Sunday, July 05, 2009

Mendelssohn and Dogma

It is common for people to claim that Moses Mendelssohn, the famous eighteenth century Jewish philosopher, argued that Judaism has no fundamental beliefs. He does, in fact, seem to make that claim, namely that Judaism corresponds to a logical, natural religion and therefore only has to teach, through revelation, proper practices and not proper beliefs. However, elsewhere he contradicts that and writes that Judaism has fundamental beliefs, adopting the three principles of the Sefer Ha-Ikkarim -- the existence of God, revelation, and divine justice. Consider the following two studies of his beliefs:

Click here to read moreSolomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism, vol. 1 p. 148:

First, there is Mendelssohn's assertion, or supposed assertion, in his Jerusalem, that Judaism has no dogmas - an assertion which has been accepted by the majority of modem Jewish theologians as the only dogma Judaism possesses. You can hear it pronounced in scores of Jewish pulpits; you can read it written in scores of Jewish books. To admit the possibility that Mendelssohn was in error was hardly permissible, especially for those with whom he enjoys a certain infallibility. Nay, even the fact that he himself was not consistent in his theory, and on another occasion declared that Judaism has dogmas, only that they are purer and more in harmony with reason than those of other religions; or even the more important fact that he published a school-book for children, in which the so-called Thirteen Articles were embodied, only that instead of the formula "I believe," he substituted "I am convinced," - even such patent facts did not produce much effect upon many of our modem theologians.

Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (p. 544), beginning with a direct quote from Mendelssohn's Jerusalem:
"The spirit of Judaism demands conformity in action and freedom in respect of doctrine, except for a few fundamental tenets on which all our teachers are agreed, and without which the Jewish religion simply could not exist"... The Jewish religion, he held, contained essentially only three principles: God, Providence, and the Giving of the Law. He thus followed Albo's view...

Twitter Summary

Did Mendelssohn believe Judaism has no dogmas? Some say so but acc to Schechter & Altmann he held there r three.

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