Sacred Text Reading Group
Date(s) - 01/23/2021
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

A weekly online sacred text reading group with Amy

Using a spiritual-practice approach, in each session we will explore a different brief scriptural text in depth. The aims of the sessions are educational (learning something about the texts and traditions), spiritual/moral (discovering what the texts ask of us), and community-building (getting to know each other better). Amy will have a version of the text available to share; “bring” your own if you like. All are welcome, as are your suggestions of future texts. About half our readings so far have been those suggested by group members.

Our text for Saturday, January 23, is from Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem. Mendelssohn was a German Jewish philosopher influential in both the German enlightenment and the Jewish enlightenment movements (also the grandfather of composers Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel). Jerusalem (1783) is a seminal work that’s addressed to both German political authorities and Jews in Germany as well as a general audience. It explores the roles of church and state, coercion and persuasion, and assimilation. In terms of his policy, Mendelssohn argued that the Prussian (German) state should tolerate the Jewish religion and that German Jews should give up rabbinic jurisdiction to German judges. These sections give some of his reasons why.


From Section 1.2:
One of the state’s principal efforts must be to govern men through Sitten (a people’s sense of morality) and thoughts. Now, the only way to improving people’s thoughts and thereby their Sitten is by convincing them of the things you want them to believe. Laws don’t alter thoughts; arbitrary punishments and rewards don’t produce any principles, don’t improve any Sitten. Fear and hope are not criteria of truth. Knowledge, reasoning, and  conviction are the only things that can come up with principles which will find their way into Sitten with the help of authority and example.
From Section 1.15
When it comes to convictions and principles, then, religion and state are on a par: both must avoid any semblance of coercion or bribery, and confine themselves to teaching, scolding, persuading, and reprimanding.
It’s different with actions. The relations between God and man require actions only insofar as they lead to convictions; the relations between man and man require actions period. An action brought about by coercion can still be beneficial to the public; but an action is religious only to the extent to which it is performed voluntarily and with the right intention.
From Section 2.19
Even now that is the best advice that can be given to the House of Jacob. Adapt yourselves to the Sitten and the constitution of the land in which you have been placed; but hold fast to the religion of your fathers too. Bear both burdens as well as you can!

The full text of Jerusalem can be found at

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