Jewish Vision of Nationhood Through the Eyes of Moses Mendelssohn

A few days ago, I wrote down my thought on Romans 9-12 (see the previous post). Today, I attended an AKC lecture at King’s College titled Dreams and Nightmares: Jewish Political and Literary Visions of Nationhood, c 1840. Considering that it was a 50-minute-only lecture, the information given was quite a lot.

This lecture asks the following questions: how do religious dreams shape modern political visions, or do new political aspirations reshape older religious dreams? Do religion and politics inspire or clash with each other?

Hopefully, as Christians, we know at least a little bit about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. As argued by our professor, Jews experienced not only a loss of political authority but also fell into a partial captivity as exiles. The sovereignty of religion had departed from them.

With their hope rooted in the ancient land, Jews continued to live according to God’s commandment in every aspect everywhere they go. They are still longing to rebuild the temple and expecting their Messiah to return.

Some Hebrew poems that we have read, like that written by Judah ha-Levi titled “Won’t you ask, Zion”, are actually deeply moving. Sometimes I wonder why I am so ignorant of Paul’s love for His brothers in flesh.

The most interesting thing I have learned, however, is Moses Mendelssohn’s view of the Jewish vision of nationhood.

Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the famous composer Felix Mendelssohn, was a celebrated Jewish philosopher. Many equated him as the symbol of the Jewish Enlightenment. In 1769, a Zurich pastor named John Lavater and Mendelssohn debated with each other on Judaism and Christianity, and ever since, he devoted a majority of his time on Jewish apologetics while urging the pursuit of peace between Jews and Christians.

Unlike many Jews of his times and today, Moses Mendelsohn believed Jews should not act on the “political side” of the dream of their nationhood. Mendelsohn specifically quoted from The Songs of Songs (e.g. 2:7 and 3:5) to argue that without the miracles and signs as mentioned in the Scripture, Jews must not take the smallest step in the direction of forcing a return and a restoration of our nation.

In other words, Mendelssohn believed that “the return to the holy land” cannot be assumed as an embodiment of any political meaning; it has to remain in God’s realm.

This is fascinating because this view aligns so much more with the view that many New Testament believers hold (perhaps excluding Christian Zionists).

One wonder if the grandfather’s work had anything to do with Felix Mendelssohn’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Regardless, Felix demonstrated how one could be Jewish by ethnicity, Christian by religion, and German by culture.

Regardless, just like what I have written in the previous post, we should always love and respect our neighbor – both Jews and gentiles – while praying that they may all see and put their faith in the Lord Jesus, the Seed of Abraham and the promised Seed of the Serpent-crusher.

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