Zacharias Frankel

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Zacharias Frankel

Zacharias Frankel (born September 30, 1801 in Prague ; died February 13, 1875 in Wroclaw ) was a conservative, reform-oriented rabbi who worked in Bohemia and Germany , a champion of equality between Jews and Christians and founding director of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Wroclaw. He formulated a program of “historically positive Judaism” as a response to the spreading Reform Judaism and is considered the spiritual father of conservative American-style Judaism .

Zacharias Frankel, printed in the Illustrated Jewish Family Calendar 1882

Live and act

childhood and education

Frankel was born in Prague as the eldest son of a presumably quite wealthy Jewish family to which numerous rabbis and scholars belonged. His mother Esther, née Fischel (1769–1841) ran a sales stand with textiles, his father Koppelmann Frankel (1769–1850) a wool trade, but mostly devoted himself to the study of Jewish writings. He was entitled "Morenu", our teacher, who identified him as a scholar. The strictly religious family lived in the 5th district outside the ghetto walls. Frankel received both a Jewish and a secular upbringing. After studying the Talmud in Prague under Bezalel Ronsburg, he went to Budapest in 1825 , where he passed the Matura examination after two years . He then studied philosophy, philology and natural sciences at the Pest University and completed his studies in 1830 with a doctorate.

Activity as a rabbi

Interior of the Semper Synagogue Dresden, inaugurated by Z. Frankel on May 8, 1840, destroyed in the so-called Reichskristallnacht 1938

In 1831 Frankel applied for the post of district rabbi for the Leitmeritz district and was selected from several candidates by the Austrian government. In the spring of 1832 he took up his position and also became a local rabbi in Teplice , in the same year he married Rosa Mayer, the daughter of a Teplice banker. Frankel's interest was particularly in religious instruction and the modernization of worship services, which was not common in Bohemia at the time.

After the death of the Dresden rabbi, Frankel was proposed to the office of rabbi in Dresden at the instigation of his friend and later community leader Bernhard Beer and was elected as chief rabbi for Dresden by both the Jewish community of Dresden and the Saxon government in 1836 , at the same time he should also change take care of the Jewish community in the trade fair city of Leipzig , which was not involved in his election as chief rabbi. In 1837 the Saxon Ministry of Culture issued a “regulatory” on the state supervision of cult and teaching in the Jewish community, which Frankel helped to shape. In 1853, the Dresden Jewish community received a new community constitution approved by the state, which Frankel helped to draw up as the community's rabbi would have. Frankel was only marginally involved in the development of the newly constituting Jewish community in Leipzig. In 1845, the Leipzig "Israelite Religious Community" elected Adolf Jellinek , also a supporter of the "historically positive school", as preacher and religion teacher.

On August 16, 1838, a law came into force in Saxony that repealed numerous provisions that discriminated against Jews without putting Jews on an equal footing with Christians. Jews in Dresden and Leipzig were now able to obtain local citizenship, which made it necessary to take an oath of subjects and citizens. The Saxon state parliament obtained an expert opinion from Frankel on the question of the so-called " Jewish oath ", which Jews had to take in a humiliating ceremony until then. Frankel's work “The oath of the Jews in theological and historical relationship”, which was submitted to the Saxon state parliament in 1839 and published in 1840, contributed significantly to the way government circles and the Jewish press emphasized that the Jewish citizen's oath was aligned with the Christian one. Frankel's writing had an impact beyond Saxony and formed the basis for the abolition of the humiliating "Jewish oath" in other German states and in France, but not in Prussia, where earlier statements by Moses Mendelsohn were possibly based. Frankel refuted this in 1846 in a 500-page treatise with the title “The judicial evidence according to Mosaic-Talmudic law ...”, which he sent to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. And thus obtained that oaths taken by Jews in court are recognized in Prussia were.

Efforts had been made in Dresden since 1835 to build a synagogue in place of the various, mostly private, prayer rooms. Frankel, who had little influence on the worship service in the prayer rooms, became a great advocate of building synagogues. After the hope of getting a centrally located piece of land from the city free of charge, the Jewish community acquired a piece of land on the edge of the city center in the immediate vicinity of the banks of the Elbe. The laying of the foundation stone, which Frankel remembered decades later, took place in June 1838; the synagogue , built according to the plans of Gottfried Semper , was inaugurated on May 8, 1840.

Frankel was the first Bohemian rabbi with a doctorate and one of the first rabbis to preach in German. In 1845 he took part in the second rabbinical meeting in Frankfurt, where he spoke out in favor of a more moderate form of innovations than the majority of the participating rabbis, especially with regard to the liturgy in Hebrew. After the rabbinical assembly had spoken out against the use of Hebrew in the synagogue, Frankel resigned from the rabbinical assembly in a letter dated July 18, 1845 and broke with the reform movement.

He refused an appointment as chief rabbi in Berlin, mainly because the Prussian government did not respond to his demand to publicly recognize the office and to equate the Jewish faith with the Christian one, and stayed in Dresden until 1854 as director of the newly founded Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau was called, where he worked until his death.


Frankel published numerous scientific papers and represented his ideas of "historically positive Judaism" as the editor of two magazines in which he published numerous articles of his own. From 1844 to 1846 he headed the magazine for the religious interests of Judaism , in 1851 he founded the monthly for the history and science of Judaism , which was editorially directed by him until 1868, before the historian Heinrich Graetz and Pinkus Fritz Frankl, a Berlin rabbi and Karaite specialist who took over the management of the magazine, which continued to exist with interruptions until 1939.


Frankel's critical conservative stance, with which he took a middle position between Reform Judaism and Jewish Orthodoxy, became the model in the USA for the current of Conservative Judaism that established itself in the 1880s . The Jewish Theological Seminary , founded in New York in 1886 , was named after the Jewish Theological Seminary in Wroclaw, which Frankel was the first director to have a significant influence on, and developed into the central institution of Conservative Judaism.

In 2012 was in Potsdam , the Conservative rabbinical seminary Zacharias Frankel Campus Europe as a branch of the "Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies" in California -based American Jewish University founded.

Works (selection)

  • The oath of the Jews in theological and historical relation (Dresden 1840, 2nd improved edition 1847). online edition 1840 , online 2nd edition 1847
  • Judicial evidence according to Mosaic-Talmudic law. A contribution to the knowledge of the Mosaic-Talmudic criminal and civil law. In addition to an investigation into the Prussian legislation regarding the testimony of the Jews. (Berlin 1846). (on-line)
  • Preliminary studies for the Septuagint (Leipzig 1841). (on-line)
  • On the influence of Palestinian exegesis on Alexandrian hermeneutics (Leipzig 1851). (on-line)
  • Darche ha-Mishnah: Hodegetik (introduction) to the Mishnah and the books Tosefta, Mechilta, Sifra, Sifri (Leipzig 1859, additions 1867), which are closely related to it . Online Hebrew
  • Mewo ha-Jeruschalmi: Introduction to the Jerusalem Talmud (Breslau 1870). Online Hebrew
  • Ahawat Zion: Talmud Jeruschalmi (Part I Vienna 1874, Part II Breslau 1875)
  • Dr. Bernhard Beer. A picture of life and time (biography of the head of the Dresden Jewish community, in which Frankel describes the struggles of the Saxon Jews to improve and secure their legal position, Breslau 1863). (on-line)
  • Seminar programs at the Wroclaw Jewish Theological Seminar:
    • On Palestinian and Alexandrian writing research (program for the opening of the seminar on August 10, 1854). (on-line)
    • Basics of the Mosaic-Talmudic marriage law (1859). (on-line)
    • Draft of a history of the literature of post-Talmudic responses (1865). (on-line)
    • To the Targum of the Prophets (1872)
  • Magazines
    • Journal for the Religious Interests of Judaism . (on-line)
    • Monthly for the history and science of Judaism . (on-line)


  • Andreas Brämer : Rabbi Zacharias Frankel. Science of Judaism and Conservative Reform in the 19th Century . Abbreviated version of the dissertation Zacharias Frankel , Freie Universität Berlin 1996 (=  Netiva . Volume 3 ). Olms, Hildesheim u. a. 2000, ISBN 3-487-11027-X .
  • Marcus Brann : History of the Jewish Theological Seminary (Fraenckel'sche Foundation) in Breslau. Festschrift for the 50th anniversary of the institution. Reprint of the Breslau edition undated (1904). Olms, Hildesheim u. a. 2009, ISBN 978-3-487-13948-7 .
  • Michael A. Meyer : A historical Judaism: Zacharias Frankel and Abraham Geiger . In: Answer to the Modern. History of the reform movement in Judaism . Böhlau Verlag, Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-205-98363-7 , p. 131–138 ( online at: - original title: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism .).
  • J. Perles:  Frankel, Zacharias . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 7, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1877, pp. 266-268.
  • Origin and family tree of Zacharias Frankels: Fränkel (Frankel) . In: Jewish Encyclopedia . New York 1901 ( online at: ).
  • Frankel, Zecharias . In: Jewish Encyclopedia . New York 1901 ( online at: ).
  • Esther Seidel: Zacharias Frankel. And the Jewish Theological Seminary. And the Jewish-Theological Seminary. Hentrich & Hentrich Verlag, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-95565-027-8 . (German English)
  • Entry FRANKEL, Zacharias, Dr. In: Michael Brocke and Julius Carlebach (editors), edited by Carsten Wilke : Biographisches Handbuch der Rabbis. Part 1: The rabbis of the emancipation period in the German, Bohemian and Greater Poland countries 1781-1871. K G Saur, Munich 2004, No. 466, p. 463.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e Andreas Brämer: Rabbi Zacharias Frankel. Science of Judaism and Conservative Reform in the 19th Century . Abbreviated version of the dissertation Zacharias Frankel , Freie Universität Berlin 1996 (=  Netiva Volume 3 ). Olms, Hildesheim u. a. 2000, ISBN 3-487-11027-X .
  2. a b Ismar Schorsch: Frankel, Zacharias . In: Lindsay Jones (Ed.): Encyclopaedia of Religion . 2nd Edition. tape 5 . Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2005, pp. 3187-3188 ( behind a paywall: Gale Virtual Reference Library ).
  3. a b c Joseph Elijah Heller, Yehoyada Amir: Frankel, Zacharias . In: Michael Berenbaum, Fred Skolnik (Ed.): Encyclopaedia Judaica . 2nd Edition. tape 7 . Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2007, pp. 200-201 ( online: Gale Virtual Reference Library ).
  4. ^ Klaus Kempter: The Jellineks 1820–1955. A family biographical study on the German-Jewish educated middle class . Revised dissertation, University of Heidelberg 1996 (=  writings of the Federal Archives 52 ). Droste, Düsseldorf 1998, ISBN 3-7700-1606-8 , p. 40-45 .
  5. Sally Gans: Frankel, Zacharias . In: Georg Herlitz, Bruno Kirschner (ed.): Jüdisches Lexikon . tape 2 . Jewish publishing house, Berlin 1928, p. 724 f . ( online ).
  6. a b Nahum N. Glatzer: Monthly for the history and science of Judaism . In: Michael Berenbaum, Fred Skolnik (Ed.): Encyclopaedia Judaica . 2nd Edition. tape 14 . Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2007, pp. 433-434 ( online: Gale Virtual Reference Library ).
  7. ^ Martin Lewin: Frankl, Pinkus Fritz . In: Georg Herlitz, Bruno Kirschner (ed.): Jüdisches Lexikon . tape 2 . Jewish publishing house, Berlin 1928, p. 754 ( online ).
  8. Yaakov Ariel: Conservative Judaism. In: Dan Diner (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture (EJGK). Volume 2: Co-Ha. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2012, ISBN 978-3-476-02502-9 , pp. 31-36.
  9. ^ New seminar for rabbis in Potsdam. In: Der Tagesspiegel. June 21, 2012.
  10. ^ Complete catalog of works: Matthias Wolfes:  Frankel, Zacharias. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 19, Bautz, Nordhausen 2001, ISBN 3-88309-089-1 , Sp. 430-445.
predecessor Office successor
--- Chief Rabbi of Dresden
Wolf Landau