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Baruch Spinoza and Moses Mendelssohn: Jewish Philosophies of the State, Religion, and Individual

Enquiry, Spring 2010

10 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2010 Last revised: 28 Apr 2010

Jonathan Salzinger

Washington University in Saint Louis

Date Written: Spring 2010


Although they lived in different times and under different circumstances, Spinoza and Mendelssohn both saw the need to examine the relationship between the state and individual religious belief as the character of Europe changed. Both men envisioned a society governed by a social contract between citizens, absent of civil or coercive authority held by religious powers, with individual religious freedom. Spinoza, however, cast aside Mosaic Law and forged a secular vision for future European life, based upon universal “natural laws.” Mendelssohn differed from Spinoza in this respect; he viewed Mosaic Law as remaining valid because it contains eternal truths that make Jews unique and believed that Jews should be continue to be observant but not let that stop them from interacting with European society. Both Spinoza, who was excommunicated from the Jewish community, and Mendelssohn, who had his religious beliefs publicly challenged on several occasions, faced deep criticism for their views from the Jewish community and their non-Jewish contemporaries. However, the models that they conceived for the state and its relationship to individual religious belief have provided a lasting impact on political and religious philosophy.

Awarded an Enquiry Prize for Papers in Philosophy

Keywords: Baruch, Spinoza, Moses, Mendelsson, Jewish, Philosophies, State, Religion, Individual

Suggested Citation

Salzinger, Jonathan, Baruch Spinoza and Moses Mendelssohn: Jewish Philosophies of the State, Religion, and Individual (Spring 2010). Enquiry, Spring 2010. Available at SSRN:

Jonathan Salzinger (Contact Author)

Washington University in Saint Louis ( email )

St. Louis, MO
United States

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