For Moses Mendelssohn, Miracles Could Not Prove God’s Existence

Aug. 25 2017

A major debate among medieval rabbis concerns the question of whether the Torah commands belief in God. To many, the opening words of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God . . . ,” constitute just such an injunction; to others, these are simply a preamble. The 18th-century Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn favored the latter view. Drawing on both Mendelssohn’s primary treatise on Judaism, Jerusalem, and on his less-studied commentary on the Torah, Judah Kerbel explains how this opinion reflects his interpretation of revelation itself:

Mendelssohn does not believe that the goal of revelation is to prove God’s existence. A miraculous feat does not prove God’s existence for the current non-believer. . . . Instead, to reach belief in God, one needs to hold a received tradition of God’s existence, to determine this truth independently, or to learn the existence of God from other reliable people, be they older family members or scholars. . . . [O]nly those who already believe in God experience revelation as divine, and that experience requires prior learning by some means or another. . . . Mendelssohn claims that the main purpose of the first statement [of the Decalogue] is “to single out [the children of Israel] as a treasure from all the peoples.” . . .

On the contrary, supernatural proofs of God’s existence, as Mendelssohn writes in his commentary on Exodus, are unpersuasive. Rather, we achieve an understanding of God through the intellect. . . .

Mendelssohn [thus believes] that anyone who was present at revelation may have experienced wonder of some sort at the natural sights, but this would not have convinced anyone of anything new or life-altering unless [belief] “was, perhaps, taught, explained, and placed beyond all doubt by human reasoning” [beforehand]. Mendelssohn explains the verse “I am the Lord” as a historical foundation for the commandments but not as a new truth. . . .

This approach to revelation also informs Mendelssohn’s view of other religions. Since God’s existence is discerned through the intellect, and revelation at Sinai does not serve the purpose of proving this point, Mendelssohn affirms the validity of other religions (although it is fascinating that he strongly condemns atheism, calling it an illness that makes society “sick and miserable, whether it is worn down by cancer or consumed by fever”).

Thus, writes Kerbel, Mendelssohn was able to justify, through his philosophy of revelation, both his devotion to the idea of Jewish chosenness and his radical commitment to tolerance.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Moses Mendelssohn, Religion & Holidays, Ten Commandments, Theology, Tolerance

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount