Mendelssohn, Moses

   Leader of Haskalah. The son of a Torah scribe in Dessau, Mendelssohn as a child suffered from curvature of the spine and a nervous disease. At the age of fourteen he followed his Hebrew teacher to Berlin. He became fluent in German, Hebrew, Latin, Greek, English, French and Italian, and gained a brilliant reputation as a rationalist philosopher, a literary critic, and a master of German style. His home became a centre for Jewish and gentile intellectuals, attracted by his erudition and his modest character. He continued to earn a living as a partner in a silk factory. His mentor and close friend, LESSING, modelled on Mendelssohn the hero of the play ‘Nathan the Wise’.
   It was a matter for wonder that a man so devoted to the cult of reason and so accepted in intellectual society should choose to remain attached to Judaism. In 1769 Mendelssohn was challenged by a prominent Swiss clergyman to refute Christianity or, if he could not, to change his religion. He tried to avoid a doctrinal dispute, but the controversy provoked unpleasant attacks on him and affected his health. It also induced him to take up a more active Jewish role. He used his prestige on behalf of the oppressed Jewish communities and became involved in the campaign for granting the Jews civic rights. These efforts led him once more into a controversy over his religion. This time he set out his views in full in the book Jerusalem (1783). In analyzing Judaism, he denied that it contained any dogma - thereby showing that it did not conflict with his rationalism - and disputed the power of the rabbis to place dissident Jews under a ban. In this and other works, he upheld the existence of God and the immortality of the soul on rationalist grounds, and lauded the verities of classic Judaism, while pleading for tolerance towards all faiths.
   One of Mendelssohn’s most important undertakings, with a team of assistants, was a German translation of the Bible in Hebrew characters, with a commentary in Hebrew, the Be’ur (1780–3). Mendelssohn’s aim was to emphasize German rather than Yiddish, and the study of the Bible rather than the Talmud. Traditionalist rabbis threatened to excommunicate the work. Mendelssohn’s life and thought did not mark a radical breakthrough in Jewish history, as was once thought. There was considerable secular education among the Jews before him. But he became the symbol of the Haskalah (‘enlightenment’) movement. Moreover, non-Jewish protagonists of Jewish rights pointed to him as an example of what Jews could become if given the chance.
   Although he himself remained fully identified as a Jew, Mendelssohn’s stress on embracing German culture paved the way for many of his fellow-Jews to assimilate altogether. It is not surprising that his influence was later spurned by advocates of Jewish nationalism.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • MENDELSSOHN, MOSES — (Moses ben Menahem, acronym RaMbeMaN, or Moses of Dessau; 1729–1786), philosopher of the German Enlightenment in the pre Kantian period, early Maskil, and a renowned Jewish figure in the 18th century. Born in Dessau, son of a Torah scribe,… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Mendelssohn,Moses — Mendelssohn, Moses. 1729 1786. German philosopher noted for his writings on the inborn ability of humans to recognize beauty, truth, and goodness. His influence and works aided the assimilation of Jews into German society. * * * …   Universalium

  • Mendelssohn, Moses — orig. Moses ben Menachem born Sept. 26, 1729, Dessau, Anhalt died Jan. 4, 1786, Berlin, Prussia German Jewish philosopher and scholar. The son of an impoverished scribe, he began his career as a tutor but eventually won fame for his philosophical …   Universalium

  • Mendelssohn, Moses — ► (1729 86) Filósofo alemán. Autor de Jerusalén, o sobre el poder religioso y el judaísmo (1783). * * * orig. Moses ben Menachem (26 sep. 1729, Dessau, Anhalt–4 ene. 1786, Berlín, Prusia). Erudito y filósofo judío alemán. Hijo de un escribiente… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Mendelssohn, Moses — (1729–1786) The most influential German Jewish philosopher of the 18th century. Born in Dessau, Mendelssohn received a rabbinic education. He is mainly remembered for his work on aesthetics, which had some influence on Kant, although his proof of …   Philosophy dictionary

  • MENDELSSOHN, Moses — (1729 1786)    popular German JEWISH philosopher who defended the idea that it is possible to demonstrate both the EXISTENCE of GOD and the IMMORTALITY of the SOUL. He played a leading role in Jewish emancipation and German CULTURE and is often… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

  • Mendelssohn, Moses — (1729 1986)    German philosopher. He was born in Dessau. He lived in Berlin, where he studied philosophy, mathematics, Latin, French and English, and became a partner in a silk factory. In 1754 with the help of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, he began …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Mendelssohn, Moses — See Aufklärung (The German) and British philosophy and Leibniz ( …   History of philosophy

  • MENDELSSOHN, MOSES —    a German philosopher, born at Dessau, of Jewish descent, a zealous monotheist, and wrote against Spinoza; was author of the Phædon, a Discourse on the Immortality of the Soul, and did a great deal in his day to do away with the prejudices of… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Mendelssohn — Mendelssohn, Moses …   Philosophy dictionary

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