Moses Mendelssohn

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Moses Mendelssohn (6 September 1729 [1]– 4 January 1786) was a German Jewish philosopher to whose ideas the renaissance of European Jews, Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment) is indebted. He has been referred to as the father of Reform Judaism[2].

Born to a poor Jewish family in Dessau and originally destined for a rabbinical career, Mendelssohn educated himself in German thought and literature and from his writings on philosophy and religion came to be regarded as a leading cultural figure of his time by both Germans and Jews. He also established himself as an important figure in the Berlin textile industry, which was the foundation of his family's wealth.

Moses Mendelssohn's descendants include the composers Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn and the founders of the Mendelssohn & Co. banking house.



Moses Mendelssohn was born in Dessau. His father's name was Mendel and he later took the surname Mendelssohn ("Mendel's son"). Mendel Dessau was a poor scribe — a writer of torah scrolls — and his son Moses in his boyhood developed curvature of the spine. His early education was cared for by his father and by the local rabbi, David Fränkel, who besides teaching him the Bible and Talmud, introduced to him the philosophy of Maimonides. Fränkel received a call to Berlin in 1743. A few months later Moses followed him.

A refugee Pole, Zamoscz, taught him mathematics, and a young Jewish physician taught him Latin. He was, however, mainly self-taught. He learned to spell and to philosophize at the same time (according to the historian Graetz). With his scanty earnings he bought a Latin copy of John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and mastered it with the aid of a Latin dictionary. He then made the acquaintance of Aaron Solomon Gumperz, who taught him basic French and English. In 1750, a wealthy silk-merchant, Isaac Bernhard, appointed him to teach his children. Mendelssohn soon won the confidence of Bernhard, who made the young student successively his bookkeeper and his partner.

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