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Biographical/Historical Information

Abraham Geiger (24 May 1810 in Frankfurt am Main – 23 October 1874 in Berlin) was a reformist rabbi and scholar. Rabbi Geiger led the Jewish reform movement, in which he sought to alter the language that called the Jews chosen people, differentiating them from everyone else, when in fact he felt that they were more closely related to other monotheistic peoples. Geiger’s scrutiny of traditional Jewish thought began in his childhood, with his studies of history, where the divine authority was questioned. Geiger studied at the Universities of Heidelberg and Bonn, where he wrote his first major paper, “Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?” (What did Mohammed take from Judaism?) In this paper he examines the Koran, and states that Christianity and Islam, the two substantially larger Monotheistic religions, lack authenticity, as they were simply variations of Judaism’s core beliefs, and thereby vehicles to spread Monotheism across the world. Due to religious discrimination that barred Geiger from getting a position as a university professor, he decided to become a rabbi. Furthermore, his belief that the Torah and Talmud should be studied as religious texts, not as laws, put him at odds with conservative Jews. In 1840, at the displeasure of Breslau’s conservative Jewish community, he became the rabbi of Breslau. However, in 1863 he left for more reform minded communities in Frankfurt and Berlin. It was his belief that Jews should not Jews to stringently follow the Torah, but rather watch over its message and morals. In 1871, he was appointed to the newly created reform minded rabbinical college in Berlin, Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, where he spent his final years.

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Unknown Artist: Portrait of Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), Leo Baeck Institute, 78.123.