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    Michel de Montaigne

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    February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592

    Europe's Middle Ages, the period from the 5th to 15th century (give or take), was not exactly a glorious time. The Dark Ages, as they are also known, were a period of stagnation, wars, deterioration, and death. Lots and lots of death.

    And who is to blame? Well, Christianity, of course. As the new religion swept through the continent, dogma took over. How dare you question the church? Now kiss my pinky ring, and let's kill some Muslims and Jews. Divine right, damn it!

    But then, slowly but surely, the tides started to turn. Renaissance swept through Europe. Artists, writers, educators, thinkers began to thrive. A millennium of backwards behavior was turned over to a new way of thinking. (The Church still had a role, of course. What can you do, old habits die hard.)

    One of the most important figures of the Renaissance was Michel de Montaigne. The writer not only gets the credit for popularizing the essay, but for being the father of Modern Skepticism, coining the phrase "What do I know?".

    Of course, we as Jews don't need some long-dead Frenchman to teach us to question. We've been questioning and arguing with the dogma (and with each other) through the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, and beyond, carrying forward critical thinking through the centuries to today.

    But let's give Montaigne some credit for doing his part. What's this... his grandfather was Jewish? Why are we not surprised?

    Verdict: Barely a Jew.

    May 7, 2012

    See Also

    Miguel de Cervantes

    Leonardo da Vinci


    William Shakespeare

    Baruch Spinoza
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