On our previous Glatt Kosher holidays through Europe, we made sure to uncover as much Jewish heritage as we could, from the origins of Synagogues in France to the enduring Sephardic legacy in Iberia. As the centuries rolled by, the Jewish people of Europe experienced many changes, both from the outside their communities and from within.

As the Enlightenment began to flourish and bring in new ideas to Europe, certain Jewish thinkers and scholars were also affected by the influence of the changing zeitgeist. One of these people was Moses Mendelssohn, a prominent figure in the Haskalah, or the Jewish Enlightenment.

A picture of Moses Mendelssohn displayed in the Jewish Museum, Berlin, based on an oil portrait (1771) by Anton Graff in the collection of the University of Leipzig. Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_Mendelssohn

Life and Works

Moses Mendelssohn was born in the city of Dessau, Germany, on September 6, 1729. He was the son of a poor Torah scribe, learning from his father and later from the rabbi of Dessau, David Frankel. When the latter moved to Berlin, Moses Mendelssohn followed, and it is in Berlin he would live most of his life. Moses Mendelssohn would receive education in various languages, such as Latin, Italian and Greek, and was learned in matters of logic, mathematics, criticism and philosophy. He famously translated the Torah into German and published a book called Jerusalem, where he discussed matters of politics and faith. Moses Mendelssohn died on January 4, 1786, and was buried in the Jewish Cemetery of Berlin.

Moses Mendelssohn and the Haskalah

Moses Mendelssohn earned renown for his philosophical and religious works. When theologian Johann Kaspar Lavater sought to convert him to Christianity, Mendelssohn responded with a defense of Judaism’s merits as a tolerant faith. This incident would lead him to further champion Judaism, and he would be an active campaigner for Jewish emancipation. His wish to reconcile Jewish tradition with European society post-Enlightenment made him a central figure in the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, and while the movement itself did not last, it carried with it the seeds for new changes in the Jewish world. On our future kosher tours through Europe, we may yet explore the story of Moses Mendelssohn and other great thinkers during the Enlightenment era.

Featured Image Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_Mendelssohn

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