has to make. He has to choose between God and Mammon. Either he serves the one or he serves the other. He cannot minister to both. You belong to God or to Mammon. This is specially true in our days. More than students of any other branch of learning, students of our sacred religion of the Torah are asked: What good is there in your studies? How can your studies and your learning help?yourself, your fellow Jews or mankind generally? Today when Judaism and the Jewish people are threatened with annihilation: today more than in any past period of Jewish history do we stand in need of inspired servants of the Lord. And our Jewish religion has this peculiarity, that without learning, without scholarship, without penetrating into the inner depths of its essence, its proponents cannot become effective teachers and preachers of its most sacred message. If ever there was a time when spiritual ambassadors were needed, it is now?at this hour when the whole of our civilization seems to be crumbling to dust. Such a time clamours aloud for men who can interpret the message of Judaism to their fellow men, and to prepare for the final triumph of Jewish prophecy, Jewish philosophy and the Jewish vision of God. This, my young friends, is the message of the life and work of your master, whose immortal soul now looks down upon us from the heavenly heights, enjoying the splendour of the Divine presence. May his life and work continue to be a source of blessing after his death, no less than it was in his lifetime. 226</page></plain_text>