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What Are Jews For?History, Peoplehood, and Purpose$
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Adam Sutcliffe

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691188805

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691188805.001.0001

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Reason, Toleration, Emancipation

Reason, Toleration, Emancipation

Jews and Philosophical Purpose

(p.62) 2 Reason, Toleration, Emancipation
What Are Jews For?

Adam Sutcliffe

Princeton University Press

This chapter centers on the eighteenth century as the period in which the primary purpose of Jews was to sharpen the elaboration of key philosophical concepts. It explores the work of Pierre Bayle, whose Historical and Critical Dictionary in the 1700s baffled eighteenth-century readers over its elusive positioning of Judaism as the marker of the limits of rational philosophy. It also reviews the vexed preoccupation of Voltaire with Jews that stemmed from his structurally similar but temperamentally different positioning of them as fundamentally antithetical to enlightenment reason. The chapter also explains the paradigm of exceptionalism that framed the work and reception of Jewish thinkers in the period, including Moses Mendelssohn. It describes the penetrating mind and noble character of Mendelssohn that became the model for the dramatic hero of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's masterpiece Nathan the Wise, in which Jewish purpose was cast as the exemplification of rational universalism.

Keywords:   Pierre Bayle, Judaism, rational philosophy, Voltaire, exceptionalism, Jewish thinkers, Moses Mendelssohn, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

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