As the Age of Enlightenment spread across Europe, 18th-century Jews still faced persecution and were banned from assimilating into modern civilization. A young Jewish German philosopher named Moses Mendelssohn sought to bring modernity to the Jews and secure their place in society.

Nicknamed “The German Socrates”, Moses Mendelssohn spent his life focused on the modernization of European Jews. Though largely successful, this Jewish enlightenment—”haskalah”— created a rift that radically shifted modern Judaism.

As an observant Jew, Mendehlssohn’s vision of haskalah still held traditional practices of Judaism as an integral part of Jewish life. However, the movement’s followers — the Maskilim — gradually disengaged from Jewish traditions, with some even converting to Christianity.

While Moses Mendelssohn’s effort to assimilate Jews brought them to the forefront of modern society, European antisemitism persisted, eventually leading to the tragedies of the Holocaust.