The Eighteenth century saw a radical change in the way the church and state cooperated in many European countries. This phenomenon formed part of the Enlightenment for both Europeans and Jews and was a movement based on rationality. It was a process many social scientists called ‘Modernisation’1 and it affected the Jews more than any other people. Jews in pre-Enlightenment Europe were seen as ‘aliens’ 2 who lived in one area yet distanced themselves from the wider community. They lived under different rules, paid special taxes and were subject to a range of legal disabilities as well as often being committed to ghettos. This essay will focus on the significance of the prominent figures of the Haskalah and Enlightenment for Jewish-Christian relations with particular orientation towards Jewish views of Christianity.
The Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that started in Europe around the 1770s and lasted until the 1880s. This rational movement had a distinctly Jewish nature and was stimulated by the European Enlightenment. The Haskalah increased secularization of Jewish life through studying about secular life, secular subjects, and emphasising European languages and not just Hebrew, this particularly happened in Germany. All this was because of the long for Jewish emancipation and ultimately aided in the creation of the Reform and Zionist movement.
Jews of the pre-enlightenment period were subject to a long and extensive history of anti-Semitism. I will only briefly comment on a few of the major issues of significance that show the change in position of the Jewish faith and whether or not the Enlightenment and Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) had any impact on Jewish Christian relations.
This influence of ‘Modernisation’ highlighted that Jews were separate from their host state. Many Jews wanted to change this situation because they felt that much of the previous anti-Semitism might be stopped by embracing their surrounding culture and therefore joining the European secular Society.
Jews in Medieval Europe were not interested in any relationship with Christians but due the history of persecution towards them but due to the fact that they lived under Christendom they could not avoid political and economic relations with them. Politically, the Jewish community of the pre-enlightenment period was seen as a minority that had some ties with the host state, yet the members of these communities had no rights as citizens nor were they even legal citizens of the state.
In the 12th century Rabbi Samual Ben Meir justified living under a non-Jewish host society. This contract had no religious basis and allowed Jews to be in contact with a non-Jewish host society based on the following set of agreements.
“All the levies and taxes and legal procedures enacted by Kings in their kingdoms are binding as laws. For all the subjects of the kingdom freely accept the statues of the king and his enactments. Therefore, it is totally legal. Thus, one who takes property, when it is according to the king’s law that obtains in the municipality, does not do so as a robber.”
This interaction was similar on an economic scale. Jews of course had to interact economically and this did happen, but again it was subject to a stringent set of laws.
“Three days before the holy days of the gentiles, it is prohibited to do business with them, to lend them money or to borrow money from them, to pay debts to them or collect debts from them.”
As we can see hostility towards the Jews is not a modern phenomena. The escape from the Ghetto by the end of the Enlightenment for some European Jewry represents a momentous turn in Jewish History. Jewish life changed dramatically all over Europe by the end of the nineteenth century. The main change was that of the civil status of Jews changing from ‘strangers to citizens’5, but this change was not due to natural change. All aspects of the Jewish predicament were taken into consideration by all of the host nations in both the legal side and the public domain. While these events took place all over Europe, it was Germany where the most controversy took place and so it is Germany that I will focus on.
Mendelssohn, Lessing and Dohn were three German writers and philosophers who at this time started to advocate the right for Jews to become full citizens. These advocates were friends with one anther, but more importantly created a very powerful debate between themselves and the wider community. The abilty was partly due to Mendelssohn being a Jew and the others being Christians. This Jewish-Christian dialogue is what I will be exploring.
Moses Mendelssohn was born in Darsaw in 1729 and excelled in his studies with his rabbi David Fontel. In 1743 Fontel moved to Berlin, where Mendelssohn shortly after followed him. It was here that he was able to add secular knowledge to his already knowledgeable rabbinic scholarship. He entered into secular relations with non Jews, by learning the new Jewish subject of ‘secular knowledge’6
In David Sorkin’s book Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment, he talks about the Protestant Priest Lavater7 offering Mendelssohn a ‘Golden Bridge’ to Christianity. Mendelssohn expressed a “philosophical respect” for Jesus and a respect that “philosophical Jews” of Berlin and deists ready for conversion to Unitarian Christianity. So this ‘Golden Bridge’ was offered in a belief that that Mendelssohn’s conversion would trigger the messianic process due to the dedication to a partial translation of a French apology for Christianity.
Mendelssohn based a lot of his Philosophy on Christian Wolff (a prominent philosopher of the Enlightenment), as he regarded natural religion as a suitable subject for philosophy. Mendelssohn had chosen his own path “I hoped to refute the contempt in which the Jews are held not through polemics but through virtue.”
Mendelssohn’s tolerance allowed him to build bridges between his Jewish philosophy and Christianity. Yet he, a “Torah true” 9Jew, became the object of considerable resentment from traditional Jews because he translated the Torah into German. Mendelssohn published this translation in Hebrew script. This means that the words were German but Hebrew letters were used to spell the German words, thus making the translation accessible to the vast majority of German Jews who could not read the Gothic German then in use. Traditional rabbis feared that this translation would lead to the neglect of Hebrew studies, thus leading to the abandonment of Judaism whether intended or not. That Mendelssohn did not intend the abandonment of Judaism is certain. [evidence?] That apostasy became frequent after his death is certain as well. The reason for this unintended outcome of Mendelssohn’s efforts was that he had become admired by the German Christian upper class scholars and had become a role model ” …..And encouraged Jews to think that they too could achieve the status to which they aspired.”
Mendelssohn believed that the acceptance of Jews would come first in Germany and he strove for the development of Jewish culture within the borders of Germany. (e.gs)Mendelssohn loved Germany and German civilization as did so many of his fellow Jews who insisted on believing in the humaneness of their German brethren.
Mendelssohn sought to develop “Jewish Prussians” rather than Prussian Jews and, for a short time after his death, succeeded. Thus, a limited amount of fraternity between Jews and Christians in the upper classes of German society did develop at the end of the eighteenth century, particularly because there were some leading Christians who sought to make possible the entrance of the Jews into German social life. Others, again, were vehemently opposed to such a possibility so that there was never a clear cut German attitude towards Mendelssohn’s proposals.
In Mendelssohn’s book Jerusalem, he refrained from attacking Christianity because its practical benefits outweigh purely theoretical considerations, as it is a “religion from which so many of my fellow men exact contentment in this life and the unlimited felicity thereafter”
Isaac Stanow is another prominent figure in the Jewish Haskalah (1732-1804). His historical accounts signified the foundation of a very significant development of the destruction of established Judaism and its values and also some its fundamental principles. Satanow’s view on Christianity during the Enlightenment was a rather alarming one. Satanow points out that any unenlightened thoughts references from Jews and from Judaism in general to their supposed Christian origins of exile, which brought about his negative view of what Christianity was imposing upon Judaism.
His attitude of aggression towards Christianity and shielding of Judaism was due to his knowledge of Mendelssohn’s works and views. The same points that came through from the European Enlightenment which motivated Mendelssohn in part also governed Satanow’s accounts. Satanow’s way of promoting the adoption of western civilisation as presented by the Enlightenment by the Jews was very similar to that of Mendelssohn. At the same time, he insists on rejecting Christianity which is a central part of the Western Civilisation, in doing so encouraging the Jews to adhere to Judaism. As was typical of Jewish Enlightenment thinkers, Satanow embraced the deistic rejection of Christian and pagan miracles as false, but approved the miracles that are related to the Bible and the Talmud. A similar view is found in the literature of Mendelssohn.
Mendelssohn was critical of Christianity while being committed to it. He unmistakably demonstrated that his belief in Christianity was at odds with it. Moreover he illustrated his view with quotations from two psalms which he used to demonstrate a point where Judaism and natural religion converged.
In many ways, Mendelssohn’s main threat was that (which he voiced in part 1 of Jerusalem) he hoped that European Enlighteners would try to Unify and reunite the Churches. Many different Churches met to try and introduce reforms to try and remove injustices that had led to schism and many of them succeeded. This was Mendelssohn’s idea of a nightmare and he wrote:
In order to be under the care of this omnipresent shepherd the entire flock need neither graze in one pasture nor enter and leave the master’s house the a single door. This is neither what the shepherd wants nor advantageous to the prosperity of the flock…. Diversity is evidently the plan and purpose if Providence.
Christian Wihelm von Dohm (1751-1820) was a Prussian constitutional lawyer who was a staunch supporter of civil rights and the removal of discrimination against the Jews. His essay on “Concerning the amelioration of the civil status of the Jews” asked ‘what might be the reason that produced governments of almost all European stacks unanimously to deal so harshly with the Jewish nation?’ His sarcastic response implies that Jews are disqualified from society because the ‘stem from Asia , are different from others by beard, circumcision, and a special way of worshiping the supreme being.’
He goes on to argue that the addition of Jews to society would make them ‘useful members of society’ and this in turn could stop their ‘clannish tendencies’.
Johann David Michaelis (1717-17910) was somewhat against Dohms liberal view of allowing Jews to gain full citizenship to Germany. Michaelis was a German Biblical scholar and professor of oriental languages at the University of Goettingen. In his critical reply on Dohms attempt to ameliorate the Jewish-Christian dialogue he argues that Jews according to statistics ‘are 25 times as harmful as other inhabitants of Germany.’16 His contradictory explanation firstly agrees with Dohm’s view that Jews lives ‘reviled, oppressed and forced to support himself almost exclusively from trade.’ Yet he goes on to explain why there shouldn’t be any dialogue or rights to citizenship for Jews. This he explains is because of what the Law of Moses states, ‘Jews as people are almost completely separate from other people’ and so therefore they can never be part of German society.
This was another revival to what is known as ‘rational anti-Semitism’ that stems back to the expressions of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) who incited that hatred of the Jews without any rational explanation is not enough. Jews, thought Spinoza, must have some kind of innate perversity that causes their hatred of other countries. In his work (Theologico-Political Treatise, 1670). He blames the Jews of their love of the Hebrew nation but says it was not patriotism but a slow process ‘like the hatred of other nations’ that internalises itself into all Jews.
Gotten Ephraim Lessing (1729-81) was a friend of Dohm and life long friend of Mendelssohn -they apparently met at a chess table18- and was similarly another influential German intellect. Lessing advocated to ameliorate the Jewish-Christian relationship and was thought to one of the first European Gentile to write compassionately about the Jews. In his 1749 play The Jews (published five years later), Lessing portrays the Jews in a whole new light an extract from his play reads:
Christophe: No! The deuce! Certsainly there are Jews who aren’t Jews. You’re an upright man. By God, I’m staying with you! A Christian would have given not a valuable snuff box.
Baron: All yourdeeds enchant me. Come let’s make certain that those guilty are brought to custody. Oh, how commendable the Jews would be, if they were all like you!
Traveller: And how worthy of love the Christians, if they all possessed your qualities!
The significance of the Enlightenment was overwhelming for Jewry in Europe. This was the first idea of secularistion Judaism had encountered. Enlightened Jews tendency to use their mind in relation to the law as opposed to just using the Torah lead Jews to believe that if there were clases between the church and Jews minds then so be it. It is the was seen that the Torah true Jews were being irrational.
As we have seen from the prievious texts20 Mendelssohn advocated that Jews should not be isolated from the world around them and this is what exactly happened. One of the direct results of the enlightenment was that of the Emancipation of the Jews that happened all over Europe, The Emancipation of Jews in France (September 3, 1791), The Emancipation of Jews in Prussia (March11, 1812), Great Britian (1890) to name but a couple of countries.
This gigantic political step cannot be undermined. The Enlightenment did not just contact the everyday Christian and Jew, it managed to influence the politicians and government who changed policies and laws which still affect Jews and Christians today. For instance Benjamin D’Israeli was the first Jew in the houses of Parliament in Britian in 1834.
The dialogue following the Enlightenment allowed Jews to become part of the surrounding secular society. Jews were able to become Germans, albeit a Germans of the Hebraic tradition. Mendelssohn advocated that no religion holds the whole truth , but reason leads to understanding. Judaism he showed was full og rational legislations and so when you crucially come to see a religion, you can see how rational it is.
The Jews were seen to become more rational as well. The start of this essay shows the hatred between the two religions Pre-enlightenment. Blow for blow Christians and Jews used to battle it out, each one coming out with more outlandish accusations against other. This (momentarily, due to the Holocaust) stopped. Jews were prepared to say that Jesus was a good, moral and ethical teacher, but not the Son of God. If we compare this to some of the accusations we saw earlier, we can see the situation changed dramatically. The reason, now, why Jews and Christians were able to interact was because they shared an ethical and moral understanding. Mendelssohn, Lessing, Dohm and others as we have seen were able to create a dialogue between the Jews and Christians that was never though possible. They were some of the first to create a non-derogatory and non-discriminative view of the others religions which set the trend for so many events to come. So the Jews were no seen to be moral, ethical persons and so there were no reasons to let them be accepted into society.
Yet was this all as good as it sounded? This split Judaism in half. Two different movements followed. Those who followed the Traditional Orthodox way that emphasised universal teachings of Judaism and regarded itself as fundamentally superiorand those known as reform Jews who followed the idea that Judaism was a ‘Creed among many’ and they argued that it was tolerant.
The escape from the Ghetto by the end of the Enlightenment for some European Jewry represents a momentous turn in Jewish History. Jewish life changed dramatically all over Europe by the end of the nineteenth century. The main change was that of the civil status of Jews changing from ‘strangers to citizens’21, but this change was not due to natural change. All aspects of the Jewish predicament were taken into consideration by all of the host nations in both the legal side and the public domain.
In most of Western Europe, The Haskalah finished with a large number of Jews integrating into their surrounding society. Althought a lot of Jews stopped staying true to the Halakah many did by staying true to the Orthodox traditional view .The great effort in gaining emancipation in German caused a lot of self doubt in whether this was the right direction that Judaism should b heading in and caused a lot of Jews to immigrate to America and was the beginning to Zionism. Unfortunately in Russia a hugge ammout of Anti-Semitism quickly ended the Haskalah and any attempt for emancipation (Emancipation only granted 1917!). Many Jews in Russia replied to this wave of anti-Semitism by campaigning for emancipation, other joined different revolutionary movements and assimilated and others turned to Jewish nationalism in the form of the Zionist Hibbat Zion movement.
In conclusion the price paid for the Liberation of the Jewish people in Europe weakened the Jewish Identity radically. Mendelssohn and others work changed the day to day lives of European Jews tremendously. Yet this seemed to go against what Jewish history had been all about. For many traditional Jews, this was seen that their own followers had turned their back on Judaism to embrace a non religious secular society. Had the Holocaust not happened, Jews would be living in a very secular orientated society. The Enlightenment seemed to promise an immediate stoppage to suffering which it did for a short period of time, yet the Judaism that entered into dialogue with Christianity Post World War II was a significantly more diluted of the version that of the Pre-Enlightenment age.
Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto (Syracuse University Press, 1998)
David Novak, Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Oxford University Press, 1989)
Mendes-Flohr, Jews in the Modern World, a History since 1750 (Oxford University Press)
David Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. University of California Press. 1996
Christian Wilhelm von Dohm (Concerning the amelioration of the civil status of the Jews) in Mendes-Flohr, The Jews in the Modern World (Oxford university Press 1980)
Hsia and Lehmann, In and Out of the Ghetto, (Cambridge University Press 1995)
Jacob Katz, Toward Modernity,( Transaction Books Oxford, UK 1987)
Leon Klenicki, Towards a theological encounter, (Paulist Press 1991)
Dan Cohn-Shebok, The Jew in the Modern World, (Oxford University Press 2002)
1 Dan Cohn-Sherbok-Jews in the Modern World, a History since 1750 (Oxford University Press) pg 14
2 Dan Cohn-Sherbok-Jews in the Modern World, a History since 1750 (Oxford University Press) pg 14
3 David Novak, Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Oxford University Press, 1989) pg 43
4 David Novak, Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Oxford University Press, 1989) pg 43
5 Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto (Syracuse University Press, 1998) pg.7
6 Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto (Syracuse University Press, 1998) pg.47
7 Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. David Sorkin. University of California Press.
8 From Jersualem Scheiben juba 7:10 Quoted in Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. David Sorkin. University of California Press. 1996
9 Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. David Sorkin. University of California Press. 1996
10 Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. David Sorkin. University of California Press.1996
11 From Jersualem jubA 8:156Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. David Sorkin. University of California Press. 1996
12 Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. David Sorkin. University of California Press. 1996 from Jersualem juba 8:201-203
13 Christian Wilhelm von Dohm (Concerning the amelioration of the civil status of the Jews) in Mendes-Flohr, The Jews in the Modern World (Oxford university Press 1980)pg 27
14 Christian Wilhelm von Dohm (Concerning the amelioration of the civil status of the Jews) in Mendes-Flohr, The Jews in the Modern World(Oxford university Press 1980)pg 27
15 Christian Wilhelm von Dohm (Concerning the amelioration of the civil status of the Jews) in Mendes-Flohr, The Jews in the Modern World(Oxford university Press 1980)pg 27
16 Johann David Michaelis-Arguments against Dohm in in Mendes-Flohr, The Jews in the Modern World(…….)pg 36
17 Johann David Michaelis-Arguments against Dohm in in Mendes-Flohr, The Jews in the Modern World(…….)pg 36
18 Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto (Syracuse University Press1998) pg.48
19 Gotten Ephraim Lessing -The Jews in in Mendes-Flohr, The Jews in the Modern World(Oxford university Press 1980)pg pg 56
20 From Jersualem jubA 8:156Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. David Sorkin. University of California Press. 1996
21 Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto (Syracuse University Press, 1998) pg.7