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The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image

Overview

Pioneering biblical critic, theorist of democracy, and legendary conflater of God and nature, Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was excommunicated by the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam in 1656 for his "horrible heresies" and "monstrous deeds." Yet, over the past three centuries, Spinoza's rupture with traditional Jewish beliefs and practices has elevated him to a prominent place in genealogies of Jewish modernity. The First Modern Jew provides a riveting look at how Spinoza went from being one of ...
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The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image

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Overview

Pioneering biblical critic, theorist of democracy, and legendary conflater of God and nature, Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was excommunicated by the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam in 1656 for his "horrible heresies" and "monstrous deeds." Yet, over the past three centuries, Spinoza's rupture with traditional Jewish beliefs and practices has elevated him to a prominent place in genealogies of Jewish modernity. The First Modern Jew provides a riveting look at how Spinoza went from being one of Judaism's most notorious outcasts to one of its most celebrated, if still highly controversial, cultural icons, and a powerful and protean symbol of the first modern secular Jew.

Ranging from Amsterdam to Palestine and back again to Europe, the book chronicles Spinoza's posthumous odyssey from marginalized heretic to hero, the exemplar of a whole host of Jewish identities, including cosmopolitan, nationalist, reformist, and rejectionist. Daniel Schwartz shows that in fashioning Spinoza into "the first modern Jew," generations of Jewish intellectuals—German liberals, East European maskilim, secular Zionists, and Yiddishists—have projected their own dilemmas of identity onto him, reshaping the Amsterdam thinker in their own image. The many afterlives of Spinoza are a kind of looking glass into the struggles of Jewish writers over where to draw the boundaries of Jewishness and whether a secular Jewish identity is indeed possible. Cumulatively, these afterlives offer a kaleidoscopic view of modern Jewish cultureand a vivid history of an obsession with Spinoza that continues to this day.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
This is the first full-scale history of Spinoza's reception among Jews. . . . [I]t clearly demonstrates how this excluded philosopher could be viewed as religious or secular, as more Baruch or more Benedict, but almost necessarily as a touchstone in defining Jewish identity in the modern age.
Forward.com
[P]assionate arguments, of the kind now richly documented by Schwartz, about Spinoza's Jewishness and his relevance to our times, still enrich and enrage . . . and probably will continue to do so—without end.
— Allan Nadler
Times Literary Supplement
We have long needed a thorough and careful study of the various ways in which Spinoza has been appropriated by Jewish causes and movements. Daniel Schwartz's welcome book takes a close look for the first time at what the author calls 'the rehabilitation of Spinoza in Jewish culture.'
— Steven Nadler
Times Literary Supplement - Steven Nadler
We have long needed a thorough and careful study of the various ways in which Spinoza has been appropriated by Jewish causes and movements. Daniel Schwartz's welcome book takes a close look for the first time at what the author calls 'the rehabilitation of Spinoza in Jewish culture.'
Choice - M.A. Meyer
Whether Baruch Spinoza was 'the first modern Jew,' as the title of this outstanding volume suggests, has been a subject of continuing debate. . . . Schwartz displays admirable versatility in tracing the idolizations, disputes, and ambivalences evoked by Spinoza in Germany (Moses Mendelssohn and Berthold Auerbach) and eastern Europe (Salomon Rubin), within Zionism (Yosef Klausner), and in Yiddish literature (Isaac Bashevis Singer). . . . Essential.
Forward.com - Allan Nadler
[P]assionate arguments, of the kind now richly documented by Schwartz, about Spinoza's Jewishness and his relevance to our times, still enrich and enrage . . . and probably will continue to do so—without end.
Choice - M. A. Meyer
Whether Baruch Spinoza was 'the first modern Jew,' as the title of this outstanding volume suggests, has been a subject of continuing debate. . . . Schwartz displays admirable versatility in tracing the idolizations, disputes, and ambivalences evoked by Spinoza in Germany (Moses Mendelssohn and Berthold Auerbach) and eastern Europe (Salomon Rubin), within Zionism (Yosef Klausner), and in Yiddish literature (Isaac Bashevis Singer). . . . Essential.
Classical World - Marion M. Stein
With extensive and helpful notes, an index and a bibliography, this work is highly recommended for all academic collections that deal with Jews and Judaism in the modern age.
From the Publisher
Co-Winner of the 2012 Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize, American Academy for Jewish Research

Finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in History

"We have long needed a thorough and careful study of the various ways in which Spinoza has been appropriated by Jewish causes and movements. Daniel Schwartz's welcome book takes a close look for the first time at what the author calls 'the rehabilitation of Spinoza in Jewish culture.'"—Steven Nadler, Times Literary Supplement

"Whether Baruch Spinoza was 'the first modern Jew,' as the title of this outstanding volume suggests, has been a subject of continuing debate. . . . Schwartz displays admirable versatility in tracing the idolizations, disputes, and ambivalences evoked by Spinoza in Germany (Moses Mendelssohn and Berthold Auerbach) and eastern Europe (Salomon Rubin), within Zionism (Yosef Klausner), and in Yiddish literature (Isaac Bashevis Singer). . . . Essential."—M. A. Meyer, Choice

"[P]assionate arguments, of the kind now richly documented by Schwartz, about Spinoza's Jewishness and his relevance to our times, still enrich and enrage . . . and probably will continue to do so—without end."—Allan Nadler, Forward.com

"This is the first full-scale history of Spinoza's reception among Jews. . . . [I]t clearly demonstrates how this excluded philosopher could be viewed as religious or secular, as more Baruch or more Benedict, but almost necessarily as a touchstone in defining Jewish identity in the modern age."Choice

"With extensive and helpful notes, an index and a bibliography, this work is highly recommended for all academic collections that deal with Jews and Judaism in the modern age."—Marion M. Stein, Classical World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691142913
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/26/2012
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Daniel B. Schwartz is assistant professor of history at George Washington University.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface and Acknowledgments xi

Note on Translations and Romanization xvii

Introduction 1

Spinoza's Jewish Modernities

Chapter 1: Ex-Jew, Eternal Jew: 15

Early Representations of the Jewish Spinoza

Chapter 2: Refining Spinoza: 35

Moses Mendelssohn's Response to the Amsterdam Heretic

Chapter 3: The First Modern Jew: 55

Berthold Auerbach's Spinoza and the Beginnings of an Image

Chapter 4: A Rebel against the Past, A Revealer of Secrets: 81

Salomon Rubin and the East European Maskilic Spinoza

Chapter 5: From the Heights of Mount Scopus: 113

Yosef Klausner and the Zionist Rehabilitation of Spinoza

Chapter 6: Farewell, Spinoza: 155

I. B. Singer and the Tragicomedy of the Jewish Spinozist

Epilogue: 189

Spinoza Redivivus in the Twenty-First Century

Notes 203

Bibliography 247

Index 265

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