A Debate on Jewish Emanicipation and Christian Theology in Old Berlin

A Debate on Jewish Emanicipation and Christian Theology in Old Berlin

A Debate on Jewish Emanicipation and Christian Theology in Old Berlin

A Debate on Jewish Emanicipation and Christian Theology in Old Berlin

Synopsis

When wealthy Jewish industrialist David Friedländer proposed in 1799 that Berlin's Jews undergo a sham conversion to Christianity in return for full German citizenship, he touched off a political and theological debate that would continue to define the relation between Jewish and German identity for more than a century. In the series of provocative letters collected here, Friedländer, Protestant leader Wilhelm Abraham Teller, and young Christian theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher debate Friedländer's radical proposal. In so doing, they grapple with many of the thorny problems -- such as citizenship, religious tolerance, and assimilation -- that continue to vex world political leaders today. Richard Crouter's Introduction provides the cultural, religious, and historical context for this compelling exchange; a postscript by Julie Klassen reveals the ways in which Germany's minorities continue to be marginalised more than two hundred years after Friedländer made his passionate appeal for political liberty and human rights.

Excerpt

The story set forth in this poignant collection of Jewish and Christian texts is age-old, yet its permutations are widely present in today’s world. At one level, this is the story of a typical clash between Enlightenment universal human rights and traditional religious values. As Moses Mendelssohn’s 1783 masterpiece, Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism, makes clear, the rising aspirations of German Jews are embedded in a tangled history of relations between church and state. In Mendelssohn’s day, and in ours, that history includes a series of partial settlements and political compromises that illustrate the perennial problems of religion, ethnicity, and citizenship. Although the texts that follow best convey their own meaning, a word on this critical period in Prussia’s Jewish-Christian relations will set the stage for a reading of these texts.

Brought together in an English edition for the first time, each source was originally published between March and summer of 1799 as an article or pamphlet-sized book. Except for the work of Wilhelm Abraham Teller, all first appeared anonymously. Together the texts enable readers to sense firsthand the aspirations of Jews who sought to live out the legacy of Mendelssohn (“of blessed memory,” in Teller’s words) by seeking to negotiate civil liberties and religious freedom with the Prussian government. The youngest representative in this volume, Friedrich Schleiermacher, is today the figure who is best known, having subsequently risen to prominence as the founder of modern Protestant thought. At the time, however, the repute and social standing of David Friedländer, wealthy industrialist and Jewish community leader, and his addressee, Wilhelm Abraham Teller, provost and head of the Protestant Church in Berlin, far exceeded that of the 30-year-old preacher. Both figures had enjoyed years of success within the political and commercial development of a rapidly growing Berlin. Younger than Teller by sixteen years, Friedländer also stood at the height of his influence. Neither

1. See the Postscript to this volume.

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