Shmuel Feiner: ‘A Historical Sensation’– Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity

‘A Historical Sensation’

Source: The Jewish Exponent, 12-30-10

A fictitious meeting of (from left) Moses Mendelssohn, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Johann Casper Lavater as seen in an engraving, after a painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1856

Shmuel Feiner begins his new biography, Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity, published by Yale University Press, with two anecdotes, which he’s linked in an effort to define the essence of his subject and the contour of the man’s life.

He begins with a summer night in 1780. Mendelssohn is out walking in Berlin with his wife and several of their children when a gang of youths suddenly appear, chanting “Juden! Juden!” and throwing stones.

In the aftermath of the attack, the city’s most famous Jew was beseeched by his children: “What have we done to them, Father? Why do they always chase and curse us?” Feiner states that Mendelssohn could not find the words to comfort his children, only murmured, “People, people, when will you stop this?”

Feiner, a professor at Bar Ilan University, goes on to say that Mendelssohn, a reserved individual who never publicly expressed his feelings about this incident, did comment upon it later in a letter to Peter Adolph Winkopp, a young Benedictine monk and one of the philosopher’s most ardent admirers….READ MORE

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