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Moses Mendelssohn
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Philosopher
    (September 6, 1729-January 4, 1786)
    Born in Dessau, Principality of Anhalt in the Holy Roman Empire (now Germany)
    German Rabbinic philosopher
    Key figure in the 18th Century German Enlightenment
    Widely regarded as the Founder of Modern Judaism
    Regarded as a leading cultural figure by both Christian and Jewish inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire
    Wrote on topics as diverse as literary criticism, metaphysics, aesthetics, political theory, and theology
    Made the majority of his wealth in the Berlin textile industry
    Translator of the Biblical Pentateuch (called 'Bi'ur' or 'the Explanation') and the Book of Psalms (1783)
    Also translated the works of Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Lord Shaftesbury
    Collaborated with colleague Gotthold Ephraim Lessing on 'Pope a Metaphysician,' 'Fragments of the Unnamed,' and 'Christianity of Reason'
    Probably best known for his treatises, 'Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism' (1783), 'Morgenstunden oder Vorlesungen über das Dasein Gottes' (Morning hours or lectures about God's existence), and his final work, 'An die Freunde Lessings' (To Lessing's Friends, 1786)
    Grandfather to the world famous composers Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny Mendelssohn
    He is posthumously overshadowed by his grandson.
    Historians tend to identify him as anti-Semitic Germany's 'token Jew.'
    He can be confused with fellow 'token,' Great Britain's own Moses Montefiore (or even his ideological ancestor, Moses Maimonides, for the really confused).
    He was accused of promoting Jewish assimilation into German society, his ideas laying the groundwork for the controversial concepts, 'Haskalah' (Jewish enlightenment) and 'maskilim' (enlightened ones).
    Specifically, his translation of the Bible into German with Hebrew subnotes was deemed as a clever trick to lure Jewish citizens into 'learning German.'
    So absorbed into secular German culture was he that he went so far as to criticize Frederick the Great for writing his poetry in French instead of German.
    Equally problematic for Jewish scholars is the fact that a majority of his writings don't deal in Jewish issues at all, but matters of general philosophy.
    He also vocally denounced tentative Zionist concepts, writing that the Jewish people were not 'ready to attempt anything so great' and that they had recently devolved 'into a monkish piety, manifested in prayer and suffering, not in activity.'
    He was drawn into a heated literary dispute over whether or not the recently deceased Lessing had been a 'Spinozist' or an atheist (he was accused of defending him in public but privately acknowledging his atheism).
    Jewish Orthodox leaders later took issue with his sons' conversion to Christianity, greeting it as a sign of Judaism's secular demise. (His sons' assertion that their dad would have approved of their decision didn't help much).
    He was called 'the German Socrates.'
    His likeness is on several German commemorative coins.
    Germany issued a commemorative stamp in honor of his 250th birthday in 1979.
    He endured the naked anti-Semitism of the Holy Roman Empire, as a youth in Dessau.
    He lived most of his life in Berlin, but it took decades for him to win 'privileged status,' or permanent citizenship.
    He was considerably outspoken for such an anti-Semitic period, advocating for the Jewish community's civil liberties.
    He has been credited with provoking a sympathetic call from Germany's social elite for civil rights for German Jewry, and for making German-Jewish integration possible.
    His B'ur translation of the Hebrew Bible was so widely controversial that some Jewish communities went so far as to have public burnings of it.
    He beat out the great Immanuel Kant in a 1767 Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences contest, with an essay arguing that metaphysical truths could be as proven as scientific ones.
    He, himself, was elected a member of the Prussian Academy in 1771, but King Frederick blocked the decision to include him.
    He established a lifelong friendship with Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, befriending him during a 1754 chess game.
    He was the inspiration for Jewish protagonists in several of Lessing's plays, most notably 'Nathan the Wise.'
    He is believed to have contracted a fatal cold carrying a manuscript defending Lessing's posthumous character to his publishers on New Year's Eve.
    Immanuel Kant reportedly said 'Christianity has lost nothing from his demise' shortly after learning of his death (*koff* sore loser *koff*).

Credit: BoyWiththeGreenHair


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