The Religion & Culture Web Forum
The Last Prophet:
Spinoza and the Political Theology of Moses Hess
By Jerome Copulsky
The March issue of the Web Forum presents an essay by Jerome Copulsky, along with invited commentary posted on the forum’s discussion board. The essay discusses the creative way that nineteenth-century radical provocateur-turned-Jewish nationalist Moses Hess appropriated the work of Benedict Spinoza to address the problem of Judaism and modernity, rejecting both the Liberal Jewish and Christian options:
Though it was little regarded in his lifetime, Moses Hess’ book, Rom und Jerusalem, published in 1862, remains an essential document of the emerging Jewish nationalist consciousness. Hess’s treatise is significant for its unqualified rejection of the Liberal Jewish theology, its description and promotion of a Jewish national consciousness and the political program which emanated from it, and its respect for traditional rabbinic Judaism for its role in preserving nationality through religion. Hess argued that a return to a “national Judaism” would provide the alternative to “dry orthodoxy” and “superficial rationalism” of Reform. In advocating for this national Judaism, Hess appealed to whom he considered Judaism’s latest prophet: Spinoza.
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