chapter  6
23 Pages

The Attitude Towards the State in Modern Jewish Thought Before Zionism

WithEliezer Schweid

The Jewish political vision embodied in the Bible, as Spinoza saw it, was a theocracy characterized by the absolute identity of state and religion. Moses Mendelssohn, one of the fathers of modern Jewish thought, was also the first to respond seriously to Spinoza’s challenge. Mendelssohn believed that, unlike Christianity, what was basic to Judaism was its attitude of tolerance, which he saw as the proper relationship between state and religion. In the ancient Jewish state, in the event of the violation of a commandment, punishment was inflicted in full only when this was deemed necessary in order to achieve definite educative goals. Mendelssohn’s answer to our first question is clear: the ancient Jewish state was a utopia which was realized within its historical context. Contemporary Jewish thought, which is concerned with the life of the Jewish state, as it exists, devoted surprisingly little effort, on the theoretical level, to the question of what is the essence of the Jewish state.