The Eighteenth century saw a radical change in the way the church and state cooperated in many European countries.

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Evaluate the significance of the Enlightenment and Haskalah for Jewish-Christian relations. Make Special reference to Jewish views of Christianity.

The Eighteenth century saw a radical change in the way the church and state cooperated in many European countries. This phenomenon formed part of the Enlightenment for both Europeans and Jews and was a movement based on rationality. It was a process many social scientists called ‘Modernisation’ and it affected the Jews more than any other people. Jews in pre-Enlightenment Europe were seen as ‘aliens’  who lived in one area yet distanced themselves from the wider community. They lived under different rules, paid special taxes and were subject to a range of legal disabilities as well as often being committed to ghettos. This essay will focus on the significance of the prominent figures of the Haskalah and Enlightenment for Jewish-Christian relations with particular orientation towards Jewish views of Christianity.

The Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that started in Europe around the 1770s and lasted until the 1880s. This rational movement had a distinctly Jewish nature and was stimulated by the European Enlightenment. The Haskalah increased secularization of Jewish life through studying about secular life, secular subjects, and emphasising European languages and not just Hebrew, this particularly happened in Germany. All this was because of the long for Jewish emancipation and ultimately aided in the creation of the Reform and Zionist movement.

Jews of the pre-enlightenment period were subject to a long and extensive history of anti-Semitism. I will only briefly comment on a few of the major issues of significance that show the change in position of the Jewish faith and whether or not the Enlightenment and Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) had any impact on Jewish Christian relations.

This influence of ‘Modernisation’ highlighted that Jews were separate from their host state. Many Jews wanted to change this situation because they felt that much of the previous anti-Semitism might be stopped by embracing their surrounding culture and therefore joining the European secular Society.

Jews in Medieval Europe were not interested in any relationship with Christians but due the history of persecution towards them but due to the fact that they lived under Christendom they could not avoid political and economic relations with them. Politically, the Jewish community of the pre-enlightenment period was seen as a minority that had some ties with the host state, yet the members of these communities had no rights as citizens nor were they even legal citizens of the state.

In the 12th century Rabbi Samual Ben Meir justified living under a non-Jewish host society. This contract had no religious basis and allowed Jews to be in contact with a non-Jewish host society based on the following set of agreements.

“All the levies and taxes and legal procedures enacted by Kings in their kingdoms are binding as laws. For all the subjects of the kingdom freely accept the statues of the king and his enactments. Therefore, it is totally legal. Thus, one who takes property, when it is according to the king’s law that obtains in the municipality, does not do so as a robber.”

This interaction was similar on an economic scale. Jews of course had to interact economically and this did happen, but again it was subject to a stringent set of laws.

“Three days before the holy days of the gentiles, it is prohibited to do business with them, to lend them money or to borrow money from them, to pay debts to them or collect debts from them.”

As we can see hostility towards the Jews is not a modern phenomena. The escape from the Ghetto by the end of the Enlightenment for some European Jewry represents a momentous turn in Jewish History. Jewish life changed dramatically all over Europe by the end of the nineteenth century. The main change was that of the civil status of Jews changing from ‘strangers to citizens’, but this change was not due to natural change. All aspects of the Jewish predicament were taken into consideration by all of the host nations in both the legal side and the public domain. While these events took place all over Europe, it was Germany where the most controversy took place and so it is Germany that I will focus on.

Mendelssohn, Lessing and Dohn were three German writers and philosophers who at this time started to advocate the right for Jews to become full citizens. These advocates were friends with one anther, but more importantly created a very powerful debate between themselves and the wider community. The abilty was partly due to Mendelssohn being a Jew and the others being Christians. This Jewish-Christian dialogue is what I will be exploring.

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Moses Mendelssohn was born in Darsaw in 1729 and excelled in his studies with his rabbi David Fontel. In 1743 Fontel moved to Berlin, where Mendelssohn shortly after followed him. It was here that he was able to add secular knowledge to his already knowledgeable rabbinic scholarship. He entered into secular relations with non Jews, by learning the new Jewish subject of ‘secular knowledge’

In David Sorkin’s book Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment, he talks about the Protestant Priest Lavater offering Mendelssohn a ‘Golden Bridge’ to Christianity. Mendelssohn expressed a “philosophical respect” for Jesus and a respect that “philosophical Jews” of ...

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