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Material on Moses Mendelssohn Collection

Identifier: AR 6783

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.


  • 1758-1995
  • Majority of material found within 1929-1978

Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in German with some English.

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


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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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.

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.

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.

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].

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.

Guide to the Material on Moses Mendelssohn Collection 1758-1995 AR 6783
Processed by Dianne Ritchey and LBI Staff
© 2012
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from Material_on_Moses_Mendelssohn.xml

Revision Statements

  • February 25, 2014 : Links to digital objects added in Container List.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States