Streitschriften (German Edition)

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Ob zum Wohle der Frauen oder der Bank bleibt dabei wohl zweitrangig. Kaputt war sowieso alles, und es galt, aus den Scherben etwas Neues zu bauen. Das aber ist Merz. Therefore, Moses Mendelssohn refers to his older arguments which he used in his dispute with Lavater — and more recently in response to an anonymous recension of Mendelssohn's introduction to Menassah Ben Israel 's Vindication of the Jews.

While Christians like to regard the crisis of Judaism, Mendelssohn regards the present situation — in the eve of the French revolution — as a general crisis of religion:. Bin ich da sicherer? If it is true, that the cornerstones of my house had become so weak, that the building might tumble down, shall I follow the advice to save my goods from the ground to the upper floor? Will I be safer there? As you know, Christianity is built upon Judaism and so, if the latter tumbles, the former will necessarily fall over it in one heap of rubble.

Mendelssohn's house metaphor from the beginning of the first part reappears at the beginning of the second part. Here he used it to reflect the historical fact that Christianity never developed its own ethics independent from the ten commandments , which are still part of the canonic redaction of the Christian Bible.

Lavater serves here as a more or less moderate example of the hypocritic religious man, whose religion is the favoured and the dominating one within the political system.

English Translation of “Polemik” | Collins German-English Dictionary

Like in Hobbes' scenario he likes, what the system allows him to do — at least in this case: forcing another citizen to convert to the dominating religion. But this hypocrisy reflects once more the radicalism of Moses Mendelssohn's contract of tolerance: If the religion's business has to be reduced to the "inner side" and religion itself cannot be the formal subject of this contract, it simply means that state affairs like executive , legislature and judiciary will be no longer religious affairs.

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Nevertheless, he was denying the contemporary practice of rabbinic jurisdiction, which was hardly acceptable for a lot of orthodox Jews. And one year after the publication of his book the denial of rabbinic jurisdiction became political practice in the Habsburg Monarchy , when a state edict, added to the "tolerance patent", submitted Jewish subjects to its own law court without regarding them on an equal footing with Christian subjects.

"Streitschrift" in English

Moses Mendelssohn is supposed to be the first Maskilim of his time who denied the present conditions and the rabbinic practice attached to it. This condition was that each Jewish community had its own jurisdiction and that the coexistence of several communities often corrected judges. His proposition must not only regarded as very modern, it turned out to be substantial during the discussions of the French Legislative Assembly concerning the Jewish emancipation during the s.

In these debates Judaism was often supposed to be an "own nation within the nation" and the Jewish representatives had to abandon this former status, so that the Jewish population will gain the new status as equal citizens and that they will participate in the new law of the French constitution. In his pragmatism Mendelssohn had to convince the Jewish population that they have to abandon the tradition of rabbinic jurisdiction, but in the same time they have no reason to feel inferior, because some Christians believe that the moral conditions of Jewish tradition has to be regarded as inferior to their theological concept of absolution.

It was up to the Christians to find the way back to their fundament, which was the Mosaic law. But it was up to the Jews to face the present situation, in which Jewish communities were abandoned by a wealthy and privileged minority, so that poverty was increasing rapidly — especially in the town ghettos. In his philosophy Moses Mendelssohn reacted to the change from medieval conditions among the communities, when an elite between rich and rabbinic families was ruling the community.

New privileges were granted by the Prussian state to rich members of the community, so that they finally left the community by conversion. But Mendelssohn regarded beneficence less as a "coerce responsibility" than as a voluntary act of wealthy members. Moses Mendelssohn created a syncretism which combined contemporary humanistic idealism and its deistic concept of a natural religion based on rational principles with the living tradition of Ashkenasic Judaism.

His adoration of the Mosaic law should not be misunderstood as a kind of historical criticism, it was based on an own politically motivated interpretation of the Torah as a divine revelation which was offered to the prophet Moses, so that he will save Judaism from its materialistic decline, symbolized in worshipping the golden calf and idolatry, by the divine law.

For Moses Mendelssohn the Mosaic law was "divine", as long as the community following its principles would be just. The attribute "divine" was simply given by the law's function to create a just social fabric: the social contract in itself. The eternal truth of the law was bound to this function, and it was so less achievable, that any judgement of a rabbi had to be judged according to Salomonic Wisdom.

Mendelssohn referred to an anecdote of the Hillel school of Mishnah which has in itself an own theological formulation of the categorical imperative as Kant would later call it on:. Nun gehe hin und lerne! A goy said: "Rabbi, teach me the whole law, on which I stand with one foot!

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But Hillel who was famous for his insuperable serenity and mildness, replied: "Son! Now go and learn! With this biblical proverb, often quoted in the New Testament including the beatitudes, Mendelssohn returned to the deistic adoration of the Mosaic law as the Jewish-Christian contribution to universal ethics:. Diese Verfassung ist ein einziges Mal da gewesen: nennet sie die mosaische Verfassung , bey ihrem Einzelnamen. Sie ist verschwunden, und ist dem Allwissenden allein bekannt, bey welchem Volke und in welchem Jahrhunderte sich etwas Aehnliches wieder wird sehen lassen.


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The constitution had been here only once: you may call it the mosaic Constitution , which was its name. It has disappeared, and only the Almighty knows, in which nation and in which century something similar will appear again. And probably some Jews were waiting for it like for a Messiah who would once unban them from feudal slavery. The argument through which he inspired Lessing in his drama Nathan der Weise , was the following: Each religion has not to be judged in itself, but only the acts of a citizen who keeps faith with it, according to a just law. This kind of law constitutes a just state, in which the people of different faith may live together in peace.

According to his philosophy the new charge of any religion in general was not jurisdiction, but education as a necessary preparation to become a just citizen. Mendelssohn's point of view was that of a teacher who translated a lot of classical rabbinic authors like Maimonides from Hebrew into German, so that a Jewish child would be attracted to learn German and Hebrew in the same time.

At the end of his book Mendelssohn returns to the real political conditions in Habsburg, French and Prussian Monarchy, because he was often asked to support Jewish communities in their territories. In fact none of these political systems were offering the tolerant conditions, so that every subject should have the same legal status regardless to his or her religious faith.


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In his philosophy Mendelssohn discussed the discrimination of the individuum according to its religion, but not according to its gender. On the other hand, a modern education which Mendelssohn regarded still as a religious affair, required a reformation of the religious communities and especially their organization of the education which has to be modernized. As long as the state did not follow John Locke's requirement concerning the "freedom of conscience", any trial of an ethic education would be useless at all and every subject would be forced to live in separation according to their religious faith.

Reflecting the present conditions Mendelssohn addresses — directly in the second person — to the political authorities:. You should think, that you are not allowed to return our brotherly love, to unite with us as equal citizens, as long as there is any formal divergence in our religious rite, so that we do not eat together with you and do not marry one of yours, which the founder of your religion, as far as we can see, neither would have done, nor would have allowed us? In this paragraph it becomes very evident, that Moses Mendelssohn did not foresee the willingness of some Jewish men and women who left some years later their communities, because they do not want to suffer from a lower legal status any longer.

Moses Mendelssohn risked a lot, when he published this book, not only in front of the Prussian authority, but also in front of religious authorities — including Orthodox Rabbis. The following years some of his famous Christian friends stroke him at his very sensible side: his adoration for Lessing who died and could not defend his friend as he always had done during his lifetime. The strike was done by Lavater 's friend Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi who published an episode between himself and Lessing, in which Lessing confessed to be a "Spinozist", while reading Goethe 's Sturm und Drang poem Prometheus.

The fashion pantheism did not correspond to Mendelssohn 's deistic reception of Spinoza [28] and Lessing whose collected works he was publishing. He was not so wrong, because Spinoza himself developed a fully rational form of deism in his main work Ethica , without any knowledge of the later pantheistic reception of his philosophy. Mendelssohn published in his last years his own attitude to Spinoza — not without his misunderstandings, because he was frightened to lose his authority which he still had among rabbis.

Nevertheless, Moses Mendelssohn had a great influence on other Maskilim and on the Jewish emancipation , and on nearly every philosopher discussing the role of the religion within the state in 19th century Western Europe.

Mendelssohn's dreams about a tolerant state became reality in the new French Constitution of Berr Isaac Berr , the Ashkenazic representative in the Legislative Assembly , praised the French republic as the "Messiah of modern Judaism", because he had to convince French communities for the new plans of a Jewish reform movement to abandon their autonomy.

His attempt of a German translation of the Hebrew prayerbook Sefer ha-Nefesh "Book of the Soul" which he did for the school, finally became not popular as a ritual reform, because he went so far to offer his community a "dry baptism" as an affiliation by the Lutheran church. There was a seduction of free-thinking Jews to identify the seclusion from European modern culture with Judaism in itself and it could end up in baptism.

By the end of the 18th century there were a lot of contemporary concepts of enlightenment in different parts of Europe, in which humanism and a secularized state were thought to replace religion at all. Like Moses Mendelssohn he regarded education as a religious affair.

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One reason for his success was the political fact, that Westphalia became part of France. The language used during the lessons was German.

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His concept of pedagogy combined the ideas of Moses Mendelssohn with those of the socially engaged Philantropin school which Basedow founded in Dessau, inspired by Rousseau 's ideas about education. Since religious ceremonies were also held in the first Reform Temple, established on the school's ground and equipped by an organ.

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