Spinoza's Challenge to Jewish Thought: Writings on His Life, Philosophy, and Legacy

Daniel B. Schwartz, ed.

Cover of "Spinoza's Challenge to Jewish Thought: Writings on His Life, Philosophy, and Legacy"Key works about Spinoza’s critical role in the formation of modern Jewish identity

Arguably, no historical thinker has had as varied and fractious a reception within modern Judaism as Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza (1632-1677), the 17th-century philosopher, pioneering biblical critic and Jewish heretic from Amsterdam. Revered in many circles as the patron saint of secular Jewishness, he has also been branded as the worst traitor to the Jewish people in modern times.

Jewish philosophy has cast Spinoza as a turning point between the old and the new, a radicalizer of the medieval tradition and table-setter for the modern. He has served as a perennial landmark and point of reference in the construction of modern Jewish identity. His Jewish reception is a sensitive register of the culture wars and changes in Jewish historical consciousness of the past 350 years.

This volume brings together excerpts from central works in the Jewish response to Spinoza. True to the diversity of Spinoza’s Jewish reception, it features a mix of genres, from philosophical criticism to historical fiction, tributes to diary entries and even visual representations. Organized both chronologically and thematically, it provides the reader with a sense of the overall historical development of Spinoza’s posthumous legacy, while at the same time revealing nuances in his vindication, appropriate and reputation.

"Expelled from the Jewish community of 17th-century Amsterdam, Spinoza attained an enduring presence in Jewish thought. This paradox is documented with due nuance by Daniel B. Schwartz in these judiciously selected and annotated responses to Spinoza’s legacy as emblematic of the intellectual and social ambiguities of Jewry’s passage into the modern world." —Paul Mendes-Flohr, Dorothy Grant Maclear Professor of Modern Jewish History and Thought, University of Chicago

"This collection of Jewish views on, and responses to, Spinoza over the centuries is a most welcome and extremely useful addition to the literature. That it has been edited by an expert on Spinoza’s legacy in the Jewish world only adds to its value." —Steven Nadler, Evjue-Bascom Professor in Humanities, University of Wisconsin

"Just like the figure of Jesus, Spinoza served as a mirror for many, probably most, modern Jewish thinkers, a mirror through which one can detect various attempts and failures to draw the boundaries of ‘modern Judaism.’ In this fascinating anthology, Daniel Schwartz invites the reader to follow the trails of these thinkers and writers, and draw her own conclusion as to the reason for their engagement with the riddle of B.d.S." —Yitzhak Y. Melamed, Charlotte Bloomberg Professor of the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University

About the Author

Daniel B. Schwartz is Associate Professor of History, George Washington University. He is also the author of Ghetto: The History of a Word, which traces the various and contested meanings of the word "ghetto" from sixteenth-century Venice to the present, and Legacy and The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image, which was co-winner of the 2012 American Academy for Jewish Research's Salo W. Baron Prize for best first book in Jewish studies and a finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in history.