Bridging the gap between tradition and progress, five generations of Mendelssohns influenced the self-image and assimilation of Jews in German society, while also bringing about change in the Christian majority society in Berlin, Prussia and Germany: by their contributions as authors, intellectuals, scientists, musicians, painters, bankers and entrepreneurs.
The "Jew of Berlin"
The era in which German and Jewish cultures merged began in 1743, when Moses, a 14-year old student of the Talmud, left Dessau for Berlin. Moses educated himself, learning the classical and modern languages of the Occident and reading the works of philosophy and literature making up the educational canon of his time. Together with the poet and playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the author and publisher Friedrich Nicolai, he was part of the intellectual triumvirate that essentially brought about the Berlin Enlightenment. As an expert involved both by Jewish authorities and the Prussian government, he contributed to the modernization of both administrative systems. Moses Mendelssohn (1729 - 1786) pursued a varied career in bookkeeping, business management and as part owner of a factory in the textile industry. Achieving fame for his bestselling works and renowned for his integrity, he was famous throughout Europe as the "Juif à Berlin". Serving as the model for the character of Nathan the Wise in Lessing´s dramatic poem, he became an example of the educated, decent Jew in an environment used to reducing his peers to the clichéd Ghetto hustler. His translations allowed his fellow Jews to partake of the riches of German education, to become emancipated and to assimilate themselves. His way of life demonstrated the option, disputed in many quarters, of joining the existence as a modern Prussian subject to a life in adherence to Mosaic laws.