Moses Mendelssohn und Bagels

May 3, 2011

A good bagel is hard to find.  Let me rephrase. West of 74 degrees longitude, a good bagel is hard to find. Oddly this does not lead to a lack of popularity for the torus, and ever less appetizing imitations are purchased and allegedly consumed.


Bagels (unlike other food icons) have no protected identity. Any bread with a hole can be called a bagel. But those who have eaten a real bagel know better. And bagels have been around for a long time. Thus, as an eighteenth century German Jew, Moses Mendelssohn would surely have appreciated the lengthy and necessary process of kneading, rising, shaping, resting, boiling, and baking that goes into a real bagel. Back in those days, bagels were a Saturday staple for those who couldn’t use the oven until after Sabbath. Their volume minimizing, surface area maximizing design makes for faster cooking times than the average loaf.

In 1763 Immanuel Kant submitted a competition essay to the Berlin Academy on the topic of mathematical proofs in metaphysics. Kant was awarded second place. Mendelssohn won first. So as you can imagine, I was quite honored to have him by for breakfast. Along with being the best philosopher of his day, Mendelssohn was also the grandfather of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (whose face I used to eat off of) and Rebecka Dirichlet (wife of Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet). Moses Mendelssohn was the man of the century in Berlin despite the anti-Semitic environment of the time and place.

As may not be obvious from his portrait, Mendelssohn suffered from curvature of the spine. The cause of his bad back was also linked to nervous fits for which his doctor proscribed “no philosophizing” as a cure. So, rather than delve into the immortality of souls or the separation between church and state, we talked about bagels.


2 Responses to “Moses Mendelssohn und Bagels”

  1. Nancy Hale said

    If only Mendelssohn could have done yoga he might not have been able to cure his nervous fits and help stretch out his spine.

  2. Bobby said

    Torus, don’t bore us.

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