Moses Mendelssohn and Saul Ascher on Judaism

Moses Mendelssohn is one of the central figures in developing the historical understanding of Jewish thought. He was harshly criticized for his unique opinion – synthesis of Jewish and Christian postulates – and active involvement in emancipation. Nevertheless, regardless of criticism, his peculiar stance was used for defending Judaism. To build a bridge between the two religions, Mendelssohn pointed to the universal truths that are critical to all people because they were left as God’s message. First of all, it is essential to note that connecting Christianity with Judaism was critical for the integration of Jews and readmitting them to different countries around the globe. To achieve this objective, Mendelssohn laid stress on “God’s omnipotence over all creation, God’s creation of man in His own image” (Greenberg 34). The idea is that regardless of the ability to sin, people are still God’s creatures, and only God, not other people, can judge them. Therefore, artificial boundaries and non-recognition of other religions are unacceptable according to God’s love (Greenberg 34).

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The statement mentioned above is one of the universal truths offered by Mendelssohn. They are eternal and do not change over time (Greenberg 46). However, there are still other examples of universal truths to recall. For instance, the seven laws of Noah (Noahide laws) are as well perceived as universal truths because they are helpful for determining the rules for the Godly operation of society (Greenberg 35). They are valuable because they are natural laws, pointing to the criticality of morality and ethics (Kiel 184). In addition, Mendelssohn stressed that although God created a human being with the intellect to elaborate on universal truths, all the developments should correspond with His laws (Greenberg 35). In this way, universal truths were used for defending Judaism because they centered on the idea that no person is better than other people regardless of their religion and position in society because God’s universal spirit is in everyone (Greenberg 42). Therefore, differences should not become the foundation of maltreatment and inequality.

Still, regardless of Mendelssohn’s attempts to build the bridge between Christianity and Judaism, attacks against the latter were a common subject of religious thinking. That is why other philosophers counter-attacked opponents. Saul Ascher was one of the outstanding thinkers defending Judaism. For instance, he responded to Fichte, who portrayed Jews as depraved and unable to emancipate. The writer blamed Fichte of failing to make conclusions based on modern historical developments because the unlimited spread of Israel monotheism was possible, as the perception of freedom shifted into the dimension of moral freedom during the French Revolution and Napoleon’s reign (Greenberg 309-310). His ideas were based on the belief that, just like Christ, Jews were persecuted because of their divinity and acting according to God’s laws. Therefore, persecuting Jews was illegal from the perspective of natural laws and universal truths (Greenberg 320).

Although Ascher was harshly criticized for his opinion, it had not stopped him from defending Judaism. In addition to pointing to universal truths, Ascher claimed that Fichte was wrong when he applied Kantian philosophy to developing his own theory for opposing Judaism. It was explained by the fact that Kant recognized the criticality of following natural laws because they are the necessity and moral legislation (Greenberg 332). Still, Ascher counter-attacked Kant because the latter did not believe in the moral foundation of Judaism and stressed that Christianity is the only religion based on morality (Greenberg 335).

Keeping philosophers’ viewpoints in mind, it is essential to state that both of them are connected to the concept of morality – natural laws (Greenberg 35, 42). Still, I believe that Mendelssohn’s opinion is the one worth supporting. The motivation for pointing to his stance is the fact that his message is more powerful. For me, ideas developed by Ascher are based on criticizing others’ thoughts on Judaism. In this way, they cannot defend Jews. On the other hand, Mendelssohn points to universal truths and God’s universal spirit. Because the idea itself is peaceful, it is a stronger case.

Works Cited

Greenberg, Gershon. Modern Jewish Thinkers: From Mendelssohn to Rosenzweig. Academic Studies Press, 2011.

Kiel, Yishai. Sexuality in the Babylonian Talmud: Christian and Sasanian Contexts in Late Antiquity. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

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