Voltaire's Jews and Modern Jewish Identity: Rethinking the Enlightenment, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Voltaire's Jews and Modern Jewish Identity

Rethinking the Enlightenment, 1st Edition

By Harvey Mitchell


30 pages

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Harvey Mitchell’s book argues that a reassessment of Voltaire’s treatment of traditional Judaism will sharpen discussion of the origins of, and responses to, the Enlightenment. His study shows how Voltaire’s nearly total antipathy to Judaism is best understood by stressing his self-regard as the author of an enlightened and rational universal history, which found Judaism’s memory of its past incoherent, and, in addition, failed to meet the criteria of objective history—a project in which he failed.

Calling on an array of Jewish and non-Jewish figures to reveal how modern interpretations of Judaism may be traced to the core ideas of the Enlightenment, this book concludes that Voltaire paradoxically helped to foster the ambiguities and uncertainties of Judaism’s future.


'Mitchell masterfully critiques published work from early modern Europe to date. He makes a good case for ranking Spinoza as a premier Enlightenment thinker, and for revising textbooks to include Dutch Jewish economist Isaac de Pinto.]…[An excellent addition to Routledge's Jewish Studies series. Highly recommended.' - Choice, July 2009

Table of Contents

i. Introduction: Enlightenment and Its Discontents ii. Voltaire Sets the Terms of the Debate: Emancipation as an Exit Strategy iii. The Changing Contours of the Enlightenment Part 1 1.Spinoza, Bayle, and Voltaire: Issues in Contention 2. Images, Imagination, Tolerance and the Uses of Reason 2.1 The Power of Images and Imagination 2.2 Spinoza and the Imagination 2.3 Images of Jews 2.4 Human Improvement and the Limitations of Reason 3. Voltaire’s Jews Among the World’s Peoples and Nations 3.1 Human Nature and Human Culture 3.2 The Essai sur les moeurs as Universal History 4. Voltaire’s Jews in the World of Commerce and Their Capacity for Critical Thought and Social Inclusion 5. Voltaire and the Old Testament 5.1 Voltaire’s Old Testament Sources 5.2 Myths, Fables, Legends and History 5.3 Allegory and Symbolism in the Old Testament 5.4 More the Polemicist than the Historian 5.5 Rousseau as a Counter-Example Part 2 6. Judaism Reinvented the Enlightenment Disputed 6.1 The Aftermath of French Emancipation 6.2 Enlighteners and Anti-Enlighteners 6.3 Anti-Enlighteners Outside France 7. Modern Jewish Identity and the Jewish Question: The Power of Ancestral Voices in a Post-Enlightenment Age 7.1 Out of the Ghetto, Into the Nation-State 7.2 1944: Recognition and Reckoning 7.3 Ernst Cassirer and Leo Strauss Debate Judaism 7.4 Judaism and Jewishness: Essence and History 8.Conclusion. Bibliography

About the Author

Harvey Mitchell is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of British Columbia, Canada

About the Series

Routledge Jewish Studies Series

Studies, which are interpreted to cover the disciplines of history, sociology, anthropology, culture, politics, philosophy, theology, religion, as they relate to Jewish affairs. The remit includes texts which have as their primary focus issues, ideas, personalities and events of relevance to Jews, Jewish life and the concepts which have characterised Jewish culture both in the past and today. The series is interested in receiving appropriate scripts or proposals.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHILOSOPHY / Movements / Humanism
PHILOSOPHY / Religious
RELIGION / Judaism / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Regional Studies