SESSION 5 (March 22)


Enlightenment & Reason

Moses Mendelssohn is regarded as the father of the Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment movement. He attempted to reconcile traditional Judaism with the emerging cultural and scientific Enlightenment of Europe. He was a highly regarded figure during his lifetime.

Mendelssohn actually bested Kant in an essay contest in 1763.

Here is a link to Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem:

See, in particular, pages 102-113.

Some considerations to have in mind while reading the selection:

What distinction does Mendelssohn draw between revealed religion and revealed legislation? Why does Mendelssohn say the distinction is important?

What does Mendelssohn say is included in, and excluded from, the Torah? How has Mendelssohn’s view influenced subsequent Jewish thought?

How, according to Mendelssohn, are issues of belief and thought – as opposed to matters of conduct – supposed to resolved? Why might this view have been regarded favorably at the time? What objections were likely voiced?

What is Mendelssohn’s view of Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith?

As an amusing aside, note Mendelssohn’s comments about the printing press. Our modern comments about the Internet seem to be a modern recapitulation of Mendelssohn’s concerns.

For a good introduction to Moses Mendelssohn, see this link:

Hermann Cohen

In the 19th century, Hermann Cohen was a key figure in attempting to reconcile faith and reason. He emphasized the central role of ethics in religion. Here is a brief introduction.

Note: there is very little by Hermann Cohen readily available on the Internet. I will post brief selections later in the week.