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"Sorkin has established himself as one of the most insightful scholars of modern Jewish intellectual history. Now Moses Mendelssohn reinforces his position as one of the most outstanding Jewish historians of his generation."David N. Myers, University of California, Los Angeles
From the Back Cover
"Sorkin has established himself as one of the most insightful scholars of modern Jewish intellectual history. Now Moses Mendelssohn reinforces his position as one of the most outstanding Jewish historians of his generation." (David N. Myers, University of California, Los Angeles)
Jewish historians have often described Moses Mendelssohn as an assimilationist- but Sorkin asserts that in fact, he was a stalwart defender of traditional Judaism, including its tradition of rabbinic interpretation (though one who was willing to use ideas from secular and Christian thinkers to a greater extent than the most extreme traditionalists).
In addition, Sorkin discusses Mendelssohn's specific works- not just his philosophical works in German, but his works targeted to Jewish audiences, some of which were never translated into German.
Sorkin begins by discussing Mendelssohn's relationship to Christian "Religious Enlightenment" philosophy. The author believes Mendelssohn's work is somewhat derivative; like moderate 18th-century Christians, he sought to reconcile religion and rationalist philosophy. Although Mendelssohn was a rationalist, he was not as through a rationalist as Maimonides or more secular-minded thinkers; while Maimonides used reason to argue about the nature of God and the reasons for the Torah's commandments, Mendelssohn suggested that such issues were beyond the scope of reason. The beginning of the book is rather dry and abstract, and a bit harder to follow than the rest of the book.
Sorkin then discusses Mendelssohn's commentary to the book of Ecclesiastes- a part of the Bible that occasionally contradicts other parts of the Bible. Mendelssohn resolves these conflicts by asserting that Ecclesiastes is a dialogue between a skeptic and a believer. Sorkin goes on to discuss Mendelssohn's commentaries on Psalms and the Pentateuch, as well as later works.
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