Foto: Matthias Friel
The present seminar aims to provide an overview of the Jewish writings of the celebrated Jewish-German thinker Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786). The scholarly achievements of Mendelssohn within the framework of the Jewish tradition can hardly be compared with any other modern Jewish thinker. His masterful German translation and Hebrew commentary of the Pentateuch, Netivot Salom (“The Paths of Peace”; 1780–1783), a project he orchestrated with the help of other influential Maskilim, would remain a canonical text for approximately a hundred years for German Jewry. In our seminar, we will attempt to unearth the unusual depth that the Berliner Sokrates discovered in the sacred text. His progressive Weltanschauung alongside his deep acquaintance with the latest developments in Christian scholarship on Scripture did not make him stray away from traditional Jewish exegesis. On the contrary: Throughout all his writings, he unwaveringly defends the biblical interpretation of the rabbinic sages. Reading his biblical commentaries, we will concentrate on the following group of themes: ancient Hebrew poetry, enlightened ideals of Jewish education, rabbinic hermeneutics, philosophical understandings of Scripture, Jewish emancipation in the Kingdom of Prussia, and Mendelssohn’s scriptural debates with Protestant theologians. In the later part of the seminar, we will explore how Mendelssohn’s comprehension of Judaism and Hebrew Scripture impacted further Maskilim in Western and Eastern Europe, such as Naftali Herz Wessely, David Friedländer, Isaac Baer Levinsohn, and Naḥman Krochmal.
Moses Mendelssohn, Gesammelte Schriften. Jubiläumsausgabe (ed. Fritz Bamberger, Daniel Krochmalnik et al.; 24 vols.; Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: F. Frommann-Holzboog, 1971–2021).
Moses Mendelssohn, Moses Mendelssohn's Hebrew Writings (trans. Edward Breuer; introd. and annon. idem and David Sorkin; Yale Judaica Series 33; New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2018).
Moses Mendelssohn, Writings on Judaism, Christianity & the Bible (ed. Michah Gottlieb; trans. Elias Sacks, Curtis Bowman, and Allan Arkush; Brandeis Library of Modern Jewish Thought; Waltham, Mass.: Brandeis University Press, 2011).
Edward Breuer, “Politics, Tradition, History: Rabbinic Judaism and the Eighteenth-Century Struggle for Civil Equality,” HTR 85 (1992): 357–83.
Daniel Krochmalnik, „Tradition und Subversion in der Hermeneutik Moses Mendelssohns,“ Trumah 9 (2000): 63–102.
―, “Das Andachtshaus der Vernunft. Zur sakralen Poesie und Musik bei Moses Mendelssohn,” Mendelssohn-Studien 11 (1999): 21-47.
Christoph Schulte, Von Moses bis Moses… Der jüdische Mendelssohn, (Hannover: Wehrhahn Verlag, 2020).
Ze’ev Strauss, “The Ground Floor of Judaism: Scepticism and Certainty in Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem,” ed. Bill Rebiger, Yearbook of the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies (2018): 179–206.
Eliyahu Stern, “Genius and Demographics in Modern Jewish History,” Jewish Quarterly Review 101 (2011): 347–82.
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