Rabbi Dr. Isaac Rosenberg 1860 – 1940. Isaac Rosenberg was born on October 5, 1860, the youngest of six children, in the West German town of Rosenthal in Hessen, near the city of Kassel. He attended the Jewish Teacher Seminary in Kassel during the years 1876 to 1879. Following two years in various teaching positions, he enrolled in the University of Marburg, where he studied Oriental philology, philosophy, and literature. His doctoral thesis, “The Aramaic Verb in the Babylonian Talmud” was published in 1887 under the auspices of the University of Leipzig.
In 1884 Rosenberg entered the University of Berlin, and at the same time enrolled at the Rabbiner-Seminar in Berlin (Hildesheimer Seminary). He was ordained as rabbi in 1888. All graduates of the Rabbiner-Seminar had academic degrees of Ph.D or were Ph.D candidates. They constituted a new class of rabbis known as “Rabbiner Doktor”, and their training at the Seminary was particularly aimed to enable them to go out into the non-religious communities and speak to their flock in the modern German idiom. Rosenberg’s first pulpit was in the Berlin suburb of Brandenburg, where he officiated between 1888 and 1892. During the next twenty-five years he was district rabbi in the East-German city of Thorn, serving also the surrounding Jewish communities. When Thorn was annexed to Poland following World War I, Rosenberg moved with his family to Berlin, where he served both as teacher and as inspector of Hebrew schools for another eighteen years. Shortly after Kristallnacht he fled to England, where he died on February 2, 1940. He is buried just outside of London.
The years of the turn of the twentieth century, during which the sermons in this volume were composed, would seem to have been happy ones. The Jewish population of Thorn was at its maximum and Rosenberg was well ensconced as a leader in his community. He was blessed with three sons and a daughter. The later years were not so kind to Rosenberg. The number of Jews in Thorn began to dwindle, as did their religious observance. He yearned for the richer cultural life in Berlin. By the time that he was able to obtain a position in Berlin, his second oldest son had succumbed to tuberculosis. Another son died of leukemia a decade later, shortly after settling in Palestine. It was his oldest child, a son, and his youngest, a daughter, who, together, presented him with five grandchildren. At the time of this writing, his progeny extends into the fifth generation and, together with their spouses, exceeds well over one hundred souls, all Jewish, all Torah- true. Thorn The city of Thorn (it became Torun after being annexed by Poland following World War I ) was located at the German-Polish border. Jews first settled there in 1793, but they were limited to only certain areas, and their subsistence was very meager. It was only in the second part of the 19th Century that Jews received official permission to settle in Thorn, and the number of businessmen, lawyers and physicians increased. The synagogue was erected in 1847, which was also the year in which the local Jews were emancipated and granted full citizenship. For a period of 50 years, the towering figure in Thorn was Zevi Hirsch Kalischer., author of Derishat Zyyon. Kalischer died in 1874, eighteen years before Rosenberg assumed the pulpit there. The end of the 19th Century saw the Jewish population of Thorn at its highest, 1371, or about 5 of the population. The community decreased in size dramatically after World War I, and disappeared after World War II.
Rosenberg’s Sermons. In the course of his rabbinic career, Rosenberg composed thousands of sermons –sermons for the synagogue on Sabbaths and Festivals, as well as weddings, circumcisions, Bar Mitzvahs, and funerals - in Thorn as well as in the surrounding Jewish communities. Their composition and delivery became a special passion of his, and he recorded in his diary the specific Biblical text upon which each week’s sermon was based. He firmly believed that sermons must be memorized and delivered without notes as a way of conveying the preacher’s sincerity. With unintended humor, he subjected each sermon to critical evaluation, each sermon called “superb” or “very well received” (2) In fact, reviews of this volume in Jewish newspapers at the time of publication were uniformly favorable in their praise for the clarity, style, elegance and content of the sermons. Among the early influences on Rosenberg’s style of preaching, was Azriel Hildesheimer, founder and head of the Rabbiner-Seminar, who, among others, delivered lectures on homiletics. A rich source of homiletics was the extensive 1890 manual by Sigmund. Maybaum, a docent at the Lehranstalt fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin (Reform). A perusal of Rosenberg’s Festival Sermons suggests that he was familiar with this work. An equally extensive treatise on homiletics by Joseph Wohlgemuth (Orthodox) was published at the time that the sermons in this volume were delivered. Since this was a supplement to a year book from the Rabbiner-Seminar, Rosenberg must have been well acquainted with this publication as well as its author.