Guide to the Material on Moses Mendelssohn Collection

AR 6783

Processed by Dianne Ritchey and LBI Staff

Leo Baeck Institute

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 744-6400

Fax: (212) 988-1305



© 2012 Leo Baeck Institute. All rights reserved.
Center for Jewish History, Publisher.
Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Dianne Ritchey in July 2012. Description is in English.
February 25, 2014  Links to digital objects added in Container List.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Leo Baeck Institute
Title: Material on Moses Mendelssohn Collection
Dates:bulk 1929-1978
Abstract: This collection focuses on research about Moses Mendelssohn. Included is research correspondence, photocopies of Mendelssohn's handwritten documents and numerous articles on Mendelssohn and his work.
Languages: The collection is primarily in German with some English.
Quantity: 0.5 linear feet.
Identification: AR 6783
Repository: Leo Baeck Institute
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Biographical Note

Moses Mendelssohn was an internationally renowned philosopher of the Enlightenment while remaining an observant Jew who defended Judaism and advocated for Jewish civil rights.

Moses Mendelssohn was born in 1729 in the German hamlet of Dessau, the son of a Torah scribe, and received a traditional Talmudic education. His mother Bela Rachel Sara was descended from an illustrious line of rabbis. At age 14, Moses Mendelssohn followed his rabbi to Berlin, then a cultural hub flourishing under the enlightened (but nevertheless anti-Semitic) monarch Frederick the Great. In Berlin, Mendelssohn encountered a group of early enlightened scholars who introduced him to philosophy and science. One of the first Christians Mendelssohn encountered upon arriving in Berlin was the playwright and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. They formed a lifelong friendship on the basis of their commitment to the principles of tolerance, free inquiry, and rational religion; the protagonist in Lessing's well-known play Nathan der Weise was likely based upon Moses Mendelssohn.

Although Moses Mendelssohn's mother tongue was Yiddish, he came to be celebrated for his German literary style. He attained international fame as a philosopher without ever attending university and was a prolific writer who published works in both German and Hebrew. Two of his most renowned works, in addition to his translations of the Bible into German, were Phädon oder Über die Unsterblichkeit der Seele, published in 1767 and Jerusalem, oder Über religiöse Macht und Judentum, published in 1783, which advocated the separation of church and state.

He achieved unprecedented fame in Jewish and Christian literary circles, while remaining steadfast in his commitment to orthodox observance and fighting tirelessly for Jewish civil rights. He also aroused opposition. Many Christians could not understand how someone so generous and learned could remain a Jew and called on him to convert to Christianity. One such person was the Swiss pastor Johann Kaspar Lavatar. Some traditionalist Rabbis opposed his German Bible translation because they saw it as leading Jews to embrace German culture and abandon Judaism.

Mendelssohn married Fromet Gugenheim and together they had ten children, six of whom survived early childhood. The conversion to Christianity of several of Mendelssohn's children led later generations to debate whether this reflected a flaw in his perception of Judaism.

(Much of the text of this biographical note is based upon the 2011 LBI exhibition "Moses Mendelssohn: Conversation and the Legacy of the Enlightenment.")

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Scope and Content Note

This collection holds documentation of research on Moses Mendelssohn and biographical information on him largely ammassed throughout the twentieth century. It includes correspondence, copies of his letters, and clippings – a few with excerpts of his writing as well as numerous biographical articles on Mendelssohn and his work. Additionally included are copies of images of Mendelssohn and his grave.

Series I contains evidence of research conducted on Moses Mendelssohn's life and work. Here are photocopies of his writing in addition to correspondence, notes and drafts of research on him.

Newspaper clippings on Moses Mendelssohn, especially those produced for the occasion of his two-hundredth and two-hundred-fiftieth birthdays form the bulk of the material in Series II. Newspaper articles on his birthdays include an array of articles on the significant events of his life and on his writing and philosophy. One folder contains clippings with excerpts of the letters Mendelssohn exchanged with the critic Johann Kaspar Lavatar. A bibliography of some of Mendelssohn's works will be found in the final folder of the series.

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The collection is arranged in two series:

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:
Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Related Material

The LBI Library includes a number of books by or about Moses Mendelssohn and many archival collections include research material on him.

The LBI Archives also include the Moses Mendelssohn Correspondence collection [DM 138/ MF 160]. In addition, there is also the Mendelssohn Family Collection [AR 7156], which includes copies of Moses Mendelssohn's letters with family members.

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Separated Material

Some photographs were removed to the Photograph Collection.

A photocopy of a book of handwritten essays by Joseph Mendelssohn has been removed from the collection. Another copy of this material will be found in the collection "Aufsaetze und Arbeiten von Jos. Mend. : angefangen im Jahre 1783 am 15. Oct." [AR 10327].

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); Material on Moses Mendelssohn Collection; AR 6783; box number; folder number; Leo Baeck Institute.

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Processing Information

In July 2012 the collection was reprocessed in preparation of the EAD finding aid. The collection was rearranged in order to provide ease of use and description was added.

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Other Finding Aid

Twenty catalog cards with item-level lists of the contents of the original collection reflect its arrangement prior to the addition of addenda and the collection's rearrangement in July 2012. Most items include numbers that relate to the catalog cards' arrangement.

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Container List

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Follow the links to access the digitized materials.


Series I: Moses Mendelssohn Research, Material and Images, 1783-1995

This series is in German and English.
0.2 linear feet.


Scope and Content:

Series I comprises various material related to research on Moses Mendelssohn, including some photocopies of Moses Mendelssohn's original papers or newspaper clippings of published excerpts of them. Much of the material reflects various individuals' research on him, including correspondence with the Leo Baeck Institute regarding further information.

Two folders document specific research on Moses Mendelssohn. The initial folder of this series contains correspondence and some notes regarding a search to find new information on him in 1932; the letters do not mention whether or not this search was successful. The final folder holds a handwritten draft for a 1921 presentation or lecture on Moses Mendelssohn by Josef Spier.

Other folders include copies of Moses Mendelssohn's handwritten papers. Folder 1/2 contains an appraisal and accompanying photocopy of a Mendelssohn letter owned by the Congregation Emanu-El. This letter was sent to Moses Mendelssohn by Joachim Heinrich Campe, the director of the Philanthropin school in Dessau and concerns advice given to Campe by Mendelssohn on the admittance of Jews to the school. Similar materials include the folder of copies of a few of his letters obtained from auctions (1/7) and a folder with copies of two entries of his in two families' registers (Stammbücher, folder 1/6).

Other papers include the correspondence of LBI staff in folder 1/3 that regards the publication a Moses Mendelssohn bibliography and research on the end of the Moses Mendelssohn Stipendium in Nazi Germany. There are also copies of clippings in folder 1/8 which contain a half-page autobiography of Moses Mendelssohn and an exchange of his letters with Franz von Sonnenfels. Reproductions of various images (1/6) of Moses Mendelssohn and publisher's materials on the publication of his Gesammelte Schriften are also included in this series.

11Correspondence and Notes Regarding Search for Moses Mendelssohn's Credit Insurance (Kreditassuranz/ Kreditversicherung) Papers of 1762-17731932
12LBI Correspondence – Congregation Emanu-El Moses Mendelssohn Letter1777, 1984-1995
13LBI Correspondence – Moses Mendelssohn Materialundated, 1965-1969
14Mendelssohns Gesammelte Schriften – Announcement and Description of Work1928-1929, 1978
15Moses Mendelssohn Imagesundated, 1935-1980
16Moses Mendelssohn Signatures and Gravesite1784, 1965-1973
17Photocopies of Moses Mendelssohn's Correspondence from Auctions1758-1784, 1978
18Photocopies of Published Writings of Moses Mendelssohn1882, 1920s
19Presentation by Josef Spier – Mendelssohn als Mensch, Jude und Philosoph1921 November 14
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Series II: Articles and Newspaper Clippings, 1929, 1961-1990

This series is in German with a small amount in English.
0.3 linear feet.


Scope and Content:

Series II contains numerous published articles on Moses Mendelssohn, primarily newspaper clippings. Articles include biographical overviews of his life as well as reflections on his work and contributions to the cultural and philosophical development of German Jewry.

The majority of items relate to recognitions of the two-hundredth and two-hundred-fiftieth anniversaries of his birth in 1929 and 1979, respectively. Such items include concert and exhibition programs for events (folder 1/13) and many special editions (2/1) about Moses Mendelssohn and his philosophy, published in 1929. There are also related clippings (1/12), including a notebook turned scrapbook of clippings from this year. 1979 materials consist of a smaller amount of clippings on him. One folder contains several clippings on the conflict between Mendelssohn and the Protestant minister Johann Kaspar Lavatar, including reprints of excerpted letters between them.

The final folder holds articles on Mendelssohn that could not be further subdivided. Such articles include a one-page bibliography by author Eva Engel on his works from the 1750s, articles relating to his conception on tolerance and opinion regarding a Jewish state, an announcement of a 1990 film about him and an edition of the educational magazine Keeping Posted that focuses on Mendelssohn's life and writings.

110Moses Mendelssohn and Johann Kaspar Lavatar1961-1964
111Moses Mendelssohn's 200th Birthday Memorials – Exhibitions and Concerts1929
112Moses Mendelssohn's 200th Birthday Memorials – Newspaper Clippings and Articles1929
21Moses Mendelssohn's 200th Birthday Memorials – Special Editions1929
22Moses Mendelssohn's 250th Birthday Memorials1978-1981
23Other Articles, Newspaper Clippings and Bibliographyundated, 1962-1990
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