Moses Mendelssohn's Approach to Jewish Integration in Light of His Reconciliation of Traditional Judaism and Enlightenment Rationalism


  • Robert J. Clark Wichita State University


Moses Mendelssohn, German Enlightenment, philosophy and religion, Jewish integration, Jewish emancipation, traditional Judaism, rational Enlightenment


Prior to the eighteenth century, European Jews lived in separate communal structures at the discretion of their host countries.1 A very few found places of influence and wealth as "court Jews" and lived as aristocrats, but their acceptance in society was limited, subject to official approval, and came at a price.2 There had always been opportunities for Jews to integrate into European society, albeit not without complication, via assimilation and conversion.3 But the ability to enter the social order as Jews and find a place to belong without rejecting their heritage and religion proved elusive. The emergence of modem Europe posed a threat to individuals of many religious traditions, not just Jews. The rise of Enlightenment rationalism struck at the foundation of all revealed religion. But Jews, being outside the 'Christian' consensus, faced especially difficult obstacles in navigating the currents of contemporary thought if they sought to integrate into European society. The first Jew to achieve success in large measure in this endeavor was Moses Mendelssohn.