Moses Mendelssohn

Moses Mendelssohn (6th September 1729 – 4th January 1786) was a Jewish philosopher whose ideas the Haskalah, ironically defined as the ‘Jewish Enlightenment’ is indebted. Mendelssohn was born to a Jewish family in Dessau. His father’s name was Mendel, a writer of Torah scrolls and it was Moses who adopted the surname Mendelssohn (“Mendel’s son”). His father and the local rabbi, David Fränkel dealt with his early education and besides teaching him the Bible and Talmud, introduced to him the philosophy of Maimonides. Later his tutors included a refugee Zamoscz who taught him mathematics, a young Jewish physician who taught him Latin and Aaron Solomon Gumperz a Jewish scholar and physician who taught him French and English. Mendelssohn’s German translation of the Torah became a bridge over which the Jew passed into European society. In 1781 Mendelssohn induced Christian Wilhelm von Dohm to publish his work, On the Civil Amelioration of the Condition of the Jews, which played a significant part in the rise of ‘tolerance’. Mendelssohn himself published a German translation of the Vindiciae Judaeorum by Menasseh Ben Israel. One of his most ardent pupils, David Friedländer believes Mendelssohn is also behind the foundation of the first modern public school for Jewish boys, “Freyschule für Knaben”, in Berlin in 1778 dedicated to Jewish propaganda. In 1783 (Eng. trans. 1838 and 1852) Mendelssohn wrote Jerusalem, a confrontational tract the basic premise of which argues that the state has no right to interfere with the religion of its citizens Jews of course being the primary focus. While in a homogenous society religious discord would not be an issue this ‘liberal tolerance’ is intended to course internal social conflict as each culture/religion clashes. Therefore, in a host nation the state is entitled to define the values/law of the land and that which transgresses whether civil or religious is subject to that nations prosecution anything less is pure chutzpah.

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