||On religion, salvation of Israel, and the relation of church and state by Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), a philosopher of the German Enlightenment in the pre-Kantian period and spiritual leader of enlightened German Jewry. Jerusalem is the work that secured Mendelssohn's place in the history of Jewish thought. This edition has been translated from the German original into Hebrew by Shohar Tov le-Yisrael and brought to press by Perez ben Moses Smolensky. Jerusalem is one of Mendelsohn’s most influential works. In Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism, Mendelssohn distinguishes church and state in order to demonstrate the salutary harmony between them and thus the need for tolerance. At the end of Jerusalem, he explicitly addressed himself to those who advocated an amalgamation of religions instead of tolerance. Here he expressed his view that he was not ready to deviate from the Mosaic law in order to gain civic rights. A true union of religions would only be foreseen at the "end of days," when the knowledge of God would fill the universe. There is an owner’s signature on the front end paper.
In the first part of the essay he accordingly argues that neither the state nor religion can legitimately coerce human conscience and, in the second part, he maintains that this argument against "religious power" is supported by Judaism. The second point was no less controversial than the first, especially since many Jewish elders and rabbis maintained a right to excommunicate. But Mendelssohn counters - apparently erroneously - that the practice is not inherent in "ancient, original Judaism" but rather borrowed in the course of time from Christianity.
Far from separating temporal and spiritual concerns to distinguish state and church (as Locke did), Mendelssohn insists that "our welfare in this life is ... one and the same as [our] eternal felicity in the future." Nor does he base the distinction between church and state on the difference between convictions and actions. "Both state and church have as their object actions as well as convictions, the former insofar as they are based on the relations between man and nature, the latter insofar as they are based on the relations between nature and God." As far as convictions are concerned, neither church nor state can coerce; "for here," as noted earlier, "the state has no other means of acting effectively than the church does. Both must teach, instruct, encourage, motivate." What contributes mightily to their potential for mutual reinforcement is the fact that there is also no difference in the make-up of the convictions and duties themselves. The only difference between church and state in the matter of convictions is their ultimate sanction. Thus, the moral philosopher will arrive at the same system of duties as the person who sees them as expressions of the divine; religion "only gives those same duties and obligations a more exalted sanction." Matters are different when it comes to actions where the state can and must coerce, namely, when society's size and complexity "make it impossible to govern by convictions alone, [and] the state will have to resort to public measures, coercive laws, punishments of crime, and rewards of merit.” Herein lies for Mendelssohn the basic difference between state and church: civil society has, as the product of a social contract, the right to coercion, religious society has no such right. "The state has physical power and uses it when necessary; the power of religion is love and beneficence."
In Jerusalem, Mendelssohn argues that Judaism is, at bottom, a natural religion, containing no revealed truths not available to unaided reason. Occasionally, as Allan Arkush points out, he speaks more guardedly, restricting this claim to the "essentials" of Judaism. Even with such qualifications, however, it is apparent that Mendelssohn approaches Judaism and its history with a more or less Deist view that the original, ancient faith confirmed nothing more than rational truths. Nonetheless, he combines this rationalist approach with a conception of revelation that underscores the distinctiveness of Judaism and secures Jewish believers their destiny as God's chosen people. For, while the Sinaitic revelation contains no supernatural truths, it does prescribe a way of life, the practice of which stands to benefit all mankind. (The interpretation of revelation strictly as legislation and not as adding to the store of truths is very likely borrowed, with qualifications, from Spinoza). "Judaism boasts of no exclusive revelation of eternal truths that are indispensable to salvation, of no revealed religion in the sense in which that term is usually understood. Revealed religion is one thing, revealed legislation, another".