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Moses Mendelssohn And
|Part I- Text of Article
Part II Appendix:
III. Music and Science
Moses Mendelssohn on Church and State
'The reasons which lead men to rational actions and convictions rest partly on the relations of men to each other, partly on the relations of men to their Creator and Keeper. The former are the province of the state, the latter that of religion. Insofar as men's actions and convictions can be made to serve the common weal through reasons arising from their relations to each other, they are a matter for the civil constitution; but insofar as the relations between man and God can be seen as their source, they belong to the church, the synagogue, or the mosque. ... Public institutions for the moral development of man that concern his relations with God I call church; those that concern his relations with man I call state. By the formation of man I understand the effort to arrange both actions and convictions in such a way that they will be in accord with his felicity; that they will educate and govern men. ...
"Laws do not alter convictions; arbitrary punishments and rewards produce no principles, refine no morals. Fear and hope are no criteria of truth. Knowledge, reasoning, and persuasion alone can bring forth principles, with the help of authority and example, can pass into morals. And it is here that religion should come to the aid of the state and the church should become a pillar of civil felicity. It is the business of the church ... to show then that duties toward men are also duties toward God, the violation of which is the greatest misery; that serving the state is true service of God; that charity is his most sacred will, and that true knowledge of the Creator can not leave behind in the soul any hatred for men. To teach this is the business, duty, and vocation of religion; to preach it, the business and duty of its ministers. How, then, could it ever have occurred to men to permit religion to teach and its ministers to preach the opposite?"
'Although the divine book that we received through Moses is, strictly speaking, meant to be a book of laws containing ordinances, rules of life and prescriptions, it also is well known as an inexhaustible treasure of rational truths and religious doctrines. ... All laws refer to, or are based upon, eternal truths of reason, or remind us of them, and rouse us to ponder them. ...
"Among all prescriptions and ordinances of Mosaic law, there is not a single one which says: you shall believe or not believe. They all say: you shall do or not do. Faith is not commanded, for it accepts no other commands than those that come to it by way of conviction. ... Whenever it is a question of the eternal truths of reason, it does not say believe, but understand and know. ...
"In truth, everything depends here also on the distinction between believing and knowing, between religious doctrines and religious commandments. To be sure, all human knowledge can be reduced to a few, fundamental concepts, which are laid down as the bases. The fewer these are, the more firmly the structure is fundamental. And in this regard we may rightly say: to us, all words of scripture, all of God's commandments and prohibitions are fundamental. Should you, nevertheless, want to obtain their quintessence, listen to how that great teacher of the nation, Hillel the Elder, who lived before the destruction of the Second Temple, conducted himself in this matter. A heathen said: 'Rabbi, teach me the entire Law while I am standing on one foot!' Shammai, whom he had previously approached with the same unreasonable request, had dismissed him contemptuously; but Hillel, renowned for his imperturbable composure and gentleness, said: 'Son, love thy neighbor as thyself. This is the text of the Law; all the rest is commentary. Now go and study!' "
The Mendelssohn family were patrons of scientific, as well as musical, networks. Moses Mendelssohn wrote his last philosophical work, Morgenstunden, explicitly for his son Joseph and his friend, the geographer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, and his brother Wilhelm. Joseph Mendelssohn financed, among other ventures, Alexander's trip to the United States, where he was hosted by the American Philosophical Society. The two were lifelong friends.
Moses Mendelssohn's son Abraham gave Alexander von Humboldt the use of his garden, to carry out magnetic experiments of the sun which had been devised by Humboldt's collaborator, the mathematician Carl Gauss. At the same time these experiments were being conducted, in another section of the garden, Abraham's son Felix was rehearsing for the historic performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Humboldt invited the mathematician Lejeune Dirichlet to the experiments, and it was there, in the Mendelssohn garden, that he met his future wife Rebecca, Felix's youngest sister!
abbi David Einhorn, a protégé of Rabbi Abraham Geiger, served in several German communities before emigrating to the United States in 1855 to take up the pulpit of Congregation Har Sinai of Baltimore, Mayland. He immediately became the most outspoken opponent of slavery in the American rabbinical community. Not only did he preach against slavery from the pulpit, but he also edited and published a German-language newspaper, to organize the anti-slavery cause among American Jews. Einhorn was a fiery polemicist:
Scorning the entire civilized world, the rebellious South wants to overturn the principle of the innate equality of all beings created in the image of God, in favor of the opposing principle of innate servitude, and to set slavery and the law of might recognized as a force in the formation of states, as the basis of civilization. It wishes to tear down the glorious Stars and Stripes to pieces. ... If this diabolical undertaking would succeed, who would have more to fear than Israel, the very ancient slave of slaves?
Most of the leading American rabbis, like Isaac Meyer Wise, who was a Copperhead, a member of the confederate Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, and an opponent of Lincoln's presidential bid, were either apologists for slavery, or thought it was not an issue of fair comment for a rabbi! There was also Rabbi Morris Raphall of New York, who wrote a tract proving that slavery was sanctioned by the Bible.
In 1861, a confederate lynch mob targeted Einhorn, burned down his printing press, and forced him to flee for his life to Philadelphia. Samuel Isaacs, the editor of the Jewish Messenger of New York, castigated him: "It seems he has been mistaking his vocation, and making the pulpit the vehicle for political invective. ... We commend his fate to others, who feel inclined to take similar course. A minister has enough to do, if he devotes himself to the welfare of his flock. ... Let Dr. E's fate be a warning."
Einhorn was supported by Rabbi Bernhard Felsenhtal of Chicago, who had studied in Kaiserlautern and whom Einhorn had ordained as a rabbi when he emigrated to the United States. Felsenthal wrote:
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Music and German Classical Culture:
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Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, A Biographical Study (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1973).
Max Grunwald, Vienna (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1936).
Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1983).
Michael A. Meyer, The Origins of the Modern Jew (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1972).
Revolution and Evolution in 1848 German-Jewish History, ed. by Werner E. Moss (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1981).
Eric Werner, A Voice Still Heard: The Sacred Songs of the Ashkenazic Jews (CITY: Penn State University Press, 1976).
Eric Werner, Mendelssohn, A New Image of the Composer and His Age (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1963).
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