By Fred Skolnik
Social & cultural heritage; Jewish reports
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Extra resources for Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 14: Mel - Nas
In 1772, when the duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin issued an order to his Jewish subjects prohibiting the religious custom of immediate burial and requiring a three-day waiting period before interment, the local community called upon Mendelssohn to intercede on its behalf. He dutifully composed a memorandum to the duke in which he recommended that the Jews be permitted to maintain their existing custom as long as they obtained medical certification of death prior to burial. At the same time, he maintained in his correspondence with the Jews of Mecklenburg-Schwerin that their resistance to the duke was unwarranted, since the three-day waiting period was reasonable, prudent, and not without ancient precedent and talmudic justification.
He served for many years as municipal councilor without pay. A deist and rationalist by conviction he brought up his children as Protestants in order to improve their social opportunities. He and his wife embraced Christianity in 1822 “because it is the religious form acceptable to the majority of civilized human beings” (in a letter to his daughter Fanny). This decision to convert was influenced by the current *Hep! Hep! riots (1819). JOSEPH 1770–1848 GEORG BENJAMIN 1794 –1874 HENRIETTA MEYER ALEXANDER 1798 –1871 REBEKAH SALOMON MARIANNE SEELIGMANN 1799 –1888 Later Mendelssohn-Bartholdy descendants include ALBRECHT MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY, editor of the Europaische Gesprache in Hamburg, who died in exile in England.
Only in his Gegenbetrachtungen über Bonnets Palingénésie (“Counter-reflections on Bonnet’s Palingénésie”), which remained unpublished until the middle of the 19t century, and in private letters, some of which were addressed to Bonnet himself, did he lay bare his objections to Christianity and articulate a defense of Judaism. The general debate that swirled around the controversy between Lavater and Mendelssohn continued until the beginning of 1771 and resulted in the publication of a large number of booklets and pamphlets, most of them sympathetic to Mendelssohn.