Professor Alexandra Zirkle is a scholar of modern Jewish thought, biblical hermeneutics, and Jewish-Christian relations. Her research centers biblical interpretation as a mode of critical inquiry, restores nineteenth-century figures to the canon of modern Jewish thought, and explores the ways that the interpretation of scripture is always also a mode of political speech.
Professor Zirkle’s forthcoming book analyzes how German Jews wielded the constructive power of biblical exegesis to craft new forms of Judaism and stake their claims to civil emancipation. Throughout the nineteenth century, German biblical scholarship often spilled beyond the walls of the university and German intellectuals and politicians often turned to biblical exegesis to support their campaigns for or against extending civil rights to German Jews. Although long unrecognized, German Jews actively contributed to the discipline of German biblical hermeneutics. This book analyzes how the three most influential modern German Jewish biblical exegetes—Salomon Herxheimer (1801-1884), Ludwig Philippson (1811-1889), and Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891)—used the medium of biblical exegesis to defend their rights to emancipation and to formulate their identities as modern Jews and Germans. By focusing on their interpretations of the Jerusalem Temple and sacrificial service, I illustrate how a topic that may seem exclusive to antiquarian interests in fact figured prominently in nineteenth-century polemics as a metonym for debates about the role of ritual praxis in modern religiosity, the nature of historical progress, and the place of Judaism in modern European culture.