Faith and Freedom: Moses Mendelssohns Theological-Political Thought

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In his reconsideration of Mendelssohn, Gottlieb does not attempt to resuscitate his old-fashioned metaphysics.


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That this ancient narrative could be considered altogether trustworthy was something he was prepared to affirm, even at a time when it was increasingly subject to doubt. His arguments in support of the historicity of revelation and his attempt to demonstrate that traditional Judaism is receptive to the idea of liberty of conscience are suspiciously flimsy.

The latter in particular appears to have been designed not to explicate ancient texts but to force the Jewish religion into line with his own entirely philosophical preference for a liberal order supportive of individual freedom. Gottlieb argues that it is wrong to see things in such a light. One has to regard Mendelssohn not as a historian but above all as a theologian.

It is to see him as a rationalist and a defender of freedom who felt constrained, for a variety of reasons, to proceed cautiously to advance the liberal cause, to which he was truly loyal, without generating unnecessary and harmful friction with the existing authorities. One need not regard such a stance toward a biblical religion as the best one to take.

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But one cannot simply dismiss it as duplicity. For Gottlieb, at least, this seems to be a question of more than scholarly interest.

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For only if he was truly sincere can one honestly adduce Mendelssohn as an exemplar of rational, tolerant, and humanistic religion capable of serving as a model for contemporary Jews. But Gottlieb is concerned not only with his own co-religionists. But if such people are actually out there, I suppose that reading the works of a life-affirming thinker from the eighteenth century is far from the worst way that they could spend their time.

Enlightening Judaism

Close Login. Publication Date: February The past decade has witnessed renewed interest in the faith-reason debate. But all too often the debate is treated in generic terms, without paying attention either to differences between religious traditions or to the historical development of these traditions. Judaism, with its emphasis on religious law, yields insights into the political ramifications of the problem that differ greatly from Christian approaches.


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  • In Faith, Reason, and Politics, Michah Gottlieb explores Jewish approaches to the faith-reason debate through detailed analyses of Jewish thinkers from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries, including Judah Halevi, Maimonides, Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Leo Strauss, This book will appeal to scholars and students interested in the problem of faith versus reason and in the relationship between religion and politics.

    Previously he taught at Brown University. Cart 0.