Faith and Freedom: Moses Mendelssohn's Theological-Political Thought

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9780195398946: Faith and Freedom: Moses Mendelssohn's Theological-Political Thought
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The recent renewal of the faith-reason debate has focused attention on earlier episodes in its history. One of its memorable highlights occurred during the Enlightenment, with the outbreak of the "Pantheism Controversy" between the eighteenth century Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and the Christian Counter-Enlightenment thinker Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. While Mendelssohn argued that reason confirmed belief in a providential God and in an immortal soul, Jacobi claimed that its consistent application led ineluctably to atheism and fatalism. At present, there are two leading interpretations of Moses Mendelssohn's thought. One casts him as a Jewish traditionalist who draws on German philosophy to support his premodern Jewish beliefs, while the other portrays him as a secret Deist who seeks to encourage his fellow Jews to integrate into German society and so disingenuously defends Judaism to avoid arousing their opposition. By exploring the Pantheism Controversy and Mendelssohn's relation to his two greatest Jewish philosophical predecessors, the medieval Rabbi Moses Maimonides and the seventeenth century heretic Baruch Spinoza, Michah Gottlieb presents a new reading of Mendelssohn arguing that he defends Jewish religious concepts sincerely, but gives them a humanistic interpretation appropriate to life in a free, diverse modern society. Gottlieb argues that the faith-reason debate is best understood not primarily as an argument about metaphysical questions, such as whether or not God exists, but rather as a contest between two competing conceptions of human dignity and freedom. Mendelssohn, Gottlieb contends, gives expression to a humanistic religious perspective worthy of renewed consideration today.

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About the Author:


Michah Gottlieb is Assistant Professor in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University.

Review:


"The emphasis of Faith and Freedom upon careful intellectual history, philosophical exegesis, and balanced assessments of medieval and early modern philosophical contexts makes Gottlieb's work a new milestone in Mendelssohn scholarship and should become required reading for all students of Modern German-Jewish thought." --Center for Jewish Law


"Gottlieb's book makes several important contributions. It presents a compelling case for viewing Mendelssohn as sincerely committed to both Judaism and to Enlightenment. It also provides illuminating discussions of the Pantheism Controversy and Mendelssohn's relationship to Maimonides and Spinoza, which show Mendelssohn's originality and importance...one cannot but better appreciate Mendelssohn's thought after reading this fine work."--Review of Metaphysics


"[Gottlieb's] book is a model of dispassionate scholarship yet he makes no attempt to conceal his desire to strengthen the reputation and enhance the appeal of a man he regards as an exemplary exponent of a rational, tolerant, humanistic religion."--First Things


"At last! A study of Moses Mendelssohn that successfully integrates the Jewish and German sides of his thought. Michah Gottlieb's mastery of classical Jewish sources and 18th century German thought enables him to discuss Mendelssohn's relationship to Maimonides and Spinoza and his debate with Jacobi with equal assurance and insight. Above all, as a result of Gottlieb's sympathetic but not uncritical presentation, Mendelssohn's enlightened conception of Judaism emerges as a serious option worthy of consideration in our cosmopolitan diverse society. With the publication of Faith and Freedom Gottlieb has earned himself a secure place in the very front ranks of contemporary Mendelssohn scholars."---Lawrence Kaplan, Professor of Rabbinics and Jewish Philosophy, McGill University


"Clearly written, rigorously researched and well-argued, Faith and Freedom admirably and convincingly demonstrates how debates about the modern history of epistemology and metaphysics need to pay closer attention to arguments about the shape of modern ethical and political life. By so doing, Gottlieb both secures the importance of Mendelssohn's place in the history of philosophy and contributes significantly to current conversation about the relation of religion and politics, the status and meaning of cosmopolitanism, and the politics of identity."---Leora Batnitzky, Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, Princeton University


"Faith and Freedom is a superb study of Mendelssohn's profound Hebrew faith and his unswerving commitment to the freedom promised by the German Enlightenment. Gottlieb deftly focuses on Mendelssohn's intimate but ambivalent relations with the two most renowned Jewish philosophers who preceded him, Maimonides and Spinoza. Mendelssohn emerges as an original and significant theo-political philosopher."---Warren Zev Harvey, Chair, Department of Jewish Thought, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


"[A] rich study...Gottlieb is a fair-minded and prudent guide through these philosophical shoals."--The Jewish Review of Books


"Michah Gottlieb, being obviously trained in philosophy as well as in Jewish studies, takes the Jewish and Wolffian philosopher Mendelssohn seriously in both ways and can thus evaluate the great impact of Mendelssohn's philosophy on his Jewish position as well as the enormous influence of his Jewish roots and religion on his philosophy. The book is an excellent proof of the fruitfulness of such a complex understanding of the Jewish philosopher, his philosophical achievements, and his impact on his Jewish and Christian environment."--Shofar


"A stimulating book that will be important to students of Jewish history and philosophy."--Religious Studies Review


"Gottlieb's book is clear, engaging, systematic, and sophisticated. His grounding in both Jewish learning and modern philosophy is deep, and the result is an outstanding analysis of Mendelssohn's philosophical and political thought...Gottlieb's excellent book is an important scholarly achievement that should justly claim an honorary place in the scholarship of modern Jewish and European philosophy."--The Journal of Religion


"Gottlieb has pushed Mendelssohn scholarship to a new level...More than any other recent text on Mendelssohn, Gottlieb's does justice to both the Jewish and philosophical aspects of Mendelssohn's thought."--The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition


"Gottlieb's excellent book is an important scholarly achievement that should justly claim an honorary place in the scholarship of modern Jewish and European philosophy."--Journal of Religion


"Michah Gottlieb's important study aims at deepening our understanding of the faith vs. reason debate...Gottlieb convincingly argues that the harmony between Judaism and rationalism is indeed at the core of Mendelssohn's thinking...Gottlieb's discussion of these issues is comprehensive, original, very clear, and accessible."--Journal of the History of Philosophy


"Gottlieb successfully deals with the tension between the contemporary relevance of past philosophical discussions and the need to objectively analyze the subject of his monograph. The result is a stimulating book that will be important to students of Jewish history and philosophy."--Religious Studies Review


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