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Dr. Leah Hochman's "The Ugliness of Moses Mendelssohn: Aesthetics, Religion & Morality in the Eighteenth Century"

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dr. Leah Hochman's The Ugliness of Moses Mendelssohn: Aesthetics, Religion & Morality in the Eighteenth Century  (Routledge Jewish Studies, 2014) examines the idea of ugliness through four angles: philosophical aesthetics, early anthropology, physiognomy, and portraiture in the eighteenth-century. 

Highlighting a theory that describes the benefit of encountering ugly objects in art and nature, eighteenth-century German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn recasts ugliness as a positive force for moral education and social progress. According to his theory, ugly objects cause us to think more and thus exercise—and expand—our mental abilities. Known as ugly himself, he was nevertheless portrayed in portraits and in physiognomy as an image of wisdom, gentility, and tolerance. That seeming contradiction—an ugly object (Mendelssohn) made beautiful—illustrates his theory’s possibility: ugliness itself is a positive, even redeeming characteristic of great opportunity. 

Dr. Leah Hochman serves as the Director of the Louchheim School for Judaic studies at the University of Southern California and Associate Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.