Theocracy and the Idea of God: Salomon Maimon on Judaism Between True Religion and Despotism

Benjamin Pollock*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In a chapter of his Autobiography devoted to the ideas and persona of Moses Mendelssohn, Salomon Maimon addresses Mendelssohn’s famous claim that Judaism possesses “revealed laws” but “no revealed doctrinal opinions.” Maimon expresses initial agreement with Mendelssohn, claiming that he shared with his one-time mentor on the Berlin Enlightenment scene of the late eighteenth-century the view that “Jewish religious laws” amount to “the foundational laws of a theocratic constitution.” But if Judaism is a theocracy, if “the foundational laws of the Jewish religion are at once the foundational laws of their state,” then it follows, Maimon proceeds to argue, that continued obedience to Jewish religious law is a condition for membership in the Jewish collective. As a result, Maimon claims he cannot understand why Mendelssohn himself rejected the right of rabbinic authorities in their time to punish with excommunication those who transgress the laws of Torah. The theocratic character of Judaism grants Jewish religious authorities the right and power to enforce Jewish law among all Jews. How then could Mendelssohn argue that “the Church has no right in civil matters,” while “nevertheless claiming the enduring existence of the Jewish-religious state”? At the same time, Maimon wondered, what if a Jew is ready to renounce membership in the Jewish theocratic community? What if a Jew “no longer wants to be a member of this theocratic state, and goes over to a pagan or a philosophical religion that is nothing more than the pure natural religion? And if he, merely as a member of a civil state, subjects himself to its laws and again demands his rights from the same?” In a case where a Jew quits the Jewish people, commits himself religiously to a philosophical religion and politically to a civil state, Maimon simply cannot believe “that Mendelssohn would still claim that this Jew is duty-bound in his conscience to follow the laws of the religion of his fathers only because they are the laws of the religion of his fathers.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationBoston Studies in Philosophy, Religion and Public Life
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages26
StatePublished - 2017

Publication series

NameBoston Studies in Philosophy, Religion and Public Life
ISSN (Print)2352-8206
ISSN (Electronic)2352-8214

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media B.V.


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