Jerusalem (Mendelssohn) - Moses Mendelssohn's Treatise “On Religious Power” and Its Composition

Moses Mendelssohn's Treatise “On Religious Power” and Its Composition

Despite the fact that Moses Mendelssohn was a highly educated scholar and teacher who spent whole nights on German translation of classical Hellenic and Roman philosophers and poets as a young man, he became a very famous and influential philosopher of Haskalah. His book Jerusalem oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum can be regarded as one of the main works of Jewish Enlightenment.

Often this text which explains the real subject of “amelioration” in Dohm's defense, is still underestimated as a contribution to philosophy—probably because it was directly connected with the historical situation and the social conditions of the author's life. On the other hand a lot of historians concerned about Haskalah criticized the heroic image about Moses Mendelssohn in which he appears as the starting point of Jewish enlightenment without any respect to earlier attempts around the beginning of the 18th century.

Regarding the present accusations and complaints concerning the current state of Judaism as a modern Christian prejudice which just had replaced the medieval ones (like poisoning fountains, ritual slaughtering of Christian children on Pessah etc.), his subject of amelioration was the religion and especially the one which has to be separated from the state.

The two parts of his books got no titles except Erster and Zweiter Abschnitt (“first” and “second section”), and the first one treated clearly the contemporary conflicts of the state and the second those of religion. In the first the author developed his political theory towards an utopia of a just and tolerant democracy, which he identified with the political attempt of the Mosaic Law: therefore the title “Jerusalem”. In the second part he worked out a new pedagogic charge which every religion has to fulfill in the private sector. It was reduced to it, because the tolerant state should be separated from any religion. Hence the Mosaic law and the traditional practice of jurisdiction was no longer the business of Judaism, if there would be a tolerant state. Instead the new charge of religion would the education of just and tolerant citizens. The book as a whole summarizes Moses Mendelssohn's critic concerning the contemporary conditions of the Prussian Monarchy and the legal status of the different religions, which finally means the civil status of its inhabitants according to their faith—the subject of Christian Wilhelm von Dohm's Mémoire.

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