A Baal Teshuvah of Whom You Have Never Heard

It’s the season for repentance, so a few words about a Jew who returned to Judaism.  Sir Waldemar Mordechai Wolff Haffkine (1860 – 1930) worked with Louis Pasteur and was the leading pioneer of vaccinations in India.  In fact, in Mumbai today there still exists the Haffkine Institute for vaccine research.  Late in his life, Haffkine become a deeply religious man.   He returned to the observance of the mitzvos and wrote A Plea for Orthodoxy (1916).  In this article, he advocated traditional religious observance, decried the lack of such observance among “enlightened” Jews, and stressed the importance of community life, stating:

“A brotherhood built up of racial ties, long tradition, common suffering, faith and hope, is a union ready-made, differing from artificial unions in that the bonds existing between the members contain an added promise of duration and utility. Such a union takes many centuries to form and is a power for good, the neglect or disuse of which is as much an injury to humanity as the removal of an important limb is to the individual… no law of nature operates with more fatality and precision than the law according to which those communities survive in the strife for existence that conform the nearest to the Jewish teachings on the relation of man to his Creator; on the ordering of time for work and rest; on the formation of families and the duties of husband and wife, parents and children; on the paramount obligations of truthfulness and justice between neighbor and neighbor and to the stranger within the gates.”

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