Moses Mendelssohn and the Haskalah Movement


Moses Mendelssohn was a hugely influential thinker in 18th-century Germany. ¬†An unusually gifted intellect, he became the primary spokesperson for the emancipation of Jews in the 18th century, and his cause was championed by many non-Jewish liberals of the era. Heralded as the founder of the Reform movement even though Mendelssohn himself maintained an observant lifestyle, his activity spawned a wholesale abandonment of traditional Judaism. Within a century of his death, his strategy of acculturation to the modern era was widely accepted by most Jewish thinkers in western Europe, but not a single one of Mendelssohn’s descendants remained Jewish.

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  1. Thank you very much for this marvelous introduction. Could you say something about how Rambam’s “enlightenment” contrasts with the failures (perceived or actual) of the modern Haskalah? It seems from your comments that, although there was a segment of intolerant critical reaction against his works, those works never appear to have produced a true intellectual & halakhic schism among us – as opposed to, say, the works of Mendelssohn. What is the crucial difference between these enlightenments in your view? Also, is there a biography of Maimonides that you favor? Finally, is there is any possibility you would make a sequel presentation about Rambam, perhaps about him as a true “rational” rabbinical statesman in some of his letters – as this in the future is likely to become ever more relevant – especially in Israel? In other words, may we have some peanuts with the chocolate?

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