In the 1980s, the legendary scholar Alexander Altmann produced a new edition of Jerusalem, the 18th-century German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn’s major work on Judaism and religious tolerance, and asked Allan Arkush to provide an English translation. Arkush reminisces about working with Altmann, an archetypal German Jew with vast knowledge and unfailing punctuality, and seeks to explain why he devoted so much of his career to Mendelssohn, a figure often derided or dismissed by Jewish thinkers:
In an Age of Nihilism, Moses Mendelssohn’s Unshakable Faith in Providence and Immortality Still Inspires
At America’s Best Universities, Biblical Religion Is a Curiosity, if Not a Menace
At the time of Columbia University’s founding in 1784, notes Meir Soloviechik, the leader of the local synagogue, Gershom Mendes Seixas, was made a member of its board of regents. A Jewish student even gave a commencement address, composed by Seixas, in Hebrew. In the 20th century, Columbia attracted numerous Jews with the relaxation of quotas, and was the first secular university to create a chair in Jewish history. Barnard College, Columbia’s all-women’s school, was itself founded by a Jewish woman, and today has a large number of Orthodox Jewish students.