Moses Mendelssohn Essay

Moses also becomes a best-selling author with the release of Phaedon: On the Immortality of the Soul, this being a topic of great interest to his contemporaries.

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He is a pioneer of the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskala, whose key players include David Friedländer, founder of the Jewish Freyschule (Free School), Isaac Euchel, publisher of the first Hebrew magazine, Der Sammler (The Collector), the poet Hartwig Wessely, and the teacher Herz Homberg.

The reform projects of the Haskala, which seek to build bridges between religions, not only facilitate the Jewish minority’s integration but also nurture the development of a modern German-Jewish culture, whose lessons still serve as guideposts for the social ideals of our pluralistic present.

His renderings of Biblical texts into the German language are published using the Hebrew alphabet.

In his essay “Jerusalem: On Religious Power and Judaism,” he shows himself to be far ahead of his time with his ideas on the freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state.

This requires passing muster with the local Jewish community leaders – no small feat, given their instructions from the Prussian authorities to discourage impecunious Jews from settling in the city where the royal family resided.

Though bereft of means, the young autodidact develops into the intermediary of an intellectual network surrounding him.On instruction of the Jewish community, Mendelssohn writes verses in praise of the royal court, but is also bold enough to lampoon the monarch’s own poetry in a critical review.He inspires his friend Christian Konrad Wilhelm Dohm, a member of Prussia’s military Council, to write On the Civil Improvement of the Jews (1781), a book which proves influential in France and other Western European countries.A modernizer, he counsels Jewish congregations that find themselves torn between tradition and assimilation.He also advises sympathetic Prussian officials on how to reduce discrimination.A transformational cultural figure, Moses’ translation of the Torah into German paves the way for his co-religionists to learn the language of the Christian majority society and to participate in its literature and art, to which he himself is passionately drawn.As both a pious Jew and “wise man of the world,” he helps to reconcile the revealed laws of Judaism with enlightened reason, while encouraging the Jewish community to break out of the intellectual ghetto.(Kant’s comes in second.) In his text, he synthesizes experience and reason while emphasizing the primary role of everyday practice.Moses the aesthete and precursor of the psychologists wishes to reconcile the moral mission of art as a vehicle for rational insights with a theory of art’s independence in what he terms a “game of illusion.” By his contacts, publications, public discourses, and correspondence, he champions the concept of tolerance and the universality of human rights.Moses’ marriage at 32 to Fromet, the daughter of a Hamburg merchant, eventually produces 10 children, six of whom survive.His townhouse on Spandauer Strasse develops into a forum for open discussion and debate, a model for the cultural salons that evolved later.


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