“A Jew at Home; A Man on the Streets.”
A lot of people could be described that way: “A Messianic Jew at home, incognito on the streets” or “A Christian at home, perfectly blended into invisibility at the cafe.”
Mendelssohn (1729-1786, grandfather of the famous composer) was not a particularly sharp philosopher nor a great theologian, but he was very influential in the emancipation of the Jewish people, breaking into mainstream academic life in Europe at a time when Jews were shut out. It was once said of him by a famous playwright, “If all Jews were like Mendelssohn, Jews would not be so bad.” Yeah, he was kind of that pioneering figure gaining acceptance at the cost of mild compromise and a willingness to smile when patronized. He also came back with some sharp observations and intelligent discourse to make his generation think.
In Mendelssohn’s day, the state and church were bedfellows. Your religious status was a key to your status with government, with universities, and in business.
Mendelssohn represents the enlightenment coming of age amongst the Jews of Europe. It seems to me there is both good and bad in this, freedom and compromise.
The phenomenon of hiding our faith to fit in is not something I would have to encourage to see more if it. (So I was just being sarcastic with the title!)
Our nearness to God, our sense of connection to him, can be and for many has become a sort of part-time job. How do the words, ideas, values, and practices of the synagogue or church carry over into our public lives? Religion is a choice, an occupation for certain times and occasions. It would be an improvement if religion became a fraternity or sorority for some people as even friendships and relationships are not significantly shaped by faith.
The lecture stimulated me to think about this all in a more philosophical and sociological way.
While we benefit from freedom of religion, freedom from religious tyranny, and freedom from discrimination, we are harmed by the separation of faith into our private life.
Wouldn’t it be better to have it said of us, “Jew at home and everywhere he/she goes”?
P.S. Note Mendelssohn’s beard. You might think at first he doesn’t have one. He trimmed his beard to be thin and noticeable only up close. This represents his compromise: faithful to a Jewish ideal (men do not shave their beards) but hiding it as much as possible.