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Moritz Lazarus

LAZARUS, MORITZ (1824–1903), German philosopher and psychologist. Lazarus was born in the town of Filehne (now Wielen, Poland) in the Prussian district of Posen. Unlike most of the intellectuals of the Enlightenment in Germany, Lazarus received an intense Jewish education and continued with his talmudic studies until he was in his twenties. He studied history, philology, and philosophy and began his general studies only in the third decade of his life, embarking on a brilliant academic career. He was first appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Berne, later heading its philosophy department, and eventually became rector of the university. He moved to Berlin in 1868 and lectured at the military academy in psychology, political science, and education; in 1874 he became professor at the University of Berlin (until 1896). With his first book Die sittliche Berechtigung Preussens in Deutschland (1850) he claimed the superiority of Prussia in Germany and began his new psychological research methods. Later he taught at the *Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. He married his second wife, the writer Nahida Ruth *Lazarus, who had embraced Judaism, served for 25 years as a member of the Berlin Jewish community council, and was head of the Zunz Institute. Toward the end of his life he was stricken with illness and settled at Meran (now Italy), a health resort, where he completed his major work, Ethik des Judentums (2 vols., 1898–1911; translated into English from the manuscript by Henrietta Szold as Ethics of Judaism, 2 vols., 1900–01). Lazarus wrote many works on the psychology of nations (Voelkerpsychologie) and together with his brother-in-law Hermann Heymann *Steinthal founded a special journal titled Zeitschrift fuer Voelkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft which he edited through the years 1860–86. His most famous work on psychology is Das Leben der Seele (3 vols., 1883–973) which was published in several editions. Among his other works are Was heisst national (18802); Ueber den Ursprung der Sitten (1860); and Ueber die Ideen in der Geschichte (1865).

In Ethik des Judentums Lazarus presents Jewish ethics as an "objective-immanent" system. This system is based on an empirical, positivistic approach toward Jewish studies which holds that Jewish teachings on any subject must be derived from an analysis of Jewish sources. In selecting this approach, Lazarus departs from the "constructive-speculative" philosophies of his 19th-century predecessors Solomon *Formstecher and Samuel *Hirsch, who brought a philosophic formalism to the analysis of the Jewish sources. Thus, philosophy, according to Lazarus, does not provide a preexistent scheme for *Wissenschaft des Judentums ("Science of Judaism"), but is a methodological aid for discovering the objective unity of the "ethical cosmos," as it appears throughout the Jewish literary tradition. Lazarus distinguishes between the subjective-formal approach to Jewish ethics, in which a philosophic formalism provides the starting point of investigation, and the objective-content one, in which the investigation begins with the sources themselves. He takes the latter approach as his own. He does this because in biblical and rabbinic literature, will, intent, and the Jewish way of life, rather than reflection and speculation, are the primary principles. (Franz *Rosenzweig later based his existential philosophy on the same idea.) Lazarus accepts this position for another reason: a Jewish ethical worldview based on this conception possesses greater depth and clarity than one based on formal concepts and theoretical speculation. Lazarus emphasizes the religious character of obligation in Jewish ethics. God is the supreme, hidden principle on whom Judaism depends and who makes its whole legal structure necessary. Lazarus conceives of Jewish ethics in line with the autonomous ethics of *Kant, holding that the absolute characteristic of Jewish ethics is expressed in immediate inner certainty, though he does not follow Kant completely. Such conceptualization was made possible by establishing an ethical norm as the highest source of the moral imperative, to which even God is subordinate. Lazarus was ambiguous with regard to the heteronomous character of Jewish ethics, and this ambiguity was the basis of attack against his system, both by those who accused him of inconsistency and by those who held that he had not done justice to the heteronomous character of Jewish ethics. In Lazarus' conception Jewish ethics is fundamentally social-universal. This position countered the particularist trends of Judaism and, in particular, of 19th-century Jewish theology. However, the fact of a universal aspect to Jewish ethics does not entail teaching and disseminating Jewish beliefs throughout the world. Rather, its existence reflects an attitude and a total way of life, based on the threefold conception God, the world, and mankind, that Jews should embrace. The central concept underlying this view of Jewish life is holiness. Holiness, according to Lazarus, is not numinous, nor transcendental, but a quality to be embodied in human life. It is defined as the "ultimate goal of morality."


T. Achelis, Moritz Lazarus (Ger., 1900), includes bibliography; N.R. Lazarus, Ein deutscher Professor in der Schweiz (1910); A. Leicht, Lazarusstudien (1912); idem, Lazarus, der Begruender der Voelkerspsychologie (1904); idem, Lazarus: Gedenkschrift zum 100. Geburstag (1924); Waxman, Literature, 4 (19602), 1917–23; D. Baumgart, in: YLBI, 2 (1957), 205–17; M. Meyer, ibid., 11 (1966), 146–53, 168–9; idem, in: BLBI, 5 (1962), 214–7; N. Rotenstreich, Jewish Philosophy in Modern Times (1968), 43–51; Guttmann, Philosophies, 350–2. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I. Belke, "Liberal Voices in the 1880s – Letters to Moritz Lazarus 1880–1883," in: LBIYB, 23 (1978), 61–87; I. Belke, "Der Mensch ist eine Bestie …– Ein unveroeffentlichter Brief von Theodor von Fontane an Moritz Lazarus," in: BLBI, 13 (1974), 32–50; M Heitmann, "Moritz Lazarus," in: W. Jasper and W.H. Knoll (eds.), Preussens Himmel breitet seine Sterne…, vol. 1 (2002), 107–19.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.