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Library Journal Review
Feiner (modern Jewish history, Bar Ilan Univ., Israel) presents a fascinating portrait of an important Enlightenment figure. Mendelssohn (1729-86) departed from his assumed destiny as a Torah scholar to become a man of "arts and sciences," a German Jewish philosopher and scholar, especially well known for his work Jerusalem as well as his translation of the Pentateuch and other biblical texts into German. More important, however, was his advocacy of Enlightenment rationalism, intellectual autonomy, and religious tolerance. Feiner also covers the tension between Mendelssohn as a public figure and Mendelssohn's desire to lead a private life in the parlor, his study, synagogue, and silk factory. (He was an important leader of the textile industry.) -VERDICT Feiner's biographical bildungsroman is a respectful and balanced treatment of the "Socrates of Germany" and the "Father of Reform Judaism," appropriate for both academic and public library collections. With a helpful chronology of Mendelssohn's life and a concise, selected bibliography. Expect more high-caliber titles from this new partnership between Yale University Press and the Leon D. Black Foundation.-Brian Smith McCallum, Arlington Heights Memorial Lib., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
The strength of this work on Moses Mendelssohn, the recognized force of the Jewish Enlightenment in Germany, is the integrative private (community, family, work) and public portrait of a complex sage who played a major role in the acculturation of traditional Judaism in the public milieu of European Jewry in general and German Jewry in particular. Seven chapters reveal the cumulative knowledge of a core debate in the naturalization of Jews in 18th-century Europe, namely, the dilemma between reason and revelation and its effect on emancipated European Jewish life and thought. Feiner (Bar Ilan Univ., Israel) focuses on three directions of the fractious debate. First, inwardly, is the clash between enlightened religious tolerance and traditional religious absolutism. Second, outwardly, Judaism as revealed legislation is more apt to universal rational religion than Christianity's dependency on revealed doctrine and dogma. Third, pragmatically, "true Judaism" exemplifies natural religion; it embraces God, redemption, and reward. In the context of well-publicized religious disputations, inner community accusations, books, articles, and assorted events, Feiner presents, analytically, sympathetically, and persuasively, Mendelssohn's advocacy of rational, ethical Judaism as a harbinger in the embracing age of European nationalism, humanism, and secularism. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general readers. Z. Garber Los Angeles Valley College