Jewish Studies Moses Mendelssohn
by
Elias Sacks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0012

Introduction

A leading rationalist philosopher of the German Enlightenment and a figure in the early Haskalah, Moses Mendelssohn (b. 1729–d. 1786) is often described as the “founder” of modern Jewish thought. Born in the rural town of Dessau, he received a traditional Ashkenazic Jewish education before moving to Berlin at the age of fourteen, eventually finding employment in the household of a wealthy Jewish owner of a silk factory. Mendelssohn would later become a partner in this business enterprise, remaining involved even as he pursued the literary career and communal activities for which he is remembered today. After arriving in Berlin, he acquired a variety of European languages and began to study the writings of non-Jewish thinkers, and his first German publications on philosophy and literature appeared during the 1750s. By the late 1760s, he had become known as the “German Socrates” and was a leading figure in German intellectual life, gaining a reputation as a defender of the rationalist philosophy associated with G. W. Leibniz, and composing influential works in fields such as metaphysics and aesthetics. The 1750s and early 1760s also saw Mendelssohn publish his first writings on Judaism, which—directed primarily at Jewish readers—included a short-lived Hebrew journal and a Hebrew commentary on Maimonides. Mendelssohn’s first published German work on Judaism appeared several years later, in 1769, when he responded to a public call to convert to Christianity with a defense of his loyalty to the Jewish tradition. He would continue to write on Judaism both for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences throughout his career, with his two most influential works appearing in the early 1780s: The Book of the Paths of Peace (often known as the Bi’ur), which included a German translation of, and Hebrew commentary on, the books of the Pentateuch, and Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism, which—responding to another call to abandon Judaism—defended the compatibility of the Jewish tradition with Enlightenment philosophy and the modern state. Complementing these literary efforts were Mendelssohn’s extensive political activities: he frequently came to the assistance of Jewish communities that found themselves in conflicts with local authorities, and he played a central role in emerging debates regarding the role of Jews in non-Jewish society. Mendelssohn died in 1786, in the midst of a bitter dispute—known as the Pantheism Controversy—regarding the value of Enlightenment rationalism, and his personality and writings came to assume a central place in modern Jewish consciousness. While for some Jews he became a hero worthy of emulation, for other Jews he became a symbol of modernity’s flaws.

General Overviews

Scholars have long sought to reconstruct and evaluate Mendelssohn’s treatment of Judaism—more specifically, to clarify the content, and to assess the success, of his attempts to reconcile his philosophical commitments with his loyalty to the Jewish tradition. Bamberger 1981 and Altmann 1987 cast doubt on the coherence of Mendelssohn’s arguments, with Bamberger ascribing the tensions the author discovers toward the apologetic nature of Mendelssohn’s writings on Judaism, and Altmann linking the problems the author identifies to the complex nature of Mendelssohn’s psychology. Meyer 1967 also offers a negative assessment of Mendelssohn’s achievement, surveying his life and writings and suggesting that he failed to adequately address the challenges confronting modern Jews. Recent scholarship has gone a step further, asking not only whether Mendelssohn’s reconciliation succeeds but also whether reconciliation was, in fact, his goal—whether he actually believed that traditional Judaism could be reconciled with Enlightenment thought. While Arkush 1994 argues that Mendelssohn may have been a covert deist who denied the possibility of reconciling traditional Judaism with modern liberalism, Sorkin 1996 portrays Mendelssohn as a sincere defender of Judaism and revelation who drew on medieval and Enlightenment sources; Gottlieb 2011 stakes out a “middle position” between these readings, affirming the sincerity of Mendelssohn’s arguments while acknowledging his divergence from earlier thinkers. Other commentators have called attention to previously neglected dimensions of Mendelssohn’s work, with Breuer 1996 highlighting Mendelssohn’s engagement with the premodern and modern study of scripture, and Hilfrich 2000 emphasizing Mendelssohn’s concern with issues surrounding language and representation.

  • Altmann, Alexander. “Moses Mendelssohn’s Concept of Judaism Re-examined.” In Von der mittelalterlichen zur modernen Aufklärung: Studien zur jüdischen Geistesgeschichte. By Alexander Altmann, 234–248. Tübingen, West Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Concise overview of Mendelssohn’s philosophy of Judaism, by his most influential 20th-century interpreter. Focusing primarily on the content and background of Jerusalem, Altmann identifies a variety of tensions between Mendelssohn’s philosophical commitments and conception of Judaism and suggests that these tensions may reflect the complex nature of this thinker’s psyche.

    Find this resource:

  • Arkush, Allan. Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment. SUNY Series in Judaica. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s theology and politics, focusing on his German writings. According to Arkush, Mendelssohn did not intend to provide a substantive defense of the Jewish tradition but, rather, sought to create a new form of Judaism appropriate to life in a liberal state. Moreover, Mendelssohn may have been a covert deist, believing in the existence of God but secretly rejecting biblical revelation. See also Spinoza, The Enlightenment, Natural Religion and Moral Philosophy, and The Pantheism Controversy.

    Find this resource:

  • Bamberger, Fritz. “Mendelssohn’s Concept of Judaism.” Translated by Eva Jospe. In Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship. Edited by Alfred Jospe, 343–360. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of “Mendelssohns Begriff vom Judentum,” published in 1929. Bamberger argues that Mendelssohn’s views on Judaism emerged not as a natural outgrowth of his philosophical commitments but rather as a response to challenges by non-Jewish thinkers; indeed, the problems that plague Mendelssohn’s position reflect the apologetic and contingent nature of his writings.

    Find this resource:

  • Breuer, Edward. The Limits of Enlightenment: Jews, Germans, and the Eighteenth-Century Study of Scripture. Harvard Judaic Monographs 7. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s approach to the Bible. While noting the innovative dimensions of his thought, this study presents Mendelssohn as a conservative figure who resisted threats to the Jewish textual tradition emerging from modern biblical scholarship. Suggests that Mendelssohn often attempted to deflect attention from such threats rather than provide substantive responses to these challenges. Also see Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought, the Enlightenment, and the Bible.

    Find this resource:

  • Gottlieb, Michah. Faith and Freedom: Moses Mendelssohn’s Theological-Political Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s theology and politics, focusing on his relationship with Maimonides and Spinoza, as well as the Pantheism Controversy. Gottlieb stakes out a “middle position” between Arkush 1994 and Sorkin 1996, arguing that Mendelssohn sought to fashion a form of Judaism appropriate to modern life but nevertheless should be read as a sincere defender of the Jewish tradition. Also see Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought, Spinoza, and the Pantheism Controversy.

    Find this resource:

  • Hilfrich, Carola. “Lebendige Schrift”: Repräsentation und Idolatrie in Moses Mendelssohns Philosophie und Exegese des Judentums. Munich: Fink, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of Mendelssohn’s views on language, Judaism, and politics, drawing on his Hebrew and German writings. Hilfrich reads Mendelssohn as developing a theory of representation that resists a variety of dangers, such as the emergence of idolatry, the annihilation of diversity, and the loss of freedom.

    Find this resource:

  • Meyer, Michael A. The Origins of the Modern Jew: Jewish Identity and European Culture in Germany, 1749–1824. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Overview of Mendelssohn’s context, life, thought, and legacy. Chapters 1 and 2 focus on Mendelssohn himself, presenting him as a conservative and “temperate” reformer and concluding that he provided only an “ephemeral solution” to the challenges confronting modern Jews. Chapters 3 and 4 focus on Mendelssohn’s students and children.

    Find this resource:

  • Sorkin, David J. Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first studies to integrate Mendelssohn’s Hebrew and German writings. Unlike Arkush 1994, Sorkin argues that Mendelssohn was a sincere defender of the Jewish tradition who used Enlightenment thought to preserve and conceptualize revealed religion. Mendelssohn exhibits strong affinities with the 18th-century religious Enlightenment and medieval Jewish Andalusian tradition. See also Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought and Jews and Society.

    Find this resource:

Biographies

Mendelssohn’s life has long been an object of fascination, with the dramatic events of his career—his rise to philosophical stardom, emergence as a leading Jewish figure, and involvement in religious and philosophical controversies—inspiring numerous biographical accounts. Eighteenth- and 19th-century works include Euchel 1788, composed by one of Mendelssohn’s early admirers, and Kayserling 1862, the first scholarly biography of this thinker. The 20th century witnessed the publication of Altmann 1973, which remains the most comprehensive and widely used scholarly account of Mendelssohn’s life. More-recent studies in French and Hebrew include Bourel 2004 and Feiner 2010.

  • Altmann, Alexander. Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The most comprehensive account of Mendelssohn’s life. Historically and philosophically rich, Altmann’s study is indispensable for scholarship but perhaps too detailed to serve as an introductory text.

    Find this resource:

  • Bourel, Dominique. Moses Mendelssohn: La naissance du judaïsme moderne. Paris: Gallimard, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A recent biography of Mendelssohn. Bourel presents Mendelssohn as the “true founder of modern Judaism.” Includes an extensive bibliography, as well as a detailed account of Mendelssohn’s reception history.

    Find this resource:

  • Euchel, Isaac Abraham. Toldot Rabenu He-hakham Mosheh ben Menahem. Berlin: Hevrat Hinukh Ne’arim, 1788.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first Hebrew biography of Mendelssohn, written by a figure in the Haskalah who was a strong admirer of this thinker. This text remains an important source of information but is not a scholarly work.

    Find this resource:

  • Feiner, Shmuel. Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity. Translated by Anthony Berris. Jewish Lives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of the Hebrew edition (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 2005). Emphasizing the humanistic and somber character of Mendelssohn’s thought, Feiner presents Mendelssohn as an influential yet tragic figure whose life illuminates crucial aspects of Jewish modernity. Very accessible.

    Find this resource:

  • Kayserling, Meyer. Moses Mendelssohn: Sein Leben und seine Werke, nebst einem Anhange ungedruckter Briefe von und an Moses Mendelssohn. Schriften herausgegeben vom Institute zur Förderung der israelitischen Literatur. Leipzig: H. Mendelssohn, 1862.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first scholarly biography of Mendelssohn. Kayserling describes Mendelssohn as a prominent philosopher and faithful Jew committed to the cultural development of his co-religionists.

    Find this resource:

Anthologies

Moses Mendelssohn zur 200 jährigen Wiederkehr seines Geburtstages and Verband der Vereine für Jüdische Geschichte und Literatur in Deutschland 1929 present collections of essays published in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth. Jospe 1981 provides English translations of articles on Mendelssohn by four influential German-Jewish scholars. Altmann 1982 is a collection of essays by the 20th century’s leading Mendelssohn expert. Hinske 1981; Albrecht, et al. 1994; and Albrecht and Engel 2000 bring together papers delivered at conferences on Mendelssohn, occurring in recent decades.

  • Albrecht, Michael, and Eva J. Engel, eds. Moses Mendelssohn im Spannungsfeld der Aufklärung. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, Germany: Frommann-Holzboog, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Volume emerging from a 1995 conference. These German and English essays explore diverse aspects of Mendelssohn’s thought, ranging from his ethical theory to his biblical exegesis to his views on music.

    Find this resource:

  • Albrecht, Michael, Eva J. Engel, and Norbert Hinske, eds. Moses Mendelssohn und die Kreise seiner Wirksamkeit. Wolfenbütteler Studien zur Aufklärung 19. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110942453Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Volume emerging from a 1986 conference. Primarily in German, these essays explore Mendelssohn’s philosophical commitments, relationships with his contemporaries, and reception by later figures.

    Find this resource:

  • Altmann, Alexander. Die trostvolle Aufklärung: Studien zur Metaphysik und politischen Theorie Moses Mendelssohns. Forschungen und Materialien zur deutschen Aufklärung. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, West Germany: Frommann-Holzboog, 1982.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of Altmann’s German and English essays on Mendelssohn’s metaphysics and politics. Includes influential studies of Mendelssohn’s theology and anthropology.

    Find this resource:

  • Hinske, Norbert, ed. “Ich handle mit Vernunft . . .”: Moses Mendelssohn und die europäische Aufklärung. Hamburg, West Germany: Felix Meiner, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Volume emerging from a 1979 conference. These German essays address issues such as Mendelssohn’s conception of enlightenment and his views on religious tolerance.

    Find this resource:

  • Jospe, Alfred, ed. Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of essays on the history of Jewish thought. The final section—“Reason and Revelation: The Challenge of Modernity”—includes English translations of four articles on Mendelssohn by prominent German-Jewish scholars.

    Find this resource:

  • Moses Mendelssohn zur 200 jährigen Wiederkehr seines Geburtstages. Berlin: L. Schneider, 1929.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of German essays published during the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth. These articles explore topics ranging from Mendelssohn’s life and thought to his conception of Judaism.

    Find this resource:

  • Verband der Vereine für Jüdische Geschichte und Literatur in Deutschland, ed. Gedenkbuch für Moses Mendelssohn. Berlin: M. Poppelauer, 1929.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of German essays published during the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth. These papers explore topics such as Mendelssohn’s historical context, writings on Judaism, and posthumous influence. Offers essays by prominent Weimar German Jews, including Franz Rosenzweig (for an English translation of this essay, see Rosenzweig 1994, cited under Case Studies).

    Find this resource:

Reference Works

Jospe, et al. 2007 summarizes Mendelssohn’s life and thought. Dahlstrom 2011 provides an overview of Mendelssohn’s philosophy. Meyer 1967 surveys literature by and about Mendelssohn, published between the 18th and mid-20th centuries. Albrecht 1983 considers works appearing between 1965 and 1980.

Primary Texts

An accomplished writer, Mendelssohn published his first German and Hebrew works during the mid-1750s, and he continued to write in both languages through the end of his life. Rather than systematically presenting his thought in a series of books, Mendelssohn produced a body of texts that span a wide range of genres, including book-length treatises, expository essays, literary reviews, and translations and commentaries; moreover, he corresponded extensively with leading Jewish and Christian figures of his era. The authoritative edition of these writings is Mendelssohn 1971–.

  • Mendelssohn, Moses. Gesammelte Schriften Jubiläumsausgabe. 24 vols. Edited by Fritz Bamberger, Ismar Elbogen, Alexander Altmann, Eva J. Engel, Reuven Michael, Michael Albrecht, et al. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, Germany: F. Frommann, 1971–.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Authoritative edition of Mendelssohn’s German and Hebrew writings. As of 2012, several volumes—including material such as philosophical fragments, letters, and indices—have yet to be published.

    Find this resource:

English Translations

Recent years have seen the appearance of English translations of Mendelssohn’s chief German philosophical works: Mendelssohn 1997 collects his early writings, Mendelssohn 2007 presents his treatise on immortality, and Mendelssohn 2011a makes available his final defense of rationalist metaphysics. Moreover, a growing number of Mendelssohn’s writings on Judaism have appeared in English translation. Mendelssohn 1969 and Mendelssohn 1975 offer selections from his German writings, along with a translation of Jerusalem and several excerpts from his Hebrew writings. Mendelssohn 1983 is the most widely used translation of Jerusalem. Breuer and Sorkin 2003 offers selections from Mendelssohn’s first Hebrew work. Mendelssohn 2011b presents a collection of Hebrew and German texts.

  • Breuer, Edward, and David Sorkin. “Moses Mendelssohn’s First Hebrew Publication: An Annotated Translation of the Kohelet Mussar.” Translated by Edward Breuer. Leo Baeck Institute Year book 48.1 (2003): 3–23.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Selections from Mendelssohn’s first Hebrew work, the short-lived journal Preacher of Morals (Kohelet Mussar). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Mendelssohn, Moses. Jerusalem, and Other Jewish Writings. Edited and translated by Alfred Jospe. New York: Schocken, 1969.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mendelssohn’s 1783 treatise on Judaism and politics, as well as selections from other German works and several Hebrew texts. Jospe’s translation of Jerusalem has largely been eclipsed by Arkush’s edition (see Mendelssohn 1983).

    Find this resource:

  • Mendelssohn, Moses. Moses Mendelssohn: Selections from His Writings. Edited and translated by Eva Jospe. Jewish Heritage Classics. New York: Viking, 1975.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Short selections from Mendelssohn’s correspondence and published works. Excerpts—taken primarily from his German writings—focus on personal, political, religious, and philosophical themes. Alfred Jospe provides an introduction.

    Find this resource:

  • Mendelssohn, Moses. Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism. Translated by Allan Arkush. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Widely used translation of Mendelssohn’s 1783 treatise on Judaism and politics. Includes Alexander Altmann’s introduction and extensive, page-by-page commentary.

    Find this resource:

  • Mendelssohn, Moses. Philosophical Writings. Edited and translated by Daniel O. Dahlstrom. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mendelssohn’s early writings on metaphysics, aesthetics, and ethics, including the works collected in his 1761 Philosophical Writings and his famous 1763 “Prize Essay.” Also presents a 1776 journal entry on the soul’s faculties and a well-known 1784 essay on enlightenment.

    Find this resource:

  • Mendelssohn, Moses. Phädon: Or, On the Immortality of the Soul. Translated by Patricia Noble. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mendelssohn’s 1767 treatise on the immortality of the soul. Includes the preface and appendix to the 1769 edition. Introduction by David Shavin.

    Find this resource:

  • Mendelssohn, Moses. Morning Hours: Lectures on God’s Existence. Edited and translated by Daniel O. Dahlstrom and Corey Dyck. Studies in German Idealism 12. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2011a.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mendelssohn’s 1785 treatise on natural theology, metaphysics, epistemology, and Spinozism.

    Find this resource:

  • Mendelssohn, Moses. Moses Mendelssohn: Writings on Judaism, Christianity, & the Bible. Edited by Michah Gottlieb. Translated by Curtis Bowman, Elias Sacks, and Allan Arkush. Brandeis Library of Modern Jewish Thought. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2011b.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Selections from Mendelssohn’s Hebrew and German writings. Includes much of Arkush’s translation of Jerusalem (see Mendelssohn 1983), as well as material from Mendelssohn’s biblical commentaries, philosophical writings, polemical works, and personal correspondence.

    Find this resource:

Intellectual World

Mendelssohn’s writings reveal a thinker who was deeply engaged with a wide range of interlocutors: with diverse premodern Jewish sources, ranging from medieval mysticism to philosophical texts; with the 17th-century heretic Baruch Spinoza, whose work Mendelssohn discussed throughout his career; with thinkers associated with the European Enlightenment, ranging from metaphysicians and theologians to biblical scholars; and with 18th-century Jewish intellectuals, such as leading rabbinical authorities and figures associated with the Haskalah. Meyer 1926 illuminates the broad range of Mendelssohn’s intellectual engagements, cataloguing the diverse works present in his personal library.

Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought

Mendelssohn’s engagement with classical and medieval Jewish thought goes back to his childhood in Dessau, where his education—following the standard Ashkenazic Jewish curriculum—focused primarily on the Talmud and the Jewish legal tradition. During this period, he also began to explore material such as grammatical works and medieval Jewish philosophy, studies that he continued to pursue after he moved to Berlin; indeed, he famously blamed his hunchback on the rigors involved in his early study of Maimonides. While scholars agree that this material plays a central role in Mendelssohn’s thought, commentators have offered differing assessments of the relationship between Mendelssohn and premodern Jewish sources. While Sorkin 1996 presents Mendelssohn’s thought as largely continuous with Andalusian thinkers such as Judah Halevi, Kaplan 1998 emphasizes the importance of Maimonides to Mendelssohn’s writings. Gottlieb 2011 further develops this point, acknowledging Mendelssohn’s affinities and engagement with his Andalusian predecessors but highlighting the differences between him and these thinkers and emphasizing his concern with Maimonides. Breuer 1996 and Horwitz 2000 call attention to Mendelssohn’s interest in additional strands of premodern Jewish thought, with Breuer exploring Mendelssohn’s concern with traditions surrounding the text and interpretation of the Bible, and Horwitz considering Mendelssohn’s posture toward material associated with medieval Jewish mysticism. Krochmalnik 2000 explores the uses to which Mendelssohn put classical and medieval texts, and Karp 2004 examines ways in which Mendelssohn’s approach to aesthetics constitutes a break with earlier Jewish sources. Jospe 2007 offers an overview of Mendelssohn’s engagement with various medieval thinkers.

  • Breuer, Edward. The Limits of Enlightenment: Jews, Germans, and the Eighteenth-Century Study of Scripture. Harvard Judaic Monographs 7. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s approach to the Bible. Breuer explores Mendelssohn’s defense of premodern Jewish traditions, especially relating to the Masoretic text and rabbinic exegesis. Also see General Overviews, The Enlightenment, and The Bible.

    Find this resource:

  • Gottlieb, Michah. Faith and Freedom: Moses Mendelssohn’s Theological-Political Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s writings on theology and politics. Gottlieb argues that Sorkin 1996 posits too strong a resemblance between Mendelssohn and the medieval Andalusian tradition. Also examines Mendelssohn’s posture toward Maimonides, suggesting that the modern thinker was deeply ambivalent regarding his predecessor’s thought. Also see General Overviews, Spinoza, and The Pantheism Controversy.

    Find this resource:

  • Horwitz, Rivka. “Kabbalah in the Writings of Mendelssohn and the Berlin Circle of Maskilim.” Leo Baeck Institute Year book 45.1 (2000): 3–24.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s use of Kabbalistic sources. While acknowledging that Mendelssohn criticized Kabbalistic movements such as Sabbateanism and Frankism, Horwitz rejects the views of earlier scholars who present Mendelssohn as an opponent of Kabbalah as such. Mendelssohn drew on Kabbalistic material to articulate his own conception of Judaism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Jospe, Rafael. “Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist.” In Sepharad in Ashkenaz: Medieval Knowledge and Eighteenth-Century Enlightened Jewish Discourse. Edited by Resianne Fontaine, Andrea Schatz, and Irene Zwiep, 107–140. Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of Mendelssohn’s relationship with medieval Jewish thought, focusing on Saadia Gaon, Judah Halevi, and Abraham Ibn Ezra. Jospe presents Mendelssohn as a traditionalist figure, suggesting that he not only echoed claims in medieval Jewish sources and overlooked radical moves in those texts but also applied and transformed medieval positions in response to modern challenges.

    Find this resource:

  • Kaplan, Lawrence. “Maimonides and Mendelssohn on the Origins of Idolatry, the Election of Israel, and the Oral Law.” In Perspectives on Jewish Thought and Mysticism. Edited by Alfred L. Ivry, Elliot R. Wolfson, and Allan Arkush, 423–456. Amsterdam: Harwood, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares Mendelssohn and Maimonides with respect to their views on idolatry, Jewish election, and the oral law. Arguing that Maimonides’s Laws of Idolatry was a source for Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem, Kaplan identifies and assesses similarities and differences between these thinkers’ positions.

    Find this resource:

  • Karp, Jonathan. “The Aesthetic Difference: Moses Mendelssohn’s Kohelet Musar and the Inception of the Berlin Haskalah.” In Renewing the Past, Reconfiguring Jewish Culture: From Al-Andalus to the Haskalah. Edited by Ross Brann and Adam Sutcliffe, 93–120. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s first Hebrew work, a short-lived journal dealing with topics such as ethics and aesthetics. Karp argues that this journal places a strong emphasis on the human capacity for aesthetic discernment, and that this posture constitutes a break with earlier Jewish sources. Challenges the views that this journal should be read as a philosophical text, and that Mendelssohn should be seen primarily as a conservative figure.

    Find this resource:

  • Krochmalnik, Daniel. “Tradition und Subversion in der Hermeneutik Moses Mendelssohns.” Trumah: Zeitschrift der Hochschule für Jüdische Studien 9 (2000): 63–102.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s treatment of biblical, rabbinic, and medieval sources. While acknowledging Mendelssohn’s grounding in the Jewish tradition, this essay focuses on moments of “subversion” and “instrumentalization” in his use of premodern material—moments in which he selectively appropriates and reinterprets inherited sources in order to advance his own vision. See also The Bible.

    Find this resource:

  • Sorkin, David J. Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of Mendelssohn’s Jewish thought, integrating his Hebrew and German writings. Claiming that Mendelssohn broke with Maimonides on a variety of key issues, Sorkin argues that Mendelssohn’s arguments drew on, and were largely continuous with, the Andalusian tradition of medieval Jewish thought—a tradition associated with figures such as Judah Halevi and Nahmanides. See also General Overviews and Jews and Society.

    Find this resource:

Spinoza

The opening and closing chapters of Mendelssohn’s German literary career revolved around the early modern heretic Baruch Spinoza: Mendelssohn’s first German work, the Philosophical Dialogues, explores the relationship between Spinoza and the Enlightenment philosopher Leibniz, and Mendelssohn’s final German works, written during the Pantheism Controversy, explore the relationship between Spinozism and theism. However, if the existence of an engagement with Spinoza is clear, the nature of this engagement remains a matter of debate. More precisely, while scholars accept that Mendelssohn was familiar with Spinoza’s writings on metaphysics, commentators remain divided regarding whether Mendelssohn directly knew, and substantively engaged, Spinoza’s critique of Judaism and revealed religion—whether Mendelssohn read and attempted to address Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise. Altmann 1982 discusses Mendelssohn’s early engagement with Spinoza’s metaphysics. Guttmann 1981 suggests that Mendelssohn was familiar with and sought to reject Spinoza’s claims regarding revealed religion, and Morgan 1989 analyzes what it takes to be Mendelssohn’s response to Spinoza’s Treatise. Arkush 1994 accepts Mendelssohn’s familiarity with Spinoza’s Treatise but denies that Mendelssohn offered a substantive response to this text. By contrast, Niewöhner 1994 argues that Mendelssohn never read the Theologico-Political Treatise; Goldenbaum 2002 rejects this claim, while also exploring Mendelssohn’s engagement with other aspects of Spinoza’s thought. Goetschel 2004 and Gottlieb 2011 address a similarly broad range of issues, with Goetschel positing a series of affinities between Mendelssohn and Spinoza, and Gottlieb reconstructing Mendelssohn’s ambivalence toward diverse aspects of his predecessor’s thought.

  • Altmann, Alexander. “Moses Mendelssohn on Leibniz and Spinoza.” In Die trostvolle Aufklärung: Studien zur Metaphysik und politischen Theorie Moses Mendelssohns. By Alexander Altmann, 28–49. Forschungen und Materialien zur deutschen Aufklärung. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, West Germany: Frommann-Holzboog, 1982.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the partial rehabilitation of Spinoza in Mendelssohn’s first German work, the Philosophical Dialogues. Altmann reconstructs Mendelssohn’s attempt to show that Spinoza’s thought constituted a crucial step in the emergence of Leibnizian philosophy.

    Find this resource:

  • Arkush, Allan. Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment. SUNY Series in Judaica. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s theology and politics. Arkush argues that Mendelssohn was familiar with, but failed to address, Spinoza’s attack on revealed religion, and that this fact casts doubt on the sincerity of Mendelssohn’s defense of the Jewish tradition. Like Spinoza, Mendelssohn may have deceptively presented a liberal vision as the essential teaching of a premodern tradition. See also General Overviews, The Enlightenment, Natural Religion and Moral Philosophy, and The Pantheism Controversy.

    Find this resource:

  • Goetschel, Willi. Spinoza’s Modernity: Mendelssohn, Lessing, and Heine. Studies in German Jewish Cultural History and Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the Spinozistic dimensions of modern thought. Chapters 6–11 explore Mendelssohn’s writings on aesthetics, politics, Judaism, and metaphysics, arguing that his divergences from predecessors such as Leibniz often result in striking affinities with Spinoza’s views.

    Find this resource:

  • Goldenbaum, Ursula. “Mendelssohns schwierige Beziehung zu Spinoza.” In Spinoza im Deutschland des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts. Edited by Norbert Waszek, Eva Schürmann, and Frank Weinreich, 265–317. Stuttgart Bad-Cannstatt, Germany: Frommann-Holzboog, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of Mendelssohn’s “tragic” relationship with Spinoza, focusing on Mendelssohn’s metaphysical writings, aesthetic works, Jerusalem, and the Pantheism Controversy. Goldenbaum rejects the claim in Niewöhner 1994 that Mendelssohn did not read the Theologico-Political Treatise.

    Find this resource:

  • Gottlieb, Michah. Faith and Freedom: Moses Mendelssohn’s Theological-Political Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s theology and politics, highlighting his ambivalence toward Spinoza. Gottlieb reads Mendelssohn’s early rehabilitation of Spinoza as a defense of Jewish virtue and intellect, argues that Jerusalem can be interpreted as a critique and adaptation of Spinozistic views, and explores the treatment of Spinozism during the Pantheism Controversy. Also see General Overviews, Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought, and The Pantheism Controversy.

    Find this resource:

  • Guttmann, Julius. “Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem and Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise.” Translated by Alfred Jospe. In Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship. Edited by Alfred Jospe, 361–386. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of “Mendelssohns Jerusalem und Spinozas Theologisch-Politischer Traktat” (Berlin: S. Scholem, 1931), an influential essay on the relationship between Spinoza and Mendelssohn. Arguing that the Theologico-Political Treatise exerted a strong influence on Jerusalem, Guttmann suggests that themes central to the former reappear in the latter, and that Mendelssohn uses Spinozistic ideas to reject Spinozistic conclusions.

    Find this resource:

  • Morgan, Michael L. “Overcoming the Remoteness of the Past: Memory and Historiography in Modern Jewish Thought.” Judaism 38.2 (1989): 160–173.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s posture toward history and Spinoza. Morgan argues that Mendelssohn responded to the Theologico-Political Treatise by relying on an argument borrowed from Thomas Hobbes, and that Jerusalem is thus neither “an inexplicable expression of traditionalism, nor a lapse away from liberalism” (p. 172). Also see History.

    Find this resource:

  • Niewöhner, Friedrich. “‘Es hat nicht jeder das Zeug zu einem Spinoza’: Mendelssohn als Philosoph des Judentums.” In Moses Mendelssohn und die Kreise seiner Wirksamkeit. Edited by Michael Albrecht, Eva J. Engel, and Norbert Hinske, 291–313. Wolfenbütteler Studien zur Aufklärung 19. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110942453Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assesses Mendelssohn’s knowledge of Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise. Niewöhner argues that Mendelssohn did not read, but merely knew of, Spinoza’s arguments in the Treatise, and that this fact should lead us to read Jerusalem as outlining a political theory rather than a philosophy of Judaism.

    Find this resource:

The Enlightenment

After arriving in Berlin and acquiring languages such as Greek and Latin, Mendelssohn encountered a work of Enlightenment theology titled Observations on the Augsburg Confession. He soon turned to the writings of Enlightenment figures such as G. W. Leibniz, Christian Wolff, and John Locke, and in the 1750s and 1760s began to publish German works on metaphysics and aesthetics, eventually becoming one of the leading intellectual figures of his day. He was best known as a defender of the rationalist philosophy associated with Leibniz and Wolff, publishing influential works on topics such as immortality and tragedy, responding to intellectual developments that threatened to undermine rationalist metaphysics, and maintaining personal relationships with some of Germany’s leading thinkers—most famously with Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Beck 1969 describes Mendelssohn as one of the “popular philosophers” responsible for the spread of Leibnizian-Wolffian thought, while Altmann 1969 emphasizes the originality of Mendelssohn’s metaphysics and aesthetics. Arkush 1994 and Schweid 2011 provide overviews of Mendelssohn’s relationship with diverse streams of Enlightenment thought. Kuehn 1987, Breuer 1996, and Sorkin 2008 attend to dimensions of the Enlightenment often overlooked in earlier Mendelssohn scholarship, with Kuehn exploring Mendelssohn’s relationship with Scottish commonsense philosophy, Breuer examining Mendelssohn’s engagement with historical-critical biblical scholarship, and Sorkin emphasizing Mendelssohn’s affinities with the Protestant and Catholic religious Enlightenment. Schmidt 1989 explores the institutional dimensions of Mendelssohn’s involvement in German intellectual life, and Socher 2006 considers Mendelssohn’s relationship with Solomon Maimon, another Jew who played an important role in the German Enlightenment.

  • Altmann, Alexander. Moses Mendelssohns Frühschriften zur Metaphysik: Untersucht und erläutert. Tübingen, West Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1969.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of Mendelssohn’s early metaphysical works. Rejecting the characterization of Mendelssohn as a mere “popular philosopher,” Altmann presents Mendelssohn as an original thinker who drew on a variety of sources. For example, while Mendelssohn was deeply rooted in Leibnizian-Wolffian thought, he sought to incorporate the insights of British empiricism into his philosophical system.

    Find this resource:

  • Arkush, Allan. Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment. SUNY Series in Judaica. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s theology and politics. Arkush explores Mendelssohn’s relationship with a variety of streams in Enlightenment thought, including the metaphysics of Leibniz and his successors, German and British political theory, and diverse critiques of revealed religion. A useful overview even for readers who disagree with Arkush’s interpretive conclusions. See also General Overviews, Spinoza, Natural Religion and Moral Philosophy, and The Pantheism Controversy.

    Find this resource:

  • Beck, Lewis White. Early German Philosophy: Kant and His Predecessors. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A history of pre-Kantian German philosophy. Beck presents Mendelssohn as the figure who best articulated and developed the ideas associated with the “popular philosophers,” 18th-century thinkers responsible for the dissemination of Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophy.

    Find this resource:

  • Breuer, Edward. The Limits of Enlightenment: Jews, Germans, and the Eighteenth-Century Study of Scripture. Harvard Judaic Monographs 7. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s approach to the Bible. Breuer explores Mendelssohn’s response to emerging trends in 17th- and 18th-century biblical scholarship, such as challenges to the reliability of the Masoretic text and attacks on the plausibility of rabbinic exegesis. Also see General Overviews, Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought, and The Bible.

    Find this resource:

  • Kuehn, Manfred. Scottish Common Sense in Germany, 1768–1800: A Contribution to the History of Critical Philosophy. McGill-Queen’s Studies in the History of Ideas 11. Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reconstructs the role of Scottish commonsense philosophy in the development of German thought. In addition to exploring the influence of Scottish philosophy on Mendelssohn, Kuehn provides an overview of late-18th-century German intellectual life—of what Mendelssohn described as the “general anarchy” of 18th-century German philosophy.

    Find this resource:

  • Schmidt, James. “The Question of Enlightenment: Kant, Mendelssohn, and the Mittwochgesellschaft.” Journal of the History of Ideas 50.2 (1989): 269–291.

    DOI: 10.2307/2709735Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the background and content of essays by Mendelssohn and Kant on the concept of “enlightenment.” Schmidt devotes particular attention to the Mittwochgesellschaft (Wednesday Society), a secret society devoted to the advance of Enlightenment to which Mendelssohn belonged. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Schweid, Eliezer. A History of Modern Jewish Religious Philosophy. Vol. 1, The Period of the Enlightenment. Translated by Leonard Levin. Supplements to the Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 14. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of Volume 1 of Toldot Filosofiyat Hadat Hayehudit B’zman Hehadash (Tel Aviv: Schechter Institute of Judaic Studies, 2001), a history of modern Jewish thought. The chapter on Mendelssohn explores his relationship with Leibnizian thought as well as with the work of figures such as Spinoza and Lessing.

    Find this resource:

  • Socher, Abraham P. The Radical Enlightenment of Solomon Maimon: Judaism, Heresy, and Philosophy. Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the life and work of Solomon Maimon, a Lithuanian Jew who left eastern Europe and became an important figure in German philosophy. Socher’s study considers various aspects of Mendelssohn’s personal and philosophical relationship with Maimon.

    Find this resource:

  • Sorkin, David J. The Religious Enlightenment: Protestants, Jews, and Catholics from London to Vienna. Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the religious Enlightenment, focusing on its Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish manifestations. The chapter on Mendelssohn (“Berlin: Moses Mendelssohn’s ‘Vital Script,’” pp. 165–213) locates his work against the backdrop of the early Haskalah, compares him to Christian representatives of the religious Enlightenment, and emphasizes his status as a “theological Wolffian”—as a thinker who utilized and adapted Wolffian thought to defend and reformulate religious belief.

    Find this resource:

Eighteenth-Century Jewish Cultural Life

Mendelssohn was deeply involved in 18th-century Jewish cultural life: his childhood in Dessau and early years in Berlin introduced him to a variety of important Jewish figures, and his growing reputation paved the way for exchanges with leading rabbinical authorities. Indeed, Mendelssohn is generally regarded as a member of the early Haskalah, although scholars are increasingly skeptical of the claim—once widespread—that he should be seen as the “founder” of the Jewish Enlightenment. Freudenthal 2007 explores the work of Rabbi David Fränckel, a respected rabbinic scholar and Mendelssohn’s first teacher in Dessau and Berlin. Freudenthal 2005 considers the intellectual and political commitments of Aaron Salomon Gumpertz, a medical doctor who provided Mendelssohn with crucial linguistic training. Freudenthal 2011 considers the relationship between Mendelssohn and Israel Zamosc, an autodidact interested in modern science who provided Mendelssohn with instruction in medieval Jewish philosophy. Schachter 1988 considers Mendelssohn’s correspondence with Rabbi Jacob Emden, one of the 18th century’s leading rabbinical figures. Sorkin 2001 presents Gumpertz, Zamosc, and Mendelssohn as early maskilim (figures associated with the Haskalah), and Feiner 2004 considers Mendelssohn’s place within the Jewish Enlightenment as a whole. Pelli 1972 explores Mendelssohn’s relationship with other figures in the Haskalah. Behm 2002 attends to the practical dimensions of Mendelssohn’s involvement in 18th-century Jewish culture, exploring his role in the development of Jewish education in Berlin.

  • Behm, Britta L. Moses Mendelssohn und die Transformation der jüdischen Erziehung in Berlin: Eine bildungsgeschichtliche Analyse zur jüdischen Aufklärung im 18. Jahrhundert. Jüdische Bildungsgeschichte in Deutschland. Münster, Germany: Waxmann, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s role in the transformation of Jewish education in late-18th-century Berlin. Behm argues that Mendelssohn played a central role in this process and that many of his German and Hebrew works should be read with this issue in mind.

    Find this resource:

  • Feiner, Shmuel. The Jewish Enlightenment. Translated by Chaya Naor. Jewish Culture and Contexts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of Mahapekhat Hene’orut: Tenu’at Hahaskalah Hayehudit Bame’ah Hashmone Esrei (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 2002), a study of the Jewish Enlightenment. Feiner contextualizes Mendelssohn’s work against the backdrop of the early Haskalah, suggesting that he is best understood as an early maskil who went on to become an independent intellectual, rather than as the founder or leader of the Haskalah movement.

    Find this resource:

  • Freudenthal, Gad. “Aaron Salomon Gumpertz, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and the First Call for an Improvement of the Civil Rights of Jews in Germany (1753).” AJS Review 29.2 (2005): 299–353.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0364009405000152Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores a 1753 publication calling for Jewish civic equality. Freudenthal argues that Gumpertz was the author of this text, and provides an overview of his intellectual and political pursuits. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Freudenthal, Gad. “Rabbi David Fränckel, Moses Mendelssohn, and the Beginning of the Berlin Haskalah: Reattributing a Patriotic Sermon (1757).” European Journal of Jewish Studies 1.1 (2007): 3–33.

    DOI: 10.1163/187247107780557173Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines a 1757 sermon delivered by Fränckel. Although this sermon is typically ascribed to Mendelssohn, Freudenthal argues that Fränckel was the real author. Suggests that Fränckel’s thought exhibits striking similarities with views endorsed by Mendelssohn, and that Fränckel should be seen as exerting a significant influence on Mendelssohn’s development. Available online for purchase or by subscription. Also see Freudenthal’s addenda in European Journal of Jewish Studies 4.2 (2010): 315–317, available online.

    Find this resource:

  • Freudenthal, Gideon. “Enlightenment in Gold.” In Studies in the History of Culture and Science: A Tribute to Gad Freudenthal. Edited by Resianne Fontaine, Ruth Glasner, Reimund Leicht, and Giuseppe Veltri, 411–418. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004191235.i-490Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the treatment by Zamosc and Mendelssohn of a key biblical episode: the golden calf incident. Freudenthal argues that Zamosc posited, while Mendelssohn sought to eliminate, a conflict between science and religion. See also Case Studies.

    Find this resource:

  • Pelli, Moshe. Mosheh Mendelssohn: Be-Khavle Masoret. Tel Aviv: Alef, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of Mendelssohn’s writings that reads his work against the backdrop of 18th-century intellectual life. Pelli explores Mendelssohn’s relationship with other figures in the Haskalah, as well as issues such as this thinker’s posture toward deism and his attitude toward premodern Jewish sources.

    Find this resource:

  • Schacter, Jacob J. “Rabbi Jacob Emden: Life and Major Works.” PhD diss., Harvard University, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Emden’s life and writings. Chapter 7 explores his correspondence with Mendelssohn, outlining similarities and differences between these figures and reconstructing their engagement with a variety of issues, ranging from purity law to burial practices to the salvation of gentiles.

    Find this resource:

  • Sorkin, David J. “The Early Haskalah.” In New Perspectives on the Haskalah. Edited by Shmuel Feiner and David J. Sorkin, 9–26. London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the early Haskalah, described as an effort to revise baroque Judaism and create a broader Hebrew curriculum. Sorkin discusses two figures—Zamosc and Gumpertz—who played key roles in Mendelssohn’s intellectual development, and suggests that Mendelssohn can himself be understood as an early maskil.

    Find this resource:

Jews and Society

During the 18th century, Prussian Jewry began to undergo changes that would transform the nature of Jewish life—changes that would replace the relative isolation of medieval European Jews, who generally lived in their own autonomous communities—with a situation of increasing economic, cultural, and political integration. Mendelssohn—who was often asked to intervene with German political authorities on behalf of local Jewish communities—was deeply engaged with these developments, playing an active role in emerging debates regarding what would later be called Jewish “emancipation”—regarding Jewish inclusion in German society. Meyer and Brenner 1996–1998 provides an overview of German-Jewish history, with Volume 1 highlighting many of the developments to which Mendelssohn responded. Katz 1998 offers an account of changes in Jewish social life across central and western Europe, and Lowenstein 1994 considers the transformation of the Berlin Jewish community in which Mendelssohn lived. Sorkin 1996 provides an overview of Mendelssohn’s political activities, and Altmann 1982 considers the philosophical background of Mendelssohn’s chief arguments regarding Jewish integration—namely, his plea for Jewish civic equality and his demand that Jewish communities renounce the power of excommunication. Green 1992 seeks to clarify the form of Jewish life that Mendelssohn hoped would arise from these arguments, and Breuer 1992 explores the types of views to which Mendelssohn was responding. Hess 2002 attends to the rhetorical dimensions of Mendelssohn’s efforts.

  • Altmann, Alexander. Die trostvolle Aufklärung: Studien zur Metaphysik und politischen Theorie Moses Mendelssohns. Forschungen und Materialien zur deutschen Aufklärung. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, West Germany: Frommann-Holzboog, 1982.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    See “The Philosophical Roots of Moses Mendelssohn’s Plea for Emancipation” (pp. 217–228) and “Moses Mendelssohn on Excommunication: The Ecclesiastical Law Background” (pp. 229–243). The first essay explores Mendelssohn’s development of a political theory that would undergird Jewish civic equality. The second text reads Mendelssohn’s rejection of excommunication, against the backdrop of Christian ecclesiastical law.

    Find this resource:

  • Breuer, Edward. “Politics, Tradition, History: Rabbinic Judaism and the Eighteenth-Century Struggle for Civil Equality.” Harvard Theological Review 85.3 (1992): 357–383.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0017816000003357Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s treatment of post-biblical Judaism. Breuer argues that Mendelssohn sought to respond to widespread suspicions that post-biblical Judaism rendered its adherents unfit for civic equality. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Green, Kenneth Hart. “Moses Mendelssohn’s Opposition to the ‘Herem’: The First Step toward Denominationalism?” Modern Judaism 12.1 (1992): 39–60.

    DOI: 10.1093/mj/12.1.39Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s rejection of herem, the power of Jewish communities to excommunicate dissidents. Breaking with earlier interpreters, Green suggests that Mendelssohn may have intended for his attack on herem to lay the groundwork for organized religious diversity among Jews—for the emergence, within Jewry, of a voluntary denomination committed to an “enlightened” form of Judaism. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Hess, Jonathan M. Germans, Jews and the Claims of Modernity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of German debates surrounding Judaism and emancipation. The chapter devoted to Mendelssohn (“Mendelssohn’s Jesus: The Frustrations of Jewish Resistance,” pp. 91–135) explores the polemical and rhetorical dimensions of his work, focusing on his attempt to challenge the self-understanding of his Christian readers, and more specifically on his use of the figure of Jesus to defend Jewish emancipation and Judaism’s relevance.

    Find this resource:

  • Katz, Jacob. Out of the Ghetto: The Social Background of Jewish Emancipation, 1770–1870. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Influential—and debated—overview of Jewish emancipation, first published in 1973 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). This study attends to the role of Mendelssohn’s life and work in this process, discussing his centrality to the emergence of a “semineutral society,” participation in debates surrounding Jewish citizenship, and interactions with rabbinical authorities.

    Find this resource:

  • Lowenstein, Steven M. The Berlin Jewish Community: Enlightenment, Family, and Crisis, 1770–1830. Studies in Jewish History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A history of the transformation of Berlin Jewry during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Lowenstein suggests that Mendelssohn should be understood as a conservative figure involved in the peaceful phase of this process.

    Find this resource:

  • Meyer, Michael A., and Michael Brenner, eds. German-Jewish History in Modern Times. 4 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996–1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive history of modern German Jewry. Volume 1 and the first half of Volume 2 cover the period from the Middle Ages through the end of the 18th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Sorkin, David J. Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s life and writings. Part 3 provides an overview of his political activities, exploring his interventions on behalf of Jewish communities and involvement in debates surrounding Jewish emancipation. Suggests that he envisioned the reinstatement, on a voluntary basis, of premodern Jewish dualism—the creation of a voluntary community that would preserve its religious independence. See also General Overviews and Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought.

    Find this resource:

Jewish Law

Mendelssohn devoted many of his writings on Judaism to defending the value and authority of Jewish law. Indeed, beyond his well-known treatment of this topic in Jerusalem, which famously presents Judaism’s “ceremonial law” as a “living script” capable of promoting reflection and combating idolatry, accounts of Jewish law appear in a variety of Mendelssohn’s German and Hebrew writings, such as his Counterreflections to Bonnet’s Palingenesis and his commentary on the Pentateuch. Heinemann 1956 provides a survey of the treatment of Jewish law in Mendelssohn’s German and Hebrew writings. Funkenstein 1980 offers a brief but influential reading of the position outlined in Jerusalem, while Morgan 1981 and Eisen 1990 reconstruct and assess—in greater detail—key dimensions of Mendelssohn’s reasoning. Librett 2000 highlights ways in which Mendelssohn’s position challenges the assumptions of his Christian readers, and Fenves 2001 explores the rational inquiry and social life Mendelssohn took Jewish law to foster. Kepnes 2004 and Rosenstock 2010 share this concern with reflection and sociality, while also exploring Mendelssohn’s relevance for 21st-century religious thought. For further discussions of these issues, see especially Arkush 1994, Sorkin 1996, Hilfrich 2000, and Gottlieb 2011 (all cited under General Overviews).

  • Eisen, Arnold. “Divine Legislation as ‘Ceremonial Script’: Mendelssohn on the Commandments.” AJS Review 15.2 (1990): 239–267.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0364009400002968Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Jerusalem’s account of Jewish law. Reading Jerusalem against the backdrop of claims advanced by Maimonides and Spinoza, Eisen suggests that Mendelssohn’s argument suffers from serious flaws but is well suited to the modern world. Eisen breaks with Morgan 1981; for critiques of Eisen, see Arkush 1994 (cited under General Overviews) and Gottlieb 2006 (cited under Religious Diversity). Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Fenves, Peter D. “Language on a Holy Day: The Temporality of Communication in Mendelssohn.” In Arresting Language: From Leibniz to Benjamin. By Peter D. Fenves, 80–97. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Jerusalem’s approach to language and Jewish law. According to Fenves, Mendelssohn presented Jewish law as a way to foster a distinct type of temporality—as a way to create recurring opportunities for conversations about God and to remind participants that such conversations are never complete.

    Find this resource:

  • Funkenstein, Amos. “The Political Theory of Jewish Emancipation from Mendelssohn to Herzl.” In Deutsche Aufklärung und Judenemanzipation: Internationales Symposium Anläßlich der 250. Geburtstage Lessings und Mendelssohns, Dezember 1979. Edited by Walter Grab, 13–28. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Institute for Germany History, 1980.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines theories of Jewish emancipation. Funkenstein’s brief but influential treatment of Mendelssohn focuses on the theory of signs that underlies one of Jerusalem’s central claims—the claim that Jewish law mandates symbolic acts that avoid the dangers of symbolic images. Breaking with previous interpreters, Funkenstein presents this claim as “the most original and fertile part of the book” (p. 18). See also Politics.

    Find this resource:

  • Heinemann, Yizhak. Ta’amei Ha-Mitsvot B’Sifrut Yisra’el. 2 vols. Jerusalem: Hahistadrut Hatzionit, 1956.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A history of Jewish attempts to understand ta’amei hamitzvot (the reasons for the commandments). The chapter on Mendelssohn considers his defense of Jewish law as a whole, as well as his interpretation of specific precepts. One of the few studies to explore the treatment of Jewish law in Mendelssohn’s Hebrew writings.

    Find this resource:

  • Kepnes, Steven D. “Moses Mendelssohn’s Philosophy of Jewish Liturgy: A Post-Liberal Assessment.” Modern Theology 20.2 (2004): 185–212.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0025.2004.00250.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Connects Jerusalem’s account of Jewish law to trends in contemporary religious thought. According to Kepnes, Mendelssohn viewed Jewish law as a means of fostering free rational inquiry and saw communal norms and rituals as necessary for the existence of rational religious life. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Librett, Jeffrey S. “Judaism between Power and Knowledge: The Undecidability of the Law in Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism (1783).” In The Rhetoric of Cultural Dialogue: Jews and Germans from Moses Mendelssohn to Richard Wagner and Beyond. By Jeffrey S. Librett, 43–74. Cultural Memory in the Present. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Librett reads Jerusalem as an attempt to undermine an opposition traditionally affirmed by Christianity: between the letter (Judaism) and the spirit (Christianity). On this reading, Mendelssohn presented Jewish law as embodying a unity between spirit and letter—as well as between religion and politics—that is compatible with freedom but absent from Christianity.

    Find this resource:

  • Morgan, Michael L. “History and Modern Jewish Thought: Spinoza and Mendelssohn on the Ritual Law.” Judaism 30.4 (1981): 467–478.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s defense of Jewish law. Morgan argues that Mendelssohn offered three rationales for the authority of Jewish law but that his view is plagued by serious problems. Seeks to reconstruct Mendelssohn’s understanding of the mechanism by which Jewish law fosters reflection; Eisen 1990 criticizes this reading. For a revision of Morgan’s interpretation, see Morgan 1989 (cited under Spinoza).

    Find this resource:

  • Rosenstock, Bruce. Philosophy and the Jewish Question: Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, and Beyond. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn and Franz Rosenzweig, focusing on their philosophies and contemporary relevance. Chapter 1, “Performing Reason: Mendelssohn on Judaism and Enlightenment” (pp. 28–78), explores Jerusalem’s account of Jewish law, arguing that Mendelssohn presented Judaism as embodying an ideal form of social life—a social life that is free from coercion and dogma and fosters ongoing conversations about God. See also The Pantheism Controversy.

    Find this resource:

Religious Diversity

Mendelssohn was deeply interested in the issue of religious diversity, especially in the question of how Jews—and members of any religious community—should view the adherents of other traditions. Indeed, a recurring focus of his German and Hebrew writings is the challenge of reconciling a commitment to natural religion with loyalty to the Jewish tradition—of reconciling a belief that core religious principles are accessible to all individuals without the aid of revelation, and an insistence on the enduring value and authority of the Jewish tradition. Katz 1961 locates Mendelssohn’s arguments within the history of Jewish attitudes toward gentiles, and Schwarzchild 1962 focuses on the relationship between Mendelssohn’s position and Maimonides’s views. Fox 1976 and Kaplan 2004 raise questions regarding Mendelssohn’s reasoning, with Fox challenging the coherence of Mendelssohn’s central arguments and Kaplan highlighting Mendelssohn’s distance from premodern Jewish attitudes. Gottlieb 2006 seeks to reconstruct Mendelssohn’s views on the value of religious diversity itself—on the benefits that arise from the existence of diverse religious traditions. Erlewine 2010 reads Mendelssohn as part of a tradition in modern philosophy committed both to monotheism and tolerance.

  • Erlewine, Robert. Monotheism and Tolerance: Recovering a Religion of Reason. Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores a group of thinkers committed to preserving the core features of monotheistic religions but to ameliorating the intolerance often associated with such traditions. While identifying various tensions that plague Mendelssohn’s thought, this study suggests that his philosophy generates a tolerant attitude toward religious outsiders while preserving traditional concepts such as election. See also Natural Religion and Moral Philosophy.

    Find this resource:

  • Fox, Marvin. “Law and Ethics in Modern Jewish Philosophy: The Case of Moses Mendelssohn.” American Academy for Jewish Research 43 (1976): 1–13.

    DOI: 10.2307/3622541Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s ethics. This essay offers a strong critique of Mendelssohn’s views on gentile access to moral principles, suggesting that he turns out to endorse an untenable position. While not persuaded by Mendelssohn’s arguments, Arkush 1994 (cited under General Overviews) raises questions about Fox’s critique.

    Find this resource:

  • Gottlieb, Michah. “Mendelssohn’s Metaphysical Defense of Religious Pluralism.” Journal of Religion 86.2 (2006): 205–225.

    DOI: 10.1086/499637Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reconstructs Mendelssohn’s views on the value of religious diversity. According to Gottlieb, Mendelssohn saw religious diversity as a divine strategy for protecting monotheism from idolatry, since the diversity of religious representations reminds us that finite symbols are just that—finite symbols that should not be conflated with the deity they represent. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Kaplan, Zvi Jonathan. “Mendelssohn’s Religious Perspective of Non-Jews.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 41.3–4 (2004): 355–366.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the conceptions of tolerance and diversity in Mendelssohn’s German and Hebrew writings. Noting that he strove to harmonize Enlightenment universalism with the Jewish tradition, this essay concludes that Mendelssohn often went beyond, and even broke with, premodern Jewish views on gentile religiosity.

    Find this resource:

  • Katz, Jacob. Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times. Scripta Judaica 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Influential history of Jewish attitudes toward gentiles. This study devotes one chapter (“Enlightenment and Toleration,” pp. 169–181) to Mendelssohn’s endorsement of religious tolerance, comparing the position he defends with the views of his predecessors and contemporaries, and highlighting the social and intellectual developments that provide the backdrop for his arguments.

    Find this resource:

  • Schwarzschild, Steven S. “Do Noachites Have to Believe in Revelation? (A Passage in Dispute between Maimonides, Spinoza, Mendelssohn and H. Cohen): A Contribution to a Jewish View of Natural Law; The Textual Question.” Jewish Quarterly Review 52.4 (April 1962): 297–308.

    DOI: 10.2307/1453637Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Continued in Jewish Quarterly Review 53.1 (1962): 30–65. A study of Maimonides’s views on gentile salvation. Schwarzschild explores Mendelssohn’s exchange with Rabbi Jacob Emden on this issue, highlighting Mendelssohn’s dissatisfaction with the position endorsed by Maimonides. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

The Bible

One of Mendelssohn’s central goals was to reinvigorate the Jewish study of the Bible—to encourage a renewed engagement both with the biblical text itself and with premodern Jewish exegesis. Motivated by numerous concerns, such as worries regarding the emergence of biblical criticism, this interest in the Bible manifested itself in a variety of works, including a Hebrew commentary on Ecclesiastes, a German translation of the Psalms, and The Book of the Paths of Peace (Sefer Netivot Hashalom, often known as the Bi’ur)—a German translation of, and Hebrew commentary on, the books of the Pentateuch. Sorkin 2000 provides an overview of Mendelssohn’s exegesis, exploring his 18th-century context and emphasizing his grounding in premodern traditions. Breuer 1996 highlights Mendelssohn’s commitment to resisting historical-critical attacks on the Masoretic text and rabbinic exegesis. Krochmalnik 2000 acknowledges Mendelssohn’s grounding in premodern material but emphasizes his “subversive” use of the Bible. Sandler 1940 discusses the emergence, content, and reception of Mendelssohn’s Bi’ur, and Levenson 1972 examines Mendelssohn’s views on the Bible’s literary structure. Krochmalnik 1998 and Gottlieb 2010 turn to Mendelssohn’s views on biblical poetry, exploring ways in which his ethics and aesthetics shape his approach to the Bible. Schorch 2003 discusses a neglected aspect of Mendelssohn’s corpus: his treatment of the Song of Songs.

  • Breuer, Edward. The Limits of Enlightenment: Jews, Germans, and the Eighteenth-Century Study of Scripture. Harvard Judaic Monographs 7. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s approach to the Bible, emphasizing his commitment to defending premodern Jewish traditions—more specifically, to defending the Masoretic text and rabbinic exegesis. Against earlier interpreters, Breuer argues that Mendelssohn’s translation of the Pentateuch was motivated less by a desire for linguistic and cultural assimilation and more by worries about historical-critical scholarship. Also see General Overviews, Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought, and The Enlightenment.

    Find this resource:

  • Gottlieb, Michah. “Aesthetics and the Infinite: Moses Mendelssohn on the Poetics of Biblical Prophecy.” In New Directions in Jewish Philosophy. Edited by Aaron W. Hughes and Elliot R. Wolfson, 326–353. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s views on biblical poetry, in light of his philosophical aesthetics. On Gottlieb’s reading, Mendelssohn saw biblical poetry as capable of vividly presenting metaphysical truths, took this capacity to secure the superiority of Hebrew over Greek poetry, and intended this argument as a response to Spinoza’s critique of the Bible.

    Find this resource:

  • Krochmalnik, Daniel. “Die Psalmen in Moses Mendelssohns Utopie des Judentums.” In Der Psalter in Judentum und Christentum. Edited by Erich Zenger, 235–267. Freiburg, Germany: Herder, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of Mendelssohn’s views on the Psalms and sacred music. According to Krochmalnik, Mendelssohn envisioned the Psalms as playing a central role in the liturgy of an ideal future. Explores Mendelssohn’s Hebrew and German writings as well as his modern and premodern sources.

    Find this resource:

  • Krochmalnik, Daniel. “Tradition und Subversion in der Hermeneutik Moses Mendelssohns.” Trumah: Zeitschrift der Hochschule für Jüdische Studien 9 (2000): 63–102.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s treatment of biblical, rabbinic, and medieval sources. This essay discusses his reading of Ecclesiastes as an example of his interpretive “subversion” and “instrumentalization”—of his willingness to selectively appropriate and reinterpret premodern Jewish sources. See also Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought.

    Find this resource:

  • Levenson, Edward Richard. “Moses Mendelssohn’s Understanding of Logico-grammatical and Literary Construction in the Pentateuch: A Study of His German Translation and Hebrew Commentary (the Bi’ur).” PhD diss., Brandeis University, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s views on the literary structure of the Pentateuch. Focusing on Sefer Netivot Hashalom, Levenson explores issues such as Mendelssohn’s treatment of biblical accents, posture toward biblical criticism, and use of premodern sources.

    Find this resource:

  • Sandler, Perez. Ha-Bi’ur La-Torah shel Mosheh Mendelson V’Si’ato. Jerusalem: R. Mas, 1940.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An early study of the origins, content, and reception of Sefer Netivot Hashalom. Sandler ascribes a “reformatory” purpose to this project, suggesting that Mendelssohn wished to improve the cultural condition of 18th-century Jews. A helpful source of information on specific passages in the Bi’ur.

    Find this resource:

  • Schorch, Grit. “Zwischen Sakralität und Säkularität: Die ‘Hohelied’-Übersetzung Moses Mendelssohns.” Leipziger Beiträge zur jüdischen Geschichte und Kultur 1 (2003): 123–144.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s treatment of the Song of Songs, focusing on his little-known German translation of this text and early works of literary criticism. Reading Mendelssohn against the backdrop of premodern and 18th-century approaches to the Bible, this article emphasizes his interest in presenting a literal interpretation of the Song of Songs.

    Find this resource:

  • Sorkin, David J. “Moses Mendelssohn’s Biblical Exegesis.” In Moses Mendelssohn im Spannungsfeld der Aufklärung. Edited by Michael Albrecht and Eva J. Engel, 243–276. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, Germany: Frommann-Holzboog, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of Mendelssohn’s biblical exegesis, focusing on his treatment of Ecclesiastes and the Pentateuch. Sorkin argues that Mendelssohn sought to resist the historical-critical study of the Bible and to revive the literalist tradition of medieval Jewish exegesis, and that these moves bring Mendelssohn into proximity with 18th-century theological Wolffians.

    Find this resource:

Case Studies

The most widely discussed aspect of Mendelssohn’s biblical exegesis is his approach to the Tetragrammaton—more specifically, his claim that this name should be translated as der Ewige (the Eternal). Rosenzweig 1994 offers an influential critique of Mendelssohn’s approach, while Horwitz 1997 uncovers the medieval grounding of Mendelssohn’s posture. Other scholars have called attention to lesser-known dimensions of Mendelssohn’s exegesis: Harvey 2007 explores Mendelssohn’s reading of the Garden of Eden, and Freudenthal 2011 considers the Bi’ur’s account of the golden calf.

  • Freudenthal, Gideon. “Enlightenment in Gold.” In Studies in the History of Culture and Science: A Tribute to Gad Freudenthal. Edited by Resianne Fontaine, Ruth Glasner, Reimund Leicht, and Giuseppe Veltri, 411–418. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004191235.i-490Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s treatment of the golden calf. Arguing that the Bi’ur eliminates a potential conflict between science and religion, Freudenthal links Mendelssohn’s reading to diverse aspects of his thought. See also Eighteenth-Century Jewish Cultural Life.

    Find this resource:

  • Harvey, Warren Zev. “Mendelssohn and Maimon on the Tree of Knowledge.” In Sepharad in Ashkenaz: Medieval Knowledge and Eighteenth-Century Enlightened Jewish Discourse. Edited by Resianne Fontaine, Andrea Schatz, and Irene Zwiep, 185–192. Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s reading of the Garden of Eden. Harvey argues that Mendelssohn, drawing on Judah Halevi, broke with Maimonides and Nahmanides regarding the nature of moral knowledge, the value of sexual desire, and the interpretation of this biblical episode. See also Natural Religion and Moral Philosophy.

    Find this resource:

  • Horwitz, Rivka. “Peirush Mendelssohn L’shem Havayah: ‘Hanitzhi.’” Mada’ei Hayahadut 37 (1997): 185–214.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the sources for and reactions to Mendelssohn’s translation of the Tetragrammaton. Against critics such as Samson Raphael Hirsch and Franz Rosenzweig (see Rosenzweig 1994), Horwitz argues that Mendelssohn’s approach is deeply rooted in medieval Jewish sources—in the work of Nahmanides and the Kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla.

    Find this resource:

  • Rosenzweig, Franz. “‘The Eternal’: Mendelssohn and the Name of God.” In Scripture and Translation: Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig. By Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, 99–113. Translated by Lawrence Rosenwald and Everett Fox. Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of “‘Der Ewige’: Mendelssohn und der Gottesname” (Berlin: M. Poppelauer, 1929), an influential critique of Mendelssohn’s translation of the Tetragrammaton. While praising some aspects of Mendelssohn’s approach, Rosenzweig argues that Mendelssohn’s pre-Kantian rationalism led him to misrepresent the biblical text.

    Find this resource:

Philosophical Theology and Anthropology

It is impossible to understand Mendelssohn’s approach to Judaism without attending to his philosophical theology and anthropology—to his conception of God and understanding of the human being. For Mendelssohn, God is an omnipotent, omniscient, and infinitely good being whose existence does not depend on other entities; who has created the best of all possible worlds; and who establishes natural laws, is capable of performing miracles, and dispenses rewards and punishments. The human being, in turn, is an entity whose true Bestimmung (vocation) is the pursuit of perfection, understood as a condition—ultimately unattainable—in which an individual has properly cultivated, and rendered harmonious, the faculties of her body and soul. The following subsections consider dimensions of Mendelssohn’s thought that are linked to these commitments and play a central role in his approach to Judaism: his views on natural religion, moral philosophy, politics, and history. While these subsections also briefly touch on Mendelssohn’s aesthetics and epistemology, those topics are discussed in works cited elsewhere in this bibliography. On Mendelssohn’s aesthetics, see especially Karp 2004 (cited under Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought) as well as Krochmalnik 1998 and Gottlieb 2010 (cited under The Bible); on Mendelssohn’s epistemology, see especially the sources cited under the Pantheism Controversy. See also Dahlstrom 2011 (cited under Reference Works).

Natural Religion and Moral Philosophy

Mendelssohn was a committed defender of natural religion—of the idea that core religious principles are accessible to all individuals without the assistance of divine revelation. More specifically, for Mendelssohn, even without a miraculous act of revelation such as the one described in the Bible, individuals can acquire knowledge of God’s existence, divine providence, and the soul’s immortality. Indeed, while Mendelssohn emphasized the possibility and importance of offering philosophical demonstrations of these principles, he held that individuals can come to endorse these beliefs even in the absence of such proofs. This commitment to natural religion, in turn, is closely tied to Mendelssohn’s moral philosophy: he linked the universal accessibility of religious principles to the goodness of God and took the affirmation of such principles to be crucial to ethical action. Altmann 1981 outlines Mendelssohn’s account of the human Bestimmung, and Arkush 1994 surveys the rational theology and ethical theory linked to this conception of the human being. Altmann 1982 considers central dimensions of Mendelssohn’s approach to natural religion, and Albrecht 1994 and Beiser 2009 explore specific aspects of Mendelssohn’s ethics. Erlewine 2010 examines the ways in which these commitments shape Mendelssohn’s understanding of Judaism and Christianity. Gilon 1979 and Harvey 2007 consider the role of these commitments in Mendelssohn’s Hebrew writings.

  • Albrecht, Michael. “Überlegungen zu einer Entiwicklungsgeschichte der Ethik Mendelssohns.” In Moses Mendelssohn und die Kreise seiner Wirksamkeit. Edited by Michael Albrecht, Eva J. Engel, and Norbert Hinske, 43–60. Wolfenbütteler Studien zur Aufklärung 19. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110942453Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the sources, content, and development of Mendelssohn’s moral philosophy. Albrecht argues that Mendelssohn’s approach, focused on the pursuit of perfection, is primarily concerned with practical ethics. While Mendelssohn affirmed the role of reason in achieving moral knowledge, he devoted most of his attention to the psychological process through which knowledge yields action.

    Find this resource:

  • Altmann, Alexander. “Moses Mendelssohn on the Education and the Image of Man.” Translated by Eva Jospe. In Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship. Edited by Alfred Jospe, 387–403. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of “Das Menschenbild und die Bildung des Menschen nach Moses Mendelssohn” (Mendelssohn Studien, Vol. 1 [Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1972]), the classic study of Mendelssohn’s philosophical anthropology—of his claim that the Bestimmung of the human being is the pursuit of perfection. Altmann links this position to Mendelssohn’s views on a variety of issues, including the nature of action, the significance of religion, and the possibility of progress.

    Find this resource:

  • Altmann, Alexander. Die trostvolle Aufklärung: Studien zur Metaphysik und politischen Theorie Moses Mendelssohns. Forschungen und Materialien zur deutschen Aufklärung. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, West Germany: Frommann-Holzboog, 1982.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    See “Moses Mendelssohn’s Proofs for the Existence of God” (pp. 135–151) and “Moses Mendelssohn on Miracles” (pp. 152–163). The first essay explores Mendelssohn’s proofs for the existence of God, attending to the thinkers whom he followed and the critics whom he addressed. The second essay examines the background and content of Mendelssohn’s ambivalent posture toward miracles, noting that he affirmed the possibility of such events but emphasized the importance of natural causality.

    Find this resource:

  • Arkush, Allan. Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment. SUNY Series in Judaica. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s theology and politics. Arkush provides an overview of Mendelssohn’s natural religion and moral philosophy, surveying his proofs for principles such as God’s existence and the soul’s immortality and exploring his views on the role of religious knowledge in a moral life. See also General Overviews, Spinoza, The Enlightenment, and The Pantheism Controversy.

    Find this resource:

  • Beiser, Frederick C. “Mendelssohn’s Defense of Reason.” In Diotima’s Children: German Aesthetic Rationalism from Leibniz to Lessing. By Frederick C. Beiser, 196–243. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this history of German aesthetic rationalism, the chapter on Mendelssohn explores issues central to his ethics, such as his account of perfection, view of the will, and theory of the soul’s faculties.

    Find this resource:

  • Erlewine, Robert. Monotheism and Tolerance: Recovering a Religion of Reason. Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores a group of thinkers committed to preserving the core features of monotheistic religions but ameliorating the intolerance often associated with such traditions. This book highlights ways in which Mendelssohn’s natural theology and moral philosophy shape his views on Judaism and Christianity, along with his tolerant posture toward religious outsiders. See also Religious Diversity.

    Find this resource:

  • Gilon, Meir. Kohelet Mussar Le-Mendelssohn al Reka Tekufato. Jerusalem: Ha’akademyah Haleumit Hayisraelit Lemada’im, 1979.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s first Hebrew work, the short-lived journal Preacher of Morals (Kohelet Mussar). Gilon considers the origin, form, content, and reception of this early text, which was modeled on the Enlightenment “moral weekly,” and deals with issues central to Mendelssohn’s ethics and theology—issues such as divine justice, knowledge of God, and the nature of the human ideal.

    Find this resource:

  • Harvey, Warren Zev. “Mendelssohn and Maimon on the Tree of Knowledge.” In Sepharad in Ashkenaz: Medieval Knowledge and Eighteenth-Century Enlightened Jewish Discourse; Proceedings of the Colloquium, Amsterdam, February 2002. Edited by Resianne Fontaine, Andrea Schatz, and Irene Zwiep, 185–192. Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s reading of the Garden of Eden. Harvey argues that Mendelssohn’s moral epistemology leads him to break with prominent medieval thinkers and shapes his biblical exegesis. See also Case Studies.

    Find this resource:

Politics

While Mendelssohn understood the human vocation as the individual’s pursuit of perfection, he insisted that this individual task requires the existence of societies, and he drew on his philosophical anthropology to ground his political theory. Indeed, Mendelssohn’s work in political philosophy remains a central object of scholarly discussion: Jerusalem’s account of religion and the state has become a classic in modern political thought, and commentators continue to debate issues surrounding Mendelssohn’s apparent liberalism—to debate whether his seemingly liberal politics coheres with his Jewish commitments, and whether he should even be described as endorsing a “liberal” position. Altmann 1982 provides an overview of the background and content of Mendelssohn’s political philosophy. Morgan 1989 and Arkush 2007 claim that Mendelssohn endorsed a liberal political theory, but the authors raise questions about whether this liberalism is compatible with his conception of Judaism. Funkenstein 1980 and Sigad 1981 seek to address such tensions, proposing accounts of how Mendelssohn’s apparently liberal views cohere with his statements regarding Judaism; Schmidt 1999, in turn, raises questions about whether Mendelssohn’s politics should be described as “liberal” in the first place. Goetschel 2007 offers a reconstruction of Mendelssohn’s views on religion and the state, and Harvey 1998 explores the treatment of republicanism and divine kingship in Mendelssohn’s Hebrew writings. For additional issues relating to politics, see especially Sorkin 1996, Hilfrich 2000, and Gottlieb 2011 (cited under General Overviews).

  • Altmann, Alexander. “The Quest for Liberty in Moses Mendelssohn’s Political Philosophy.” In Humanität und Dialog: Lessing und Mendelssohn in neuer Sicht; Beiträge zum Internationalen Lessing-Mendelssohn-Symposium anlässlich des 250. Geburtstages von Lessing und Mendelssohn. Edited by Ehrhard Bahr, Edward P. Harris, and Laurence G. Lyon, 37–65. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1982.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of Mendelssohn’s political theory in its historical context. According to Altmann, Mendelssohn followed predecessors such as Christian Wolff but introduced key innovations, most notably by emphasizing the importance of individual freedom and exploring the state’s role in fostering perfection.

    Find this resource:

  • Arkush, Allan. “The Liberalism of Moses Mendelssohn.” In The Cambridge Companion to Modern Jewish Philosophy. Edited by Michael L. Morgan and Peter Eli Gordon, 35–52. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Jerusalem’s approach to Judaism and politics. Arkush argues that Mendelssohn failed to reconcile traditional Judaism with his liberal politics because the Mosaic state of the Jewish tradition violates the political principles endorsed by Jerusalem. Criticizes Sorkin 1996 (cited under General Overviews), Sigad 1981, and Harvey 1998.

    Find this resource:

  • Funkenstein, Amos. “The Political Theory of Jewish Emancipation from Mendelssohn to Herzl.” In Deutsche Aufklärung und Judenemanzipation: Internationales Symposium anläßlich der 250. Geburtstage Lessings und Mendelssohns, Dezember 1979. Edited by Walter Grab, 13–28. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Institute for Germany History, 1980.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines theories of Jewish emancipation. Funkenstein attempts to resolve the tension between Jerusalem’s account of the Mosaic polity and Jerusalem’s views on religion and the state, suggesting that Mendelssohn saw states as emerging in different ways and thus as requiring different institutional arrangements. See also Jewish Law.

    Find this resource:

  • Goetschel, Willi. “Mendelssohn and the State.” Modern Language Notes 122.3 (2007): 472–492.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A recent study of Mendelssohn’s political theory. Goetschel argues that Mendelssohn understood the relationship between religion and the state as neither hostile nor entirely complementary—that he saw religion and the state as elements of social life with competing claims that we must constantly negotiate. Mendelssohn exhibited a “liberal impulse,” but “liberalism” fails to capture his position’s complexity. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Harvey, Warren Zev. “Mendelssohn’s Heavenly Politics.” In Perspectives on Jewish Thought and Mysticism. Edited by Alfred L. Ivry, Elliot R. Wolfson, and Allan Arkush, 403–412. Amsterdam: Harwood, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reinterpretation of Mendelssohn’s politics. Harvey argues that Mendelssohn saw direct divine kingship (the Mosaic constitution) as the ideal form of government but preferred republicanism—with some qualifications—as long as the Mosaic state does not exist. One of the few studies of Mendelssohn’s politics to draw on his Hebrew writings.

    Find this resource:

  • Morgan, Michael L. “Liberalism in Mendelssohn’s ‘Jerusalem.’” History of Political Thought 10.2 (1989): 281–294.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Jerusalem’s approach to Judaism and politics. Morgan argues that Mendelssohn failed to reconcile his liberal politics with his approach to Judaism because he operated—at least in Jerusalem—with distinct and incompatible conceptions of the self.

    Find this resource:

  • Schmidt, James. “Liberalism and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century Germany.” Critical Review: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Politics and Society 13.1–2 (1999): 31–53.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares Mendelssohn’s political theory with the views of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi and Immanuel Kant. Schmidt argues that Mendelssohn should not be described as a liberal thinker, since his political philosophy is incompatible with key tenets of modern liberalism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Sigad, Ron. “Mosheh Mendelssohn—Yahadut, Politikah Elohit, U’medinat Yisrael.” Da’at 7 (1981): 93–103.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s views on Judaism and politics. Breaking with readers who take Jerusalem to fully endorse a separation between religion and the state, Sigad argues that while Mendelssohn viewed this separation as provisionally necessary in a situation of exile, he saw the unification of religion and politics as an ideal to which Judaism bears witness.

    Find this resource:

History

While it was once common to describe Mendelssohn as exhibiting little interest in history, recent scholarship has undermined this reading of his work, showing that he ascribed a crucial role to historical knowledge and developed a cyclical model of historical change. Indeed, scholars have shown that Mendelssohn’s views on history are intimately connected to various dimensions of his thought, such as his conception of the human Bestimmung and his philosophy of Judaism. Breuer 1995 provides an overview of Mendelssohn’s views on historical knowledge, while Morgan 1989 considers Mendelssohn’s response to dangers posed by such knowledge. Other scholars highlight factors that motivate Mendelssohn’s turn to a cyclical model of history, with Liebeschütz 1979 emphasizing debates between Judaism and Christianity, Schwartz 1989 focusing on dangers associated with Jewish mysticism, and Hinske 1994 pointing to Mendelssohn’s views on the importance of the individual. Böhr 1994 highlights the pessimistic dimensions of Mendelssohn’s philosophy of history, and Erlin 2002 links Mendelssohn’s views to his critique of modern social fragmentation. Feiner 2002 reads Mendelssohn’s treatment of history against the backdrop of developments in the Jewish Enlightenment. For Mendelssohn’s response to historical-critical scholarship on the Bible, see Breuer 1996 (cited under General Overviews) and Sorkin 2000 (cited under The Bible).

  • Böhr, Christoph. “Johann Jakob Engel und die Geschichtsphilosophie Moses Mendelssohns.” In Moses Mendelssohn und die Kreise seiner Wirksamkeit. Edited by Michael Albrecht, Eva J. Engel, and Norbert Hinske, 157–174. Wolfenbütteler Studien zur Aufklärung 19. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110942453Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the philosophies of history developed by Mendelssohn and one of his contemporaries. Böhr argues that Mendelssohn worried about a dialectical reversal of enlightenment, and thus should be read as articulating a “negative philosophy of history”—a position that is deeply skeptical of euphoric hopes for the future.

    Find this resource:

  • Breuer, Edward. “Of Miracles and Events Past: Mendelssohn on History.” Jewish History 9.2 (1995): 27–52.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF01668988Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of Mendelssohn’s views on historical knowledge, drawing on his Hebrew and German writings. Breuer attends to Mendelssohn’s account of the significance and limits of such knowledge, his objections to emerging historicist attitudes, and his views on the role of historical knowledge in Judaism and religion more generally. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Erlin, Matt. “Reluctant Modernism: Moses Mendelssohn’s Philosophy of History.” Journal of the History of Ideas 63.1 (2002): 83–104.

    DOI: 10.1353/jhi.2002.0003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s philosophy of history and critique of modernity. According to Erlin, Mendelssohn articulated a dialectical conception of social development and worried about social fragmentation in modernity. Explores the role of these concerns in Mendelssohn’s conception of Judaism.

    Find this resource:

  • Feiner, Shmuel. Haskalah and History: The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Historical Consciousness. Translated by Chaya Naor and Sondra Silverston. Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of Haskalah V’historyah: Toldotehah Shel Hakarat Avar Yehudit Modernit (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 1995), a study of the Jewish Enlightenment’s attitude toward history. A brief discussion of Mendelssohn suggests that he exhibited an ambivalence and pessimism that separated him from most maskilim—that he remained skeptical regarding the possibility of progress and the benefits of the modern era.

    Find this resource:

  • Hinske, Norbert. “Das stillschweigende Gespräch: Prinzipien der Anthropologie und Geschichtsphilosophie bei Mendelssohn und Kant.” In Moses Mendelssohn und die Kreise seiner Wirksamkeit. Edited by Michael Albrecht, Eva J. Engel, and Norbert Hinske, 135–156. Wolfenbütteler Studien zur Aufklärung 19. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110942453Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the conceptions of history affirmed by Mendelssohn and Kant. Hinske argues that Kant’s philosophy of history emerged out of an encounter with Mendelssohn’s anthropology, and that Mendelssohn’s cyclical vision then took shape as a response to Kant’s position—as a rejection of a position that degrades the individual into a mere means of social progress.

    Find this resource:

  • Liebeschütz, Hans. “Mendelssohn und Lessing in ihrer Stellung zur Geschichte.” In Studies in Jewish Religious and Intellectual History Presented to Alexander Altmann on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. Edited by Siegfried Stein and Raphael Loewe, 167–182. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1979.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contrasts the conceptions of history affirmed by Mendelssohn and Lessing. Liebeschütz argues that Mendelssohn’s rejection of Lessing’s linear model reflects a long-standing confrontation between Judaism and Christianity. Presents Mendelssohn as initiating Judaism’s dispute with historicism.

    Find this resource:

  • Morgan, Michael L. “Overcoming the Remoteness of the Past: Memory and Historiography in Modern Jewish Thought.” Judaism 38.2 (1989): 160–173.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines a challenge confronting modern Jewish thinkers—the challenge of defending the relevance of a distant past. Morgan argues that Mendelssohn addressed this challenge when responding to the work of Spinoza, and that Mendelssohn’s response relies on a strategy borrowed from Thomas Hobbes. Also see Spinoza.

    Find this resource:

  • Schwartz, Dov. “Hahitpathut Shel Hamin Ha’enoshi B’mishnato Shel Mendelssohn—Perek B’toldotav Shel Hara’ayon Hameshihi.” Da’at 22 (1989): 109–121.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s “static” conception of history. For Schwartz, this position stands in tension with other dimensions of Mendelssohn’s thought and is best understood as reflecting an opposition to Kabbalah and its messianic posture.

    Find this resource:

The Pantheism Controversy

Mendelssohn was familiar with a variety of challenges to the rationalist metaphysics he defended, ranging from the work of empiricist thinkers to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Mendelssohn’s most direct engagement with such challenges, however, occurred during the Pantheism Controversy of the 1780s, a public literary dispute pitting him against a critic of the Enlightenment, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. Emerging from Jacobi’s claim that Mendelssohn’s recently deceased friend, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, had confessed to being a Spinozist, this debate soon involved a variety of contentious philosophical issues and occupied the attention of Germany’s leading thinkers. Recent scholarship on Mendelssohn’s role in this controversy has revolved around two questions: the question of how to describe the central issues at stake in this debate, and the question of whether Mendelssohn remained a defender of a rationalist, demonstrative metaphysics. Strauss 1974 provides an overview of the course, background, and content of this debate. Beiser 1987 emphasizes the epistemological dimensions of this controversy and raises questions about Mendelssohn’s commitment to rationalism. Arkush 1994 accepts this emphasis on epistemological issues but presents Mendelssohn as a defender of demonstrative metaphysics. Rosenstock 2010 highlights the religious aspects of this dispute and presents Mendelssohn as turning away from demonstrative metaphysics. Gottlieb 2011 calls attention to the ethical and political issues at stake in this debate and presents Mendelssohn as a defender of a modified form of rationalism. Jacobi and Mendelssohn 1988 offers English translations of key texts associated with this controversy.

  • Arkush, Allan. Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment. SUNY Series in Judaica. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s theology and politics. Surveying the challenges to rationalist metaphysics emerging from the work of Kant and Jacobi, Arkush presents Mendelssohn as continuing to affirm the possibility of a demonstrative, rationalist theology. See also General Overviews, Spinoza, The Enlightenment, and Natural Religion and Moral Philosophy.

    Find this resource:

  • Beiser, Frederick C. The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A history of German philosophy between 1781 and 1793. Surveying the challenges facing rationalist metaphysics in the late 18th century, Beiser argues that the fundamental issue in the Pantheism Controversy was the authority of reason. Mendelssohn meant to defend rationalism but failed to do so consistently.

    Find this resource:

  • Gottlieb, Michah. Faith and Freedom: Moses Mendelssohn’s Theological-Political Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s theology and politics. Presenting Mendelssohn as a rationalist who endorsed a “pragmatic religious idealism,” Gottlieb argues that the Pantheism Controversy is best understood as an ethico-political debate—as a debate about whether reason or faith best promotes human flourishing in the modern world. Also attends to the role of Jewish-Christian polemics in this dispute. Also see General Overviews, Classical and Medieval Jewish Thought, and Spinoza.

    Find this resource:

  • Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich, and Moses Mendelssohn. The Spinoza Conversations between Lessing and Jacobi: Text with Excerpts from the Ensuing Controversy. Translated by Gérard Vallée, J. B. Lawson, and C. G. Chapple. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translations of texts by Mendelssohn and Jacobi. Introduction by Gérard Vallée, who presents Mendelssohn as personally wounded by Jacobi’s claims and worried about Lessing’s reputation.

    Find this resource:

  • Rosenstock, Bruce. Philosophy and the Jewish Question: Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, and Beyond. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn and Franz Rosenzweig. Chapters 2 and 3 and the epilogue focus on the Pantheism Controversy, presenting Jacobi as a figure who leveled a “gnostic” attack on Judaism and the Enlightenment, and suggesting that Mendelssohn responded with a defense of both, as well as with an attack on Jacobi’s Christianity. Takes Mendelssohn to turn away from demonstrative metaphysics. See also Jewish Law.

    Find this resource:

  • Strauss, Leo. “Einleitung zu Morgenstuden und An die Freunde Lessings.” In Gesammelte Schriften Jubiläumsausgabe. Vol. 3.2, Schriften zur Philosophie und Ästhetik, III. Edited by Fritz Bamberger, Ismar Elbogen, Alexander Altmann, Eva J. Engel, Reuven Michael, Michael Albrecht, et al., xi–xcv. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, West Germany: F. Frommann, 1974.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of the Pantheism Controversy. Writing favorably of Jacobi, Strauss suggests that Mendelssohn gradually turned from demonstrative metaphysics to common sense and that this move is linked to his defense of Judaism. Surveys Mendelssohn’s views on modern and medieval philosophy.

    Find this resource:

Reception and Influence

Typically treated as the founder of modern Jewish thought, Mendelssohn has long been a controversial figure. While received favorably by broad swaths of European Jewry, Mendelssohn was nevertheless criticized by diverse German-Jewish philosophers and eventually became the target of attacks from liberal, orthodox, and nationalist writers; indeed, few Jewish thinkers have described themselves as adherents of Mendelssohn’s philosophy. Altmann 1985 and Katz 1994 provide overviews of Mendelssohn’s reception, with Altmann highlighting Mendelssohn’s role as the “patron saint of German Jewry” and Katz summarizing reactions to Mendelssohn in eastern and western Europe. Feiner 1995 considers Mendelssohn’s role in the emergence of the Jewish Enlightenment. Samet 1970 and Hildesheimer 1988 consider attitudes toward Mendelssohn among 18th- and 19th-century traditionalist rabbis, and Lowenstein 1983 tracks the reception of Mendelssohn’s translation of the Pentateuch. Greenberg 1996 explores the treatment of Mendelssohn by subsequent German-Jewish philosophers, and Brenner 2008 examines the critical attitude toward Mendelssohn in early-20th-century Germany. See also Bourel 2004 (cited under Biographies) as well as Sorkin 1996 and Gottlieb 2011 (both cited under General Overviews).

  • Altmann, Alexander. “Moses Mendelssohn as the Archetypal German Jew.” In The Jewish Response to German Culture. Edited by Jehuda Reinharz and Walter Schatzberg, 17–31. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1985.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of Mendelssohn’s significance for later generations of German Jews. Altmann suggests that Mendelssohn became the “patron saint of German Jewry”—that subsequent generations took him to embody their own aspirations and values.

    Find this resource:

  • Brenner, Michael. “The Construction and Deconstruction of a Jewish Hero: Moses Mendelssohn’s Afterlife in Early Twentieth-Century Germany.” In Mediating Modernity: Challenges and Trends in the Jewish Encounter with the Modern World; Essays in Honor of Michael A. Meyer. Edited by Lauren B. Strauss and Michael Brenner, 274–289. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Mendelssohn’s reception among early-20th-century German Jews. Brenner notes the emergence of an increasingly critical attitude toward Mendelssohn across religious and political lines, linking this development to trends such as a growing dissatisfaction with religious rationalism.

    Find this resource:

  • Feiner, Shmuel. “Mendelssohn and ‘Mendelssohn’s Disciples’: A Re-examination.” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 40.1 (1995): 133–167.

    DOI: 10.1093/leobaeck/40.1.133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s role in the emergence of the Haskalah. While acknowledging the admiration and reverence that Mendelssohn inspired, Feiner criticizes attempts by earlier scholars to explain the Jewish Enlightenment as the product of “Mendelssohn’s disciples”—as the product of Mendelssohn’s leadership or of a small group of figures best seen as his followers. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Greenberg, Gershon. “Die Symbiose deutsch-jüdischer Philosophie: Mendelssohn und das Christentum.” Judaica 52.2 (1996): 82–115.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces Mendelssohn’s reception among German-Jewish thinkers. This essay suggests that while many of Mendelssohn’s successors forcefully attacked his philosophy, they remained deeply indebted to his work in a variety of ways.

    Find this resource:

  • Hildesheimer, Meir. “Moses Mendelssohn in Nineteenth-Century Rabbinical Literature.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 55 (1988): 79–133.

    DOI: 10.2307/3622678Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Surveys Mendelssohn’s reception among 19th-century traditionalist rabbis in western and eastern Europe. While noting the existence of opposition (often focused on Mendelssohn’s children and students), Hildesheimer shows that this thinker was read and praised by many traditionalist figures.

    Find this resource:

  • Katz, Jacob. “Moses Mendelssohns schwankendes Bild bei der jüdischen Nachwelt.” In Moses Mendelssohn und die Kreise seiner Wirksamkeit. Edited by Michael Albrecht, Eva J. Engel, and Norbert Hinske, 349–362. Wolfenbütteler Studien zur Aufklärung 19. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110942453Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Mendelssohn’s reception among European Jews through the early 20th century. Katz contrasts the widespread acceptance of Mendelssohn in western Europe with his more controversial status in eastern Europe. Notes the existence of negative attitudes toward Mendelssohn among Jewish nationalists.

    Find this resource:

  • Lowenstein, Steven M. “The Readership of Mendelssohn’s Bible Translation.” Hebrew Union College Annual 53 (1983): 179–213.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Outlines the reception of Mendelssohn’s translation of the Pentateuch. Lowenstein identifies three stages in the career of this text: initial acceptance among elite Berlin Jews, gradual acceptance throughout western Europe, and more-limited acceptance in eastern Europe.

    Find this resource:

  • Samet, Moshe. “M. Mendelssohn, N. H. Weisel, V’rabbanei Doram.” In Mekhkarim B’toldot Am Yisrael V’eretz Yisrael. Edited by A. Gilboa, B. Mevorach, U. Rappaport, and A. Shochat, 233–257. Haifa, Israel: University of Haifa, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the reception of Mendelssohn and his colleague Naphtali Herz Wesseley among 18th-century traditionalist rabbis. Samet challenges earlier scholars who argue that Mendelssohn’s work inspired widespread opposition in his own time.

    Find this resource:

Specific Figures

Beyond exploring Mendelssohn’s reception in diverse geographical and temporal contexts, scholars have attended to the treatment of this thinker in the writings of specific figures. Barzilay 1986 and Hildesheimer 1994 discuss two of Mendelssohn’s most well-known Jewish critics: Peretz Smolenskin, an eastern European Hebrew writer, and the Hatam Sofer, the Hungarian founder of ultra-Orthodoxy. Mendes-Flohr 1987 and Schorch 2007 examine the relationship between Mendelssohn’s thought and the philosophies of two prominent 20th-century German Jews: Franz Rosenzweig and Leo Strauss. Arkush 1998 explores the view of Mendelssohn held by Immanuel Kant, one of the 18th century’s most influential philosophers.

  • Arkush, Allan. “Kant’s View of Mendelssohn.” In Perspectives on Jewish Thought and Mysticism. Edited by Alfred L. Ivry, Elliot R. Wolfson, and Allan Arkush, 413–422. Amsterdam: Harwood, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reconstructs Kant’s view of Mendelssohn. Against Beiser 1987 (cited under The Pantheism Controversy), Arkush argues that Kant saw Mendelssohn as a committed rationalist. For Arkush, it is this view that explains Kant’s comments regarding Mendelssohn’s religiosity—Kant’s insistence that Mendelssohn was not a sincere defender of the Jewish tradition.

    Find this resource:

  • Barzilay, Isaac E. “Smolenskin’s Polemic against Mendelssohn in Historical Perspective.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 53 (1986): 11–48.

    DOI: 10.2307/3622607Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers the background and content of Smolenskin’s attack on Mendelssohn. Focusing on Smolenskin’s charge that Mendelssohn undermined Jews’ sense of national unity, Barzilay suggests that this attack grew out of dissatisfaction with broader trends in Jewish life.

    Find this resource:

  • Hildesheimer, Meir. “The Attitude of the Hatam Sofer toward Moses Mendelssohn.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 60 (1994): 141–187.

    DOI: 10.2307/3622572Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the evidence typically taken to establish the Hatam Sofer’s negative attitude toward Mendelssohn. Hildesheimer surveys well-known reports that the Hatam Sofer’s will banned the use of Mendelssohn’s writings, and that the Hatam Sofer himself refused to use the Bi’ur during his lifetime.

    Find this resource:

  • Mendes-Flohr, Paul R. “Mendelssohn and Rosenzweig.” Journal of Jewish Studies 38.2 (1987): 203–211.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the relationship between Mendelssohn’s philosophy and Rosenzweig’s thought. According to Mendes-Flohr, Rosenzweig appreciated his predecessor’s historical significance but broke with him on key points, directing a variety of criticisms at positions outlined in Jerusalem and the Bi’ur. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Schorch, Grit. “Philosophie und Gesetz: Moses Mendelssohn in Leo Strauss’ Wissenschaftsprogramm.” Mendelssohn Studien 15 (2007): 73–106.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of Mendelssohn’s role in Strauss’s thought and writings. Exploring a broad array of texts, Schorch argues that Strauss developed many of his own views in the course of his engagement with Mendelssohn’s work.

    Find this resource:

The Mendelssohn Family

It has long been common to criticize Mendelssohn by focusing on the fate of his children, four of whom would eventually decide to convert to Christianity. Apart from such polemics, however, the Mendelssohn family has become an object of sustained scholarly attention, because this family included important figures in German cultural history. Reissner and Kennecke 2007 surveys the lives of (Moses) Mendelssohn’s descendants, and Mendelssohn Studien is a scholarly journal devoted to this family.

back to top

Article

Up

Down