March 26, 2019

Judaism Must Internalize Spinoza's Lessons

“It would be too much to say that I was “raised on the knees” of Spinoza, but it’s definitely true that my father was a great admirer of his and often spoke about him and his teachings. I’m not sure if he understood Spinoza or just used some of his ideas to justify his own secular lifestyle.

There are two reasons why as a child I was attracted to Spinoza. First of all, he was a member of the Portuguese Spanish Jewish Community in Amsterdam. This is the very community of which my father was a member, as were all my ancestors (my family came to Holland via Portugal and Italy about 150 years after the Spanish Inquisition in 1492). My father always spoke about this community and was extremely proud of it, although he was not an active member. (Remember, my father was in a mixed marriage.)

Secondly, I was intrigued by the fact that Spinoza had been expelled by this community at a young age, when his ideas about God and Tanach became somewhat known (a long story, which I have spoken and written about at great length). This is the gravest and most notorious ban in all of Jewish history. In fact, it probably made Spinoza more famous than his actual philosophy did.”

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