Moses Mendelssohn


Portrait of Moses MendelssohnMoses Mendelssohn was a philosopher and Jewish theologian who wrote on metaphysics, aesthetics, political theory and theology. He was key to the advancements in thinking associated 18th century German Enlightenment. He campaigned for Jewish civil rights and translated parts of the Old Testament into German.

Mendelssohn believed in rational analysis arguing that Judiasm and other religions should rely on reason and not belief. He is perhaps best known today as the model for Nathan der Weise, the protagonist in Gotthold Lessing's famous 1779 play of the same name, championing religious tolerance.

Born in Dessau, Germany, Mendelssohn was an assiduous student. He Moved to Berlin in 1743 where he became a silk merchant. There he became a friend of the dramatist Gotthold Lessing, a leading figure in the German Enlightenment. Because of his expertise in many areas of study, including philosophy, linguistics, and religion, he came to be called the German Socrates.

Mendelssohn ascribed his as well as others’ stuttering to psychological causes. He saw stuttering as originating in “a collision between many ideas flowing simultaneously from the brain" (Bobrick, 1995, p. 78).

Mendelssohn described his talents as well as his disabilities of stuttering and his misshapen body in the following poem, addressed to his friends:

Great you call Demosthenes,
Stuttering orator of Greece;
Hunchbacked Aesop you deem wise;--
In your circle I surmise
I am doubly wise and great.
What in each was separate
You in me united find--
Hump and heavy tongue combined (Bobrick, 1995, p. 78).

Writings of Moses Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn, Moses (1761) Philosophical Writings. Translated and edited by Daniel Dahlstrom. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1997. Translation of Philosophische Schriften (1761).

Mendelssohn, Moses (1783/1983). Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism. Translated by Allan Arkush. Edited with introduction and commentary by Alexander Altmann. Hanover, N.H., 1983. Translation of Jerusalem oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum (1783).

Writings about Moses Mendelssohn

Altmann, Alexander(1973) Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study. Tuscalossa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press.

Arkush, Allan (1994). Moses Mendelssohn and the enlightenment. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Bobrick, B. (1995). Knotted Tounges. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Breuer, Edward.(1996). The Limits of Enlightenment: Jews, Germans, and the Eighteenth Century Study of Scripture. Cambridge, Mass.

Dahlstrom, Daniel, Moses Mendelssohn, In E. Zalta (Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition). Retrieved on June 18, 2010.

Jospe, Alfred, et al. (2007). Mendelssohn, Moses. Encyclopaedia Judaica. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik (Eds.) 2nd ed. Vol. 14. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 33-40. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Retrieved on June, 18, 2010.

Sorkin, David.(1996). Moses Mendelssohn and the religious enlightenment. Berkeley and London: