Faith and Freedom: Moses Mendelssohns Theological-Political Thought

Hardcover | March 3, 2011

byMichah Gottlieb

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Two major interpretations of Mendelssohn's achievements have attained prominence in recent works. One interpretation, defended most recently by David Sorkin and Edward Breuer, casts Mendelssohn as a Jewish traditionalist who uses the language of enlightened German philosophy to bolster hispre-modern religious beliefs. The other interpretation, defended by Allan Arkush, casts Mendelssohn as a radical Deist who defends Judaism exoterically in order to avoid arousing opposition from his co-religionists while facilitating their social integration into enlightened European society. InFaith and Freedom, Michah Gottlieb stakes out a middle position. He argues that Mendelssohn defends pre-modern Jewish religious concepts sincerely, but in so doing, unconsciously gives them a humanistic valence appropriate to life in a diverse, enlightened society. Gottlieb sees the PantheismControversy as part of a broader assessment of Mendelssohn's theological-political philosophy, framed in terms of Mendelssohn's relation to his two greatest Jewish philosophical predecessors, Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) and Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). While Mendelssohn's relation to Maimonides and Spinoza has been discussed sporadically, Faith and Freedom is the first book-length treatment of this subject. The connection is particularly instructive as both Maimonides and Spinoza wrote major theological-political treatises and exercised profoundinfluences on Mendelssohn. Not surprisingly, Mendelssohn is deeply ambivalent about both of these figures. He reveres Maimonides for what he sees as his synthesis of Judaism with secular knowledge, while seeming deeply disturbed by Maimonides's elitism, his equivocation regarding many of the tenetsof theism, his espousing religious coercion, and his intolerant view of Gentiles. As for Spinoza, Mendelssohn respects him as a model for how a Jew can fruitfully contribute to science and philosophy and be a model of ethical rectitude. But Mendelssohn objects to Spinoza's atheism, advocacy of statereligion, debunking of Jewish chosenness, and rejection of Jewish law. For Mendelssohn, reason best preserves human dignity and freedom by upholding the individual's right to arrive at truth on their own and determine their own beliefs independently of all authority. As such, reason demands that the state respect diversity of thought and religious expression.Mendelssohn interprets faith in the Jewish sense as trust in God's providential goodness, arguing that reason affirms this as well. But he recognizes the difficulty of establishing metaphysical truth rationally and so in his final works adumbrates a form of religious pragmatism. The faith-reason debate rages again today. Gottlieb explores Mendelssohn's theological-political thought with an eye to axiological and political dimensions of the debate.

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Two major interpretations of Mendelssohn's achievements have attained prominence in recent works. One interpretation, defended most recently by David Sorkin and Edward Breuer, casts Mendelssohn as a Jewish traditionalist who uses the language of enlightened German philosophy to bolster hispre-modern religious beliefs. The other interpr...

Michah Gottlieb is Assistant Professor of Jewish Thought in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University.

other books by Michah Gottlieb

Moses Mendelssohn: Writings on Judaism, Christianity, and the Bible
Moses Mendelssohn: Writings on Judaism, Christianity, a...

Kobo ebook|Oct 11 2011

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:224 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.98 inPublished:March 3, 2011Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195398947

ISBN - 13:9780195398946

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Table of Contents

DedicationAbbreviationsPrefaceIntroduction1. God is Good: The Harmony between Judaism and Enlightenment Philosophy2. Philosophy and Law: Shaping Judaism for the Modern World3. Either/Or: Jacobi's Attack on the Moderate Enlightenment4. Enlightenment Reoriented: Mendelssohn's Pragmatic Religious IdealismConclusionBibliography