Talk:Moses Mendelssohn

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search


from the bottom of the 4th Paragraph from the end:

"Mendelssohn's own descendants--a brilliant circle, of which the musician Felix was the most jaoted--left the Synagogue for the Church"

I suspect that "jaoted" is OCR for "jaded" but am not sure.

 "gifted" seems to fit better, but jaoted more interesting

How about "noted"? The "j" key is close to the "n" key. Lestrade (talk) 00:16, 11 April 2009 (UTC)Lestrade

"He was the foremost Jewish figure of the 18th century"
  says who?

Mendelssohn in competition with Kant[edit]

I removed 'although' from, 'he won the prize…, although among the competitors were Thomas Abbt and Immanuel Kant,' because it implied that one of them should have won instead. RoseWill 02:23, 12 November 2006 (UTC)

Kant's excuse for not winning was that he was in too much of a hurry. As though he would have easily won if he had only slowed down and done a better job of it.Lestrade (talk) 17:52, 28 November 2009 (UTC)Lestrade
He might have won it, because he had the faith of the "right religion" (that of the Prussian state) - and so he later hold the position of a university professor in opposite to Moses who was refused by the king, when Sulzer tried to designate him 1771 as a member of the Prussian Academy (this clear refuse is not mentioned in this article). I can only state that Immanuel Kant would have done his job using his own theological argument in that period concerning metaphysics, as well as he did later in ethics (1792). But the ethical argument of Moses Mendelssohn was based on political theory like Thomas Hobbes, Montesquieu and John Locke, while his metaphysical argument was based on Spinoza (1783). So this is not a subjective "point of view".
But we might be surprised about this: Kant's essay about religious ethics was censored by Prussian authorities (obviously because of the French Revolution), and not Mendelssohn's book, which was already published in 1783. And it is evident that Sulzer favoured Mendelssohn and not Kant (obviously not for philosophical reasons).
Nevertheless this is not the first time that I realize how overestimated Kant is, and how underestimated Mendelssohn.
--Platonykiss (talk) 14:30, 7 March 2010 (UTC)

By the way: One letter in which Immanuel Kant expressed his admiration for Jerusalem, is translated into English. Curtis Bowman quoted it.

--Platonykiss (talk) 14:33, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

Remove from Reform cat[edit]

He wasn't a reform Jew. Nor did he ever support many of the ideas of reform Jew. I suggest removing him for that cat. Anyone disagree? 21:29, 26 July 2007 (UTC)

True for Mendelssohn, but not for his disciples, like Isaac Euchel or David Friedländer. He became, whether he would have approved of this or not, an important figure in the development of Reform Judaism. (Fuxmann 06:09, 27 July 2007 (UTC))

You could use the same argument that Mendalssohn was an important figure for Torah uMada and therefore should also be added to that cat. Maybe it is just best to add him to the Orthodox Judaism cat. 11:16, 30 July 2007 (UTC)

Well, what is a "reform Jew" in that case? Is this a religious or an ideological discussion? Certainly it would be unorthodox to add Mendelssohn to the Orthodox Judaism cat :)

Moses Mendelssohn is certainly a very ambiguous protagonist in Jewish history, worth to be discussed controversally as the young Hannah Arendt did, but historiography concerned with Haskalah can hardly ignore him. His arguments concerning a transformation of Jewish religion (Jerusalem oder: über religiöse Macht und Judentum, 1783) might be theoretical, and not as concrete as some later ritual reforms, but I do not know how it is possible to separate his ideas from the history of Reform Judaism. I clearly disagree that he did never support their ideas. Maybe the mentioned disciples betrayed Mendelssohn's ideas of Reform Judaism...

--Platonykiss (talk) 14:42, 7 March 2010 (UTC)

Like Bal Shem Tov, whose contemporary he was, Moses Mendelssohn created a new way of being a Jew in a changed world and thus ensured the survival of Judaism. Personally he lived and thought as what we would call (from todays perspective) an orthodox Jew, a position from which he only differed by not granting the rabbinate the power to punish those who deviated from its demands. He believed and tried to prove a Jew could be both - a contributing member of the enlightened avant-garde of humanity and a frumm man living according to the precepts of his religion. He was respected and defended by such strictly orthodox rabbis like Yechezkel Landau and did not allow the slightest depreciation of religious precepts in his presence. After his death he became an icon or flag to rally around or fight against for both sides in the battle between "reform" and "orthodoxy", which he himself had done his best to prevent. (Fuxmann (talk) 21:00, 8 March 2010 (UTC))

I do not see how those who preceded the movementf Reform Judaism can be cited as its 'thinkers'. If you include Mendelssohn on the basis of his analysis of the roles of religion and society, you might as well also include Locke, Voltaire, etc. etc. Fuxmann I think has it right. I have removed the category. --Smerus (talk) 06:14, 9 March 2010 (UTC)

If the only criterium is that a Reform Jew should live like a Reform Jew did 50 years later, then it is right. But what do you expect him to do 50 years before? The changed world was (for the Habsburg Monarchy) the so called Tolerance edict, which forbade rabbinical jurisdiction. So it was the time to think about the new role of the religion AND of the state, which was the just state which treated its members without any respect to their faith. In consequence the religion which still was regarded as the authority concerning any education, was no longer responsible for jurisdiction, but for the education of the just citizen. The just state and its constitution which granted the full civil rights did not exist before the declaration of the droits de l'homme, but Moses' model for a religious education of the just citizen was certainly not the Cheder school. A cult reform and the installation of reform temples was just a side effect, but it explains, why Moses Mendelssohn is regarded as one of the most important among the Maskilim. He could live without Reform Judaism, but what the Reform Jews will do without him?

If you think that there is no difference between Christian enlightenment and Haskalah, you may also add Locke, Voltaire etc. But only in this case, please :)

--Platonykiss (talk) 13:29, 26 March 2010 (UTC)

  • So on this basis you might include the prophet Isaiah as a Christian, as Christians claim he foresaw Jesus?......I don't think so!! Smerus (talk) 16:49, 26 March 2010
We are leaving the subject, but if it entertains you, you may read this joke concerning the relation between Christians and Jews as my teacher (a rabbi) once told me:
Turning back to the subject I simply wanted to say that I don't accept your argument, because neither Voltaire nor Locke wrote something about the role of the Jewish religion of their time, despite the fact that Locke's concept of "freedom of conscience" is very central in Mendelssohn's argument, not only in the first part in Jerusalem which treats the role of the state, but also with some consequences for the second part dedicated to the role of religion.
--Platonykiss (talk) 10:41, 27 March 2010 (UTC)

Mendelssohn lived in Prussia, which had restrictive Jewish laws of its own, while the Habsburg Tolerance edicts came very late in his life. The changed world Mendelssohn reacted to is the non-Jewish society of the Western Enlightenment, with its new discoveries and attitudes to science, mathematics and philosophy, where Jews, at least on a philosophical level, could take part as equals - something they could not do in everyday life. Mendelssohn believed and wrote, in the same "Jerusalem oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum" to which Platonykiss refers to, that all Jewish laws given on Sinai (which for him, as a matter of course, included the oral law) had to be adhered to by all Jews all the time. At the same time he believed, as a true disciple of the Enlightenment, that religion should admonish and not punish by force of law. Mendelssohn's importance for the Jewish Enlightenment is obvious. Yet this should not lead to easy and quick generalizations about one the most important thinkers of modern Judaism, who, properly read, might show a way out of the impasse between the two hostile camps.Fuxmann (talk) 17:27, 26 March 2010 (UTC)

I was just interested to know: Who are these two hostile camps and what they have to do with history?
About the relationship between Hohenzollern and Habsburg Monarchy I want to add that the Prussian Monarchy usually followed the Habsburg edicts with a careful delay about 10 years, but Moses Mendelssohn had to mediate in several conflicts between Jewish communities and authorities in Prussia, France, Switzerland, and the Habsburg Empire - for the simple reason, that he had a great influence on the Jewish as well as on Christian elites, but also on Prussian authorities. The delayed imitation of Austrian emancipation policies went on like this up to the reforms of Hardenberg. Finally the emancipation process got stuck after the Viennese Congress. Even decades later in the time of Karl Marx, Prussian officers tried a second time to revert Hardenberg's reforms, and this second task provoked Bauer's and his contributions to the Jewish question.
The repetition of the tolerance edict in Prussia was exactly the time, when Friedländer had turned the reform into conversion.
--Platonykiss (talk) 11:35, 27 March 2010 (UTC)

With the two camps I meant Jewish orthodoxy and reform, which constituted themselves during Mendelssohn's time. I cannot see any relation between the Prussian laws for Jews - restrictive but with exceptions and loopholes, which made life tolerable - and those in the Habsburg Monarchy (difficult under Maria Theresia, reformed under her son Joseph II., but far from delivering the promised equality before the law). The situation for Jews in Prussia and Germany actually got worse in the years after Mendelssohn's death, when some of Mendelsohn's children got baptized and his pupil David Friedländer developed the notion of a Judaism with baptism-certificate - which would have given it's carriers a much better position regarding taxes, owning property and rights of settlement. Mendelssohn himself stated unequivocally (in "Jerusalem") that Jews should rather renounce the civil rights for which he was fighting all his life than relinquish any religious laws. Fuxmann (talk) 19:32, 27 March 2010 (UTC)

The only positive thing I can say about Prussia in comparison with Habsburg, is that they delayed the tolerance edict, which was the most intolerant measure ever done in "feudal" emancipation history. And Moses Mendelssohn analyzed very precisely why: You can not ameliorate the "Jews" (= the state of religion), before you have not constituted an ameliorated state (constituted laicism). It seems only on the surface that he regarded Prussia as a tolerant exception. But we should not forget the reason of this rhetoric strategy: He needed to stay on good terms with Prussian authorities and he had to deal with the king who fashioned himself as an "enlightened philosopher". In consequence you might argue that also David Friedländer has to be "removed from the reform cat", because an "amelioration" as a conversion to the religion of the feudal state can hardly be called a "reform of Judaism": it was simply abandoning Judaism or (as Moses would have called it) creating citizens without any conscience.
I have no problem to add Friedländer and his teacher, but this means that the reform movement failed from the beginning, for reasons already analyzed at the very beginning. Among the Jewish population of the 1780s there were certainly many camps, but the "two hostile camps" which you like to mention here, were just a rich and privileged minority (enjoying the exceptional status as Schutzjuden, as long as they were regarded as a useful source mainly for money - these loopholes had the same name in both monarchies) whose aim was to escape as soon as possible their responsibilities within their communities, and the poor majority which simply had no choice. As long as they stayed in their (mostly rural) communities, they could have the rabbinic justice. Otherwise there was no justice at all. They were simply outlaws. And the tolerance edict was only a gradual promotion from an outlaw to an unequal subject before the jurisdiction of the ruling authorities. But in practice (especially in rural areas of Galicia) rabbinic jurisdiction did not finish, just because the Habsburg administration decided to regard it as illegal.
--Platonykiss (talk) 11:00, 28 March 2010 (UTC)

While I fully agree that the much awaited "tolerance edict" was a great disappointment to those it directly affected, and for good reasons, I believe it did help to improve the situation of the Habsburg Jews in the long run - just compare it to those who came under Russian jurisdiction. I do not see the Jewish Enlightenment as a playground of a few rich and privileged. Salomon Maimon, one of its important proponents, was a poor man all his life, as was the friend of Mendelssohn Hartwig Wessely, the bête noire of the orthodox camp, a Hebrew poet with six children who had just lost his job at a bank. The young maskilim had to scrape and beg to keep their enterprise, the Hebrew magazine Hame'asef, going. And I consider the situation of the German and Prussian Jews, who lived and/or moved mainly to cities as different from the formerly Polish, mainly rural Jews of Galicia. The "loopholes" in Prussia worked just because they could be used by the not so rich, Mendelssohn being a typical example: He could marry with a special permission although he did not have the right to do so as a "Jew 6th class"; he could not legally buy the house he was staying in, but managed to get a Jewish lady "1st class" to buy it for him, while he held the title to the debt. All this of course cost a lot of money - as did all the extra taxes the Jews of Prussia were subjected to. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Fuxmann (talkcontribs) 13:55, 28 March 2010 (UTC)

I just mentioned the social conflict, because the contemporary crisis of Judaism was less a conflict between Orthodox and Reform movement, but a social gap between a ruling minority, consisting of families which had bound together religious authorities, academics and wealthy merchants through marriages, and a ruled majority in the Jewish communities and town ghettos whose poverty had dramatically increased. This is not only the social context of the conflicts between Maskilim and Orthodox Rabbis or Maskilim and Reform Rabbis, but also between Orthodox authorities and mystic movements like Hasidism. Hasidim in Galicia and Bukovina usually understood much better the problems of the poor population than any Maskilim among the West Yiddish Ashkenazim in Alsace or Western regions of Prussia. And Polish nationalists and among them, Polish Jews who lived in the larger Shtetl and visited the universities in Wilna, Warsaw, Cracow and Lemberg, formed a governing elite in the Sejm of Lemberg – the parlament of the crownland Galicia. The rural communities of Galicia was another “uncivilized” world for modern Jews in Vienna, Paris, Budapest, Prague and Berlin. Nachman Krochmal from Galicia as a student of Hegel must have appeared like a mooncalf. Their hopes focussed on a revolution in 1848 and it failed again.
Moses Mendelssohn certainly belonged to the privileged minority of the Schutzjuden and his circle was the upper class of Prussia, but this does not mean that they were not disappointed about the backwards conditions in Prussia, whatever faith they had. Wealthy members like the brothers Humboldt or Polish aristocrats were very engaged to improve the social conditions. They founded universities, hospitals, they improved the working conditions of coal miners etc. If I compare them with wealthy people today in Germany, I can assure that they were much less ignorant. Otherwise they were also very intolerant people (especially around Fichte in Jena) like the demagogues who cause the hep hep progroms, so Hegel and his students had to go the ghetto to protect their inhabitants...
But like David Friedländer Moses Mendelssohn’s social sphere had an impact on his concept of modern Judaism. As a pedagogue he wanted to teach Jewish children German, Hebrew and Greek, but he refused Yiddish as a corrupt dialect, which finally meant to refuse the prospering culture (literature and drama) of East Yiddish and the Ashkenazim world from Wilna to Bucarest. From the point of view of Alsatian Ashkenazim, Mendelssohn was admired as a radical philosopher of Haskalah, but the reason behind his radical attitude was the extreme pressure of assimilation, that the Jewish population had to suffer in Prussia. For this reason I was a little bit surprised about your categorization of Moses Mendelssohn as an Orthodox Jew. Conversion finally remained the main access into the ruling elite of Prussia which can be easily analyzed by the cynical statements of Heinrich Heine (especially his commentaries of the Pietist circles around the children and grandchildren: “He [Felix] is the grandson of the great philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, but he has nothing better to do than to set the lamb’s piss into music!”).
I just collect here all these names and places, in order to demonstrate how open the category of Reform Judaism should be. And I still see no reason how to exclude Moses Mendelssohn.
--Platonykiss (talk) 12:21, 29 March 2010 (UTC)

I not not consider the conflict between Maskilim and Orthodoxy as social, rather as two different developments in two different spheres: the Maskil-movement with its center in Prussia in the West as reaction to the pressure of assimilation, and the Chassidism in the East as a reaction to the breaking up of the century-old Wa'ad. Both encompassed all social strata. That they soon clashed with traditional Orthodoxy and each other does not mean they were not necessary, each in its specific sphere, for the survival of Judaism. The term "Schutzjude" in Prussia meant that the specific Jew had the right of settlement, without, as was Mendelssohn's case, the right to pass it on to his wife and children, should they survive him. Mendelssohn started off as a "Privatdienstbote" (Private servant, the lowest class in Prussia's six-class system for Jews) and managed to move up to the third class of "außerordentlicher Schutzjude" (extraordinary Schutzjude) thanks to the intervention of of an admirer, the Marquis d'Argens, himself a philosopher and friend of Frederic II. I do not see him as "privileged" - except by his own achievements and the honors the Jewish community of Berlin decided to bestow on him (freedom of community tax, the right to be a "Parnass" although he did not fulfill the legal condidtions). Fuxmann (talk) 15:08, 29 March 2010 (UTC)

I thank you for adding all these interesting details.
I only call him privileged in comparison with other Jews of his country, who did not have his education, his connections (Herder, Goethe, Lessing, etc.), his position within the community, and his access to powerful officers and statesmen in Western Europe. This allowed him to play the role of a mediator (which was also annoying sometimes), so he was not only a philosopher, but also familiar with a lot of real problems of several communities in this area.
As I mentioned before (Mendelssohn in competition with Kant), it was not enough to allow him the same career as he would have done as a Christian. In that respect he was discriminated for being a Jew, and for the same reasons later generations decided to convert to the state religion (as an individual decision reacting on collective discrimination and denying the institutions of their faith – regardless whether they were orthodox or not).
The French Ashkenazim since 1791 did not face these discriminations any more (except from Napoleon’s temporary intervention which created the Parisian Synedrion), they were much more integrated – even as Orthodox Jews. In their opinion the ideas of German Maskilim (including Mendelssohn) were often regarded as too radical.
--Platonykiss (talk) 07:47, 30 March 2010 (UTC)

Philosophy rating[edit]

Moved from 'low' to 'mid', as the former is oriented to technical issues remote from the layman. whereas the latter deasl with general issues at a low technical level--Smerus 06:09, 12 August 2007 (UTC)

On the cause of his death, the most likely cause is a condition called phaechromocytoma, a tumor arising from the adrenal medulla or the sympathetic ganglia, which produces and releases catecholeamines. The condition is associated with neurofibromatosis (vonRecklinghausing disease),a hereditary condition that may cause kyphoscoliosis( curved back),skin tumors(neurofibromata) and skin pigmentation( cafe au lait spots). The main symptoms of phaeochromocytoma are high blood pressure and recurrent episodes of adrenal crisis( paroxysms),charecterisedby by very high blood pressure, profuse sweating,chest, abdominal and neck pains,palpitations and feeling of impending death. these paroxysms could be frequent or sporadic. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Babukhadir (talkcontribs) 02:40, 11 November 2009 (UTC)

Mendelssohn's grave stone[edit]

May I ask a simple question here? What is written on Mendelssohn's grave stone? Could anybody translate this? (and maybe add it to the caption?) Thanks! Claude -- (talk) 20:15, 7 May 2010 (UTC)

family poor or wealthy?[edit]

the 2nd paragraph says that he was born into a poor family, but then it says that "the Berlin textile industry, which was the foundation of his family's wealth."

was his family poor or wealthy?

2601:6:5600:BE9C:55A7:C9E1:F919:6B14 (talk) 13:44, 8 May 2015 (UTC) Michael Christian

Good question, and I would have to check it better again with a little more time. My guess, off the bat, is that the family was poor around the time he was born, but had become much wealthier by the time he started studying philosophy. I.e., the family acquired a certain wealth as he grew up, which allowed him to branch from the study of rabbinics and into European philosophy of the time. But with the appropriate sources at hand, the text could be clarified and improved regarding this issue. I'll keep it in mind for when I have the time... warshy (¥¥) 14:38, 8 May 2015 (UTC)

The article is correct. He was born into a very poor family. He became tutor to wealthy Jewish families in Berlin, then became a book-keeper to one of his employers Isaac Bernhard, then became a partner in the business, which was the source of his wealth. This is all in the article if you read it - you don't need to guess.--Smerus (talk) 16:22, 8 May 2015 (UTC)

Good. Thanks! You just answered the anonymous editor's question above much better than me, by just reading the article itself. Kudos, both to you and to Wikipedia. warshy (¥¥) 16:35, 8 May 2015 (UTC)

Assessment comment[edit]

The comment(s) below were originally left at Talk:Moses Mendelssohn/Comments, and are posted here for posterity. Following several discussions in past years, these subpages are now deprecated. The comments may be irrelevant or outdated; if so, please feel free to remove this section.

I upgraded this page to class B because it seems to meet all the criteria set out by those who are think grading a good idea. I am not so sure it's a good idea myself, but if it is going to be done, let it at least be consistent,--Smerus 16:12, 13 December 2006 (UTC)

Last edited at 16:12, 13 December 2006 (UTC). Substituted at 00:28, 30 April 2016 (UTC)


A refugee Pole, Zamoscz, taught him mathematics....

Who is this Zamoscz? I haven't found any references to him.
Zamość is of course a city in Poland that once had a significant Jewish community.
Sca (talk) 20:07, 30 October 2017 (UTC)
  • Seek and ye shall find. I have added citations.--Smerus (talk) 12:05, 31 October 2017 (UTC)