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Title: Enacting a "Living Script": Moses Mendelssohn on History, Practice, and Religion
Authors: Sacks, Elias Reinhold
Advisors: Batnitzky, Leora
Contributors: Religion Department
Keywords: Enlightenment
Subjects: Religion
Judaic studies
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation explores the conception of Jewish practice developed in the writings of Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). Although this eighteenth-century figure is often described as the "founder" of modern Jewish thought and as a leading philosopher of the late Enlightenment, considerable uncertainty continues to surround basic questions relating to his work. Such uncertainty is especially pronounced with respect to his treatment of Jewish practice, with influential readers expressing confusion regarding, and even doubting the possibility of reconstructing, the details of his views on Jewish law. Against this backdrop, I propose a new reading of Mendelssohn's work, arguing that we can better grasp his approach to Jewish practice if we attend to his conception of history--to his views on historical change and historical knowledge. More specifically, drawing on his well-known German writings, on his little-known Hebrew works, and on neglected developments in early modern thought, I argue that we should read Mendelssohn's conception of Jewish practice as a response to his views on the nature of history, and that such a reading can contribute to ongoing conversations about modernity and religion. One of Mendelssohn's central goals, I show, is to develop an account of Jewish practice capable of addressing perils grounded in history. His treatment of Jewish practice is animated by an effort to address an epistemological danger grounded in philosophical history, an ethico-political danger grounded in social history, and a textual danger grounded in the study of history--the danger that we will distort our religious beliefs as we confront the rise and fall of philosophical systems, the danger that a society will evolve in ways that threaten human flourishing and political harmony, and the danger that developments in biblical scholarship will undermine belief in the scriptural basis of Jewish law. Moreover, I suggest, this reading not only offers a new understanding of a foundational figure in modern Judaism, but also contributes to broader conversations in a variety of fields--to discussions in the study of history about the emergence of Jewish modernity, and to debates in contemporary religious thought about practice, tradition, and social life.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

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