Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity

Schocken Books/Nextbook Press  2006

There is much to admire in Rebecca Goldstein’s fascinating examination of the life and thought of Benedictus Spinoza, the philosopher who was excommunicated in 1656 by the Amsterdam Jewish community of former conversos in which he was raised and educated. Be advised, however, that the complex philosophical passages require a close reading (and in my case, re-reading), and that a dictionary is an absolute necessity unless words like “asymptotically” or “ontology” are part of your lexicon!

In her detailed depiction of the terror the Inquisition inflicted on the lives of the Jews of Spain and Portugal, Goldstein succeeds in building the case that Spinoza developed his rationalist philosophy in an attempt to deal with the problem of Jewish suffering throughout the centuries. Her clearly written, well-researched history of this period includes compelling accounts of individuals and events that form the backdrop and context for her explanations of Spinozist thought. 

My only quibble with this text is that the author seems to have a score to settle with the frumpy yeshiva high school teacher who first introduced her to the Orthodox Jewish view of Spinoza’s philosophy. These asides seem out of place in what is otherwise a fine, scholarly endeavor. 

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