Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity

Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity

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Winner of the 2006 Koret International Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought

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From the jacket:

In this newest edition to the Jewish Encounters Series, novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein gives us a breathtaking portrait of the renegade Jewish philosopher who gave us the modern world.

In 1656, Amsterdam’s Jewish community excommunicated Baruch Spinoza, and, at the age of 23, he became the most famous heretic in Judaism. He was alreadygerminating a secularist challenge to religionthat would be as radical as it was original.He went on to produce one of the most ambitious systems in the history of western philosophy, so ahead of its time that scientists today, from string theorists to neurobiologists, count themselves among Spinoza’s progeny.

In Betraying Spinoza, Rebecca Goldstein sets out to rediscover the flesh-and-blood man often hidden behind the veneer of rigorous rationality, and to crack the mystery of the breach between the philosopher and his Jewish past. Goldstein argues that the trauma of the Inquisition’s persecution of its forced Jewish converts plays itself out in Spinoza’s philosophy. The excommunicated Spinoza, no less than his excommunicators, was responding to Europe’s first experiment with racial anti-Semitism.

Here is a Spinoza both hauntingly emblematic and deeply human, both heretic and hero—a surprisingly contemporary figure ripe for our own uncertain age.

"Betraying Spinoza is beautifully crafted. What seem like separate issues—Spinoza's pioneering advocacy of complete freedom of thought in religious matters; the turmoil in the Jewish community;the fateful events in Amsterdam in the closing years of Spinoza's life; the philosophical developments of the 17th century; Spinoza's idea of a philosophical religion utterly purged of all anthropomorphism, even to the extent of denying that God is a "person" in any sense—come together as if by themselves (the sure sign of a fine artist!) to answer my puzzle: how to understand Spinoza the human being, a man for whom reason itself was a kind of salvation."
— Hilary Putnam, The New York Observor

“Elegant... splendid.”
— Laura Miller, Salon

“[A] remarkable book—part memoir, part intellectual biography, part philosophical analysis, part historical reconstruction, and part theological reflection.... She keeps philosophical argument amazingly accessible.”
—Peter Berkowitz, Policy Review

—Harold Bloom, The New York Times Book Review

“While Goldstein the philosopher can he counted on to fill us in on Torquemada and Marranos, on Descartes and Leibniz, on Calvinism and kabbala, on idol worship and ‘radical objectivity,’ Goldstein the novelist wonders what it felt like to be shunned by your own brother, and whether a woman did him wrong. So do we.”
—John Leonard, Harper’s.

“Beautifully crafted... [The] crisp, lucid explanation of Spinoza's metaphysics in chapter two ranks among the best attempts to illuminate this daunting subject for the lay reader that I have come across.... Goldstein has written a delightful book, one that manages to be nimble and playful while also doing justice to the demanding nature of Spinoza’s philosophy. Her clear exposition often imparted this reader with that most Spinozistic of emotions — the pleasure in understanding, and in realizing that one is understanding.”
—Daniel B. Schwartz, Forward.

Last updated on 02/05/2013