Moses MendelssohnMOSES MENDELSSOHN

Judaism as Revealed Legislation

I must, however, do justice to [Herr Moerschel's] penetrating eye. He is, partly, not wrong in his observations. It is true. I acknowledge no immutable truths, but such as not only may be made conceivable to the human understanding, but as also admit of being demonstrated and warranted by human faculties. There only he is misled by an erroneous notion of Judaism, when he supposes that I cannot maintain this without deviating from the religion of my forefathers. On the contrary, this is just what I hold an essential point of the Jewish religion; and I think that this doctrine forms a characteristic difference between it and the Christian. To express it in one word, I believe that Judaism knows nothing of a revealed religion, in the sense in which it is taken by Christians. The Israelites have a divine legislation: laws, commandments, statutes, rules of life, instruction in the will of God, and lessons how to conduct themselves in order to attain both temporal and spiritual happiness: those laws commandments, etc., were revealed to them through Moses, in a miraculous and supernatural manner; but dogmas, no saving truths, no' general self-evident propositions: Those the Lord always reveals to us, the same as to the rest of mankind, by nature. and by events; but never in spoken or written words [of revelation]

Now I am able to concentrate my ideas of Judaism of former times, and bring them under one focus. Judaism consisted, or, according to the founder's design was to consist of:

  1. Religious dogmas and propositions of immutable truths of God, of his government providence, without which man can neither be enlightened nor happy. These were not forced on the belief of the people, by threats of eternal or temporal punishment, but suitably to the nature and evidence of immutable truths, recommended for rational consideration. They needed not be suggested by direct revelation, or promulgated by. words or writing, which are understood only in this or that place, at this or that time. The Supreme Being revealed them all to all rational beings, by events and by ideas, and inscribed them in their soul, in a character legible and intelligible at all times, and in all places. Hence sings the frequently quoted bard:

    The heavens tell the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handy work.

    One day streams this unto another, and night therein instructeth night.

    No lesson or words of which the voice is not heard; their chord rings through the entire globe; their discourse penetrates to the extremes of the inhabited world, where he set a tabernacle to the sun, etc. (Ps. 70:1).

    Their effect is as universal as the salutary influence of the sun, which, while revolving round its orbit, diffuses light and heat over the whole globe, as the same bard still more distinctly declares in another place:

    From where the sun rises to where it sets, the name of the Lord is praised.

    Or, as the prophet Malachi says, in the name of the Lord: "From where the sun rises to where it sets, my name is great among the Gentiles; and in all places, incense, sacrifice, and pure meal-offerings are offered unto my name, for my name is great among the heathen."

  2. Historical truths, or accounts of the occurrences of the primitive world, especially memoirs of the lives of the first ancestors of the nation; of their knowledge of the true correction immediately following thereon; of the covenant which God entered into with them, and his frequent promise to make their descendants a nation dedicated to himself.

    These historical truths, contain the groundwork of the national union; and, as historical truths, they cannot, according to their nature, be received otherwise than on trust; authority alone gives them the necessary evidence. And they were, moreover, confirmed to the nation by miracles, and supported by an authority which sufficed to place faith beyond all doubt and hesitation.

  3. Laws, judgments, commandments, rules of life, which were to be peculiar to that nation; and by observing which, it was to arrive at national--as well as every single member thereof, at individual-happiness. The lawgiver was God himself; God, not in his revelations as Creator and Preserver of the universe, but God, as Lord Protector and ally of their forefathers; as the liberator, founder, and leader, as the king and ruler of that people. And he gave the laws a sanction, than which nothing could be more solemn; he gave them publicly, and in a marvellous manner never before heard of, whereby they were imposed on the nation, and on their descendants for ever, as an unalterable duty and obligation.

    These laws were revealed, that is, they were made known by the Lord, by words and in writing. Still, only the most essential part thereof was entrusted to letters; and without the unwritten laws, without explanations, limitations, and more particularly definitions, even these written laws are mostly unintelligible, or must become so in the course of time; since neither any words or written characters whatever retain their meaning unaltered, for the natural age of man.

    As directions to general practice, and rules of conduct, both the written and unwritten laws have public and private happiness for their immediate object. But they must also be mostly considered as a mode of writing; and as ceremonial laws, there is no sense and meaning in them. They lead inquiring reason to divine truths; partly to eternal, partly to historical truths, on which the religion of that nation was founded. The ceremonial law was the bond for uniting practice with speculation, conduct with doctrine. The ceremonial law was to offer inducements to personal intercourse and social connexion between the school and the professor, the inquirer and the instructor, and to excite and encourage com- petition and emulation; and that purpose it actually did answer in the first times, before the polity degenerated, and human folly again intermeddled to change, by ignorance and misguidance, good to evil, and the bene ficial to the hurtful.


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