Download Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity by Shmuel Feiner PDF

By Shmuel Feiner

The “German Socrates,” Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) was once the main influential Jewish philosopher of the eighteenth and 19th centuries. A Berlin famous person and a tremendous determine within the Enlightenment, respected via Immanuel Kant, Mendelssohn suffered the indignities universal to Jews of his time whereas formulating the philosophical foundations of a contemporary Judaism suited to a brand new age. His such a lot influential books integrated the groundbreaking Jerusalem and a translation of the Bible into German that lead the way for generations of Jews to grasp the language of the bigger culture.

Feiner’s ebook is the 1st that provides an entire, human portrait of this attention-grabbing man—uncommonly modest, conscious about his activity as an highbrow pioneer, sensible, frequently Jewish, but completely conversant with the area round him—providing a bright experience of Mendelssohn’s everyday life in addition to of his philosophical endeavors. Feiner, a number one student of Jewish highbrow heritage, examines Mendelssohn as father and husband, as a chum (Mendelssohn’s long-standing friendship with the German dramatist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was once obvious as a version for Jews and non-Jews worldwide), as a tireless recommend for his humans, and as an both indefatigable spokesman for the paramount value of highbrow independence.

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Both men broke into the Enlightenment Republic of Letters, and Mendelssohn in particular achieved immediate acclaim. His first philosophical essay, Über die Wahrscheinlichkeit (Thoughts on probability), was given an anonymous public reading at the Learned Coffeehouse before members of the Society of Friends of Literature. When the reader committed a verbal error, Mendelssohn immediately corrected him, thus revealing his authorship, amazing the audience, and cementing his place in the intellectual elite.

So long as cultural barriers restricted Jews to their own internal religious discourse, conducted mostly in the court of the rabbinic elite, they had scant opportunity to respond to hostile displays. Suspicion of Jews was perceived as normal by attackers and victims alike. But once a Jewish intellectual was accepted into the group of scholars and took part in their discourse, public 42 CULTURAL CONVERSION confrontation of such prejudice, employing the lexicon of the Enlightenment, became both possible and necessary.

It was not uncommon in scholarly circles for a young Torah scholar to follow his rabbi and move with his Torah study center, but the move to Berlin was particularly significant for Mendelssohn. It was there, when he was in his twenties, that his career took the turn from Torah scholarship to philosophy. A dramatic story is told of the thin, frail young man’s walk from the city of his birth to Berlin, a distance of nearly ninety miles. In fact, he probably reached his destination by post coach, but the story of his confrontation with the Jewish guard at one of the city’s gates is better documented: the guard refused to admit Mendelssohn until he was convinced that the traveler desired solely to study Torah.

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