MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL.
H. Adler.—Transactions of the Jewish
Historical Society of
England, Vol. I, p. 25.
Kayserling.—Miscellany of the Society
of Hebrew Literature,
Lady Magnus.—Jewish Portraits, p. 109.
English translations of works, Vindiciae Judeorum,
Hope of Israel,
The Conciliator (E.H. Lindo, 1841, etc.).
J. Freudenthal.—History of Spinozism, J.Q.R., VIII, p. 17.
Karpeles.—Jewish Literature and other Essays, p. 229.
Abrahams.—Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, ch. 14.
Graetz,—V, pp, 112 , 234 .
German Translation of the
Bible.—Phaedo.—Jerusalem.—Lessing’s “Nathan the Wise.”
Moses, the son of Mendel, was born in Dessau in 1728, and died in Berlin in 1786. His father was poor, and he himself was of a weak constitution. But his stunted form was animated by a strenuous spirit. After a boyhood passed under conditions which did little to stimulate his dawning aspirations, Mendelssohn resolved to follow his teacher Fraenkel to Berlin. He trudged the whole way on foot, and was all but refused admission into the Prussian capital, where he was destined to produce so profound an impression. In Berlin his struggle with poverty continued, but his condition was improved when he obtained a post, first as private tutor, then as book-keeper in a silk factory.
Berlin was at this time the scene of an intellectual and aesthetic revival dominated by Frederick the Great. The latter, a dilettante in culture, was, as Mendelssohn said of him, a man “who made the arts and sciences flourish, and made liberty of thought universal in his realm.” The German Jews were as yet outside this revival. In Italy and Holland the new movements of the seventeenth and the eighteenth century had found Jews well to the fore. But the “German” Jews—and this term included the great bulk of the Jews of Europe—were suffering from the effects of intellectual stagnation. The Talmud still exercised the mind and imagination of these Jews, but culture and religion were separated. Mendelssohn in a hundred places contends that such separation is dangerous and unnatural. It was his service to Judaism that he made the separation once for all obsolete.
Mendelssohn effected this by purely literary means. Most reformations have been at least aided by moral and political forces. But the Mendelssohnian revival in Judaism was a literary revival, in which moral and religious forces had only an indirect influence. By the aid of greater refinement of language, for hitherto the “German” Jews had not spoken pure German; by a widening of the scope of education in the Jewish schools; by the introduction of all that is known as culture, Mendelssohn changed the whole aspect of Jewish life. And he produced this reformation by books and by books alone. Never playing the part of a religious or moral reformer, Mendelssohn became the Jewish apostle of culture.