Moses Mendelssohn

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The era opened by Moses Mendelssohn —86 —i. The German period is also marked by the…. His own choice of the German Mendelssohn over the Hebrew equivalent reflected the same acculturation to German life that he sought for other Jews. In Mendelssohn became tutor to the children of the silk manufacturer Issak Bernhard, who in took Mendelssohn into his business.

In Mendelssohn won the prize of the Prussian Academy of Arts in a literary contest; and as a result King Frederick the Great of Prussia was persuaded to exempt Mendelssohn from the disabilities to which Jews were customarily subjected. In Mendelssohn experienced a nervous breakdown as the result of an intense dispute over Christianity with the Swiss theologian J.

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Lavater , who two years earlier had sent him his own translation of a work by his compatriot Charles Bonnet. Although Mendelssohn deplored religious controversy, he felt compelled to reaffirm his Judaism. The strain was relaxed only when he began a translation of the Psalms in He next embarked on a project designed to help Jews relate their own religious tradition to German culture—a version of the Pentateuch , the first five books of the Old Testament , written in German but printed in Hebrew characters — At the same time, he became involved in a new controversy that centred on the doctrine of excommunication.

This work held that force may be used by the state to control actions only; thoughts are inviolable by both church and state. His collected works, which fill seven volumes, were published in — Through his own example Mendelssohn showed that it was possible to combine Judaism with the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Through his advocacy of religious toleration and through the prestige of his own intellectual accomplishments, Mendelssohn did much to further the emancipation of the Jews from prevailing social, cultural, political, and economic restrictions in Germany. His son Abraham was the father of the composer Felix Mendelssohn.

We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. Germans were raised with the concept that Jews were of a much lower character than the Christian; the fact that the Christians deprived them of every means to make a livelihood, to receive a secular education, to receive equal protection from the law and to live as a free man, and instead attended churches which preached hatred towards them, did not occur to them that this caused the Jews low position in Germany. To Lessing, Mendelssohn was living proof of one of the main tenets of the Enlightenment that a person can become something by force of his own thinking.

Friedrich Nicolai was the son of a bookseller and became Lessing's and Mendelssohn's devoted publisher. The three would met each day and discuss literature and philosophy. The experience of these two devoted friends, plus the other intellectuals that he came in contact with in their company convinced Mendelssohn that Jews and Germans were on the threshold of a new liberal age in which they would live together in peace and harmony.

Although he had contact with many non-Jews and many liberal ideas and philosophy, Mendelssohn maintained his personal strict observance of Jewish law and never deviated from it.

Moses Mendelssohn

He strictness in religious observance never taxed their friendship. Later in life, when Mendelssohn was married, the two friends would come over to visit Mendelssohn on Friday night. Mendelssohn would excuse himself declaring his intention to go into the next room to receive the Sabbath Queen. He would remind them that tomorrow on the Sabbath, he would not be able to go to join them, but they were welcome to come to visit him, which they did. After he read it, he was asked what he thought of it. Mendelssohn replied that it was quite good, but who needs a book like that if he could write the same thing.

Lessing challenged him to do so. Several months later, Lessing surprised Mendelssohn with a printed and bound copy which had been printed by Nicolai's press. It was this book that launched Mendelssohn as a German author.

Mendelssohn's philosophy, Mendelssohn's grandchildren

Soon other books were to follow. The book, Phaidon , or the Immortality of the Soul in Three Dialogues was an immediate best seller and it was translated into several European languages. Its basic message was that reason was divine and gives man hope of the divine. Mendelssohn soon became one of the best know German writers. His books had an elegant style which was uncommon in German philosophic texts. Not since Spinoza had a Jew crossed the line to become a prominent personality in the majority Christian culture.

His fame spread far and even Catholic monks wrote to him seeking guidance. The Prussian Academy of Sciences elected Mendelssohn a member. However since King Frederick II was the over ruling authority at that time and had the power of veto. He quickly vetoed the proposal prompting the remark that the only thing that Mendelssohn lacked was a foreskin!

Mendelssohn took the rejection lightly remarking that it was better to be honored by the academy and rejected by the king than to be honored by the king and rejected by the academy. In the meantime, Bernhard's son grew up and his services was no longer needed as a tutor so Mendelssohn became Bernhard's bookkeeper.

Moses Mendelssohn - The Jewish Reformer

There was an increase of salary but also an increase in the amount of time that Mendelssohn had to devote to his work. He longed for the time when he would have more leisure to pursue his own interests. At this time he married Fromet Guggenheim and committed to himself to marriage. She was twenty-four and a head taller than Mendelssohn who was thirty at the time. Unlike most Jewish marriages at the time, it was not arranged through the agency of a shadchan , but rather they secretly became engaged on their own.

He was introduced to her father only several months later. Although he was still only an indentured household member, he was able to arrange a Prussian residence permit for her quickly. Upon the occasion of their marriage, he was required to pay the exorbitant tax extracted from Jews upon their marriage. Soon after the marriage Mendelssohn was arrested and accused of defaming Christianity in his writings. Nicolai's literary magazine was shut down.

Mendelssohn, Kant, and Freedom of Religion

This notion was, in the contemporary Berlin of Frederick the Great , generally ridiculed as untrue. Lessing found in Mendelssohn the realization of his dream.

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Within a few months, the two became closely intellectually allied. Lessing also brought Mendelssohn to public attention for the first time: Mendelssohn had written an essay attacking Germans' neglect of their native philosophers principally Gottfried Leibniz , and lent the manuscript to Lessing. Mendelssohn became — the leading spirit of Friedrich Nicolai 's important literary undertakings, the Bibliothek and the Literaturbriefe , and ran some risk which Frederick's good nature mitigated by criticizing the poems of the King of Prussia.

In he married Fromet Guggenheim, who survived him by twenty-six years. In the year following his marriage Mendelssohn won the prize offered by the Berlin Academy for an essay on the application of mathematical proofs to metaphysics, On Evidence in the Metaphysical Sciences ; among the competitors were Thomas Abbt and Immanuel Kant , who came second.

As a result of his correspondence with Abbt, Mendelssohn resolved to write on the immortality of the soul. Materialistic views were at the time rampant and fashionable, and faith in immortality was at a low ebb. Modelled on Plato 's dialogue of the same name , Mendelssohn's work possessed some of the charm of its Greek exemplar and impressed the German world with its beauty and lucidity of style. The author was hailed as the "German Plato," or the "German Socrates"; royal and other aristocratic friends showered attentions on him, and it was said that "no stranger who came to Berlin failed to pay his personal respects to the German Socrates.

So far, Mendelssohn had devoted his talents to philosophy and criticism ; now, however, an incident turned the current of his life in the direction of the cause of Judaism. In April , Johann Kaspar Lavater , then a young theology-student from Zurich, made a trip to Berlin, where he visited the already famous Jewish philosopher with some companions.

They insisted on Mendelssohn telling them his views on Jesus and managed to get from him the statement, that, provided the historical Jesus had kept himself and his theology strictly within limits of orthodox Judaism, Mendelssohn "respected the morality of Jesus' character. In March Mendelssohn's health deteriorated so badly that Marcus Elieser Bloch , his doctor, decided his patient had to give up philosophy, at least temporarily. This spell was then broken suddenly by some external stimulation.

Attacks of this kind recurred. The cause of his disease was ascribed to the mental stress due to his theological controversy with Lavater.

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Bloch diagnosed the disease as due to 'congestion of blood in the brain' a meaningless diagnosis in modern medical practice as such congestion is anatomically impossible , and after some controversy this diagnosis was also accepted by the famous Hanoverian court physician, Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann , an admirer of Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was treated with China bark , blood lettings on the foot, leeches applied to the ears, enemas , foot baths, lemonade and mainly vegetarian food.

However, although he remained subject to periods of setback, he eventually recovered sufficiently to write the major works of his later career. Mendelssohn died on January 4, as the result it was thought at the time of a cold contracted while carrying a manuscript his reply to Jacobi, titled To Lessing's Friends An die Freunde Lessings to his publishers on New Year's Eve; Jacobi was held by some to have been responsible for his death. It was after the breakdown of his health that Mendelssohn decided to "dedicate the remains of my strength for the benefit of my children or a goodly portion of my nation"—which he did by trying to bring the Jews closer to "culture, from which my nation, alas!

One of the means of doing this was by "giving them a better translation of the holy books than they previously had". This work was called the Bi'ur the explanation and also contained a commentary, only that on Exodus having been written by Mendelssohn himself. The translation was in an elegant High German, designed to allow Jews to learn the language faster.

Most of the German Jews in that period spoke Yiddish and many were literate in Hebrew the original language of the scripture. The commentary was also thoroughly rabbinic, quoting mainly from medieval exegetes but also from Talmud-era midrashim. Mendelssohn also tried to better the Jews' situation in general by furthering their rights and acceptance.

He induced Christian Wilhelm von Dohm to publish in his work, On the Civil Amelioration of the Condition of the Jews , which played a significant part in the rise of tolerance.

The interest caused by these actions led Mendelssohn to publish his most important contribution to the problems connected with the position of Judaism in a Gentile world. This was Jerusalem ; Eng.