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

Daniel B. Schwartz, ed.

The Lost Library
The Legacy of Vilna's Strashun Library in the Aftermath of the Holocaust

Dan Rabinowitz

Publication date: December 4, 2018
296 pp. 13 illus. 6 x 9"

Forthcoming

Spinoza's Challenge to Jewish Thought

Writings on His Life, Philosophy, and Legacy

Daniel B. Schwartz, ed.

Key works about Spinoza’s critical role in the formation of modern Jewish identity

spinoza

Arguably, no historical thinker has had as varied and fractious a reception within modern Judaism as Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza (1632-1677), the seventeenth-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 worse 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 seventeenth-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

DANIEL B. SCHWARTZ is Associate Professor of History, George Washington University.




The Lost Library

The Legacy of Vilna's Strashun Library in the Aftermath of the Holocaust

Dan Rabinowitz

The story of the greatest prewar Jewish library in Europe

Hammerschlag front cover


The Strashun Library was among the most important Jewish public institutions in Vilna, and indeed in Eastern Europe, prior to its destruction during World War II. Mattityahu Strashun, a man descended from a long and distinguished line of rabbis, bequeathed his extensive personal library of 5,753 volumes to the Vilna Jewish community upon his death in 1885, with instructions that it remain open to all.

In the summer of 1941, the Nazis came to Vilna, plundered the library, and shipped many of its books to Germany for deposition at a future “Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question.” When the war ended, the recovery effort began. Against all odds, a number of the greatest treasures of the library could be traced. However, owing to its diverse holdings and its many prewar patrons, a custody battle erupted over the remaining holdings. Who should be heir to the Strashun Library?

This book tells the story of the Strashun Library from its inception through the contentious battle for ownership following the war. Pursuant to a settlement in 1958, the remnants of the greatest prewar library in Europe were split between two major institutions: the secular YIVO in the United States and the religious library of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, a compromise that struck at the heart of the library’s original unifying mission.

"Dan Rabinowitz has done a brilliant job in his moving and important book...Through the story of the Strashun Library, he gives us insight into the richness and vibrancy of Jewish life in Vilna. He vividly portrays the restoration of the books of the Strashun Library, a testimony to the indomitable Jewish spirit." 
- Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, Special Representative of the President and Secretary of State on Holocaust-Era Issues (1993-2001), and author of Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor & the Unfinished Business of World War II (2003).

"Students of Jewish history and bibliophiles have all heard of the famous Strashun library of Vilna, the first public Jewish library. Now we are fortunate to have its 'biography,' and its 'posthumous' history written by Dan Rabinowitz, a noted scholar and collector of Jewish books. Taking us on a journey from nineteenth-century Vilna until almost the present day, Rabinowitz not only documents the vicissitudes of this important institution, but helps us understand the intellectual culture of one of the centers of Judaism in modern times." - Marc Shapiro, University of Scranton

"Rabinowitz’s meticulously researched study is an outstanding expression of the wealth of knowledge provided by a thorough exploration of Jewish material culture...In his detailed reconstruction of the Strashun library’s fate after the German invasion, he detects a breathtaking history of loss and mourning, of illegal claims and desires, of appropriation and incorporation that expresses the rupture of the Holocaust and the contested visions of Jewish life after catastrophe." - Elisabeth Gallas, Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture –Simon Dubnow

DAN RABINOWITZ is an avid book collector and the founder and editor-in-chief of the Seforim Blog (seforim.blogspot.com), a website devoted to the study of the Hebrew book. His articles have also appeared in Alei Sefer, Hakirah, and Tradition. He is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and practices law in Washington, DC.

This book is available for preorder through the University Press of New England.