Workshop: Scepticism in Mendelssohn’s Commentary on Qohelet and His Other Hebrew Writings
Scepticism in Mendelssohn’s Commentary on Qohelet and His Other Hebrew Writings
February 1–2, 2021
Racheli Haliva, (Universität Hamburg), Ze'ev Strauss (Universität Hamburg), Zev Harvey (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
Mendelssohn’s commentary on Qohelet, which was most likely written between 1768 and 1769, is a treatise that tackles prominent themes within natural religion such as the immortality of the soul and divine providence. The significance of the commentary stems from the fact that it provides a penetrating analysis of practical knowledge portrayed in popular terms. In this exegetical writing, Mendelssohn argues that secular wisdom is insufficient to provide a logical substantiation of the eternal truths of natural and revealed religions.
Mendelssohn himself viewed scepticism as a “disease of the soul” (Krankheit der Seele), but he clearly makes use of sceptical strategies. The reason he did so was essentially twofold: first, to illustrate the precedence of ceremonial acts (Zeremonialhandlungen) over pure reason as the basis for human piety, and second, to reconstitute the place of honour that revelatory truth once held. An investigation of Mendelssohn’s innovative interpretation of the sceptical and heretical positions in this unique biblical book will assist us in deriving his own complex stance on scepticism, which can be found in his later writings.
In this workshop, we intend to read and comment upon Mendelssohn’s commentary on Qohelet both in itself and in relation to his other Hebrew works, aiming to reveal the inner logic of the commentary and its strategy of evading traditional stances (in the text as transmitted) in order to harmonise it with revelation.
Tova Ganzel, Bar-Ilan University
Yael Sela Teichler, University of Michigan
Giuseppe Veltri, Universität Hamburg
Zev Harvey, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Christoph Schulte, Potsdam University
Grit Schorch, University of Jena
Tsachi Slater, Universität Hamburg
Ze'ev Strauss, Universität Hamburg
Elias Sacks, University of Colorado, Boulder
Michah Gottlieb, New York University
Programme and Abstracts of Lectures
Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies
The event is open to the public. For the link to Zoom please register via e-mail: