Though he evaded Christianity, Spinoza gladly absorbed many of its slanders against Judaism. I am justly angry when he employs "Pharisee" as a term of abuse, in the manner of the New Testament: what did he think of Hillel, a better human being even than himself? And though Spinoza argued against miracles, and did not accept the divinity of Jesus Christ, he praised Jesus as the greatest of the prophets, surpassing Moses.
Is there anything Jewish about Spinoza? Goldstein seems to me weakest when she rather desperately argues by inference that his detachment and loftiness were defenses against the sufferings of Jewish history. She has to extrapolate from one ambiguous letter, to a former student who had converted to Catholicism, in order to surmise a Spinozan anguish at the ordeals of his own people. I like her for it, but am not persuaded when I read back and forth in the philosopher's copious pages and encounter his icy sublimity. Strauss, subtly reading between the lines, uncovered a Spinoza hostile to the Hebrew Bible, and to the Oral Law of a tradition he had repudiated before his people, in response, excommunicated him.
Sort of reminds me of some liberal, progressive Zionists here in Israel and abroad in their attitude and posturing.
The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity.
By Rebecca Goldstein.
Illustrated. 287 pp. Nextbook/Schocken. $19.95