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Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity
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Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  403 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Part of the Jewish Encounter series

In 1656, Amsterdam’s Jewish community excommunicated Baruch Spinoza, and, at the age of twenty–three, he became the most famous heretic in Judaism. He was already germinating a secularist challenge to religion that would be as radical as it was original. He went on to produce one of the most ambitious systems in the history of Western phi
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 30th 2006 by Schocken
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Esteban del Mal
"By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of the entire holy congregation, and in front of these holy scrolls with the 613 precepts which are written therein; cursing him with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho and with the curse which Elisha cursed the boys and with all the castigations which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be h ...more
It’s an interesting experience to read Rebecca Goldstein’s “Betraying Spinoza” immediately after reading Steven Nadler’s “Spinoza: A Life.” They are two very different books about Spinoza with different strengths and weaknesses, although arguably Nadler’s has more strengths while Goldstein’s has more weaknesses.

While Nadler’s “Spinoza: A Life” is a detailed, factual, historical biography, Goldstein’s “Betraying Spinoza” tries to do many things, some of them more effectively than others. In some
Katherine Furman
Let me start off with my biases and prejudices. Spinoza is my favorite philosopher, but I don't really like reading biographies. So this was a mixed-bag experience for me. Rebecca Goldstein has done an excellent job with filling out the story around Spinoza. There is a ton of Jewish history in the book (there's a chunk of at least 20 pages where the name Spinoza isn't even mentioned) because she's really trying to put him in historical perspective. She wants to show how his philosophy was part o ...more
Prooost Davis
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's introduction to the subject of Spinoza came when she was a schoolgirl, and her teacher did not paint a flattering picture of him, Spinoza having been excommunicated from the Jewish community of Amsterdam for disbelief of many things, one being that Moses could have written the Torah.

Ms. Goldstein, also a doubter of received wisdom, felt an affinity with Spinoza. She went on to become a philosopher, and, having studied Spinoza's work, wondered about Spinoza the man.
It certainly lives up to its title! But why would anyone want to betray Spinoza? Especially an admitted analytic philosopher such as the writer of this book? That's just not logically coherent and analytic philosophers are never incoherent. Nonetheless, the book had a few good moments, mostly when the writer just stuck to the overall scope of Spinoza's project (flattening the universe to a single all-connecting rational plane, thereby vanquishing all metaphysics and religious superstition). The ...more
This book is part of a series on famous Jewish thinkers. Spinoza was excommunicated from the Portuguese Jewish community in which he had been educated when he was 23. The group had been called "marranos" believed to be a Castilian word for swine. They fled to the relatively liberal city of Amsterdam.

Spinoza became a lens grinder. A very good one, apparently. The dust helped to end his life early. A lens grinder is an interesting philosophical job. As a philosopher, Spinoza looks at the world th
Read this a few years ago. I remember really enjoying reading Spinoza in college and a few bouts of reading since. The author packs in much history and a sympathetic portrayal of Spinoza, not that he wouldn't be sympathetic. This is a short book/quick read, about a great western, male philosopher.
Betraying Spinoza was an interesting look at the philosopher's life and background from a contemporary Jewish perspective.

I'm afraid that my lack of grounding in philosophy made parts of the book a chore to read - the vocabulary is fairly forbidding. The more interesting and "betraying" parts of Spinoza's life seemed rather speculative, though they were an easier read.

What I did find fascinating was Goldstein's own story of discovering Spinoza at the beginning of the book and her historical and
Rebecca Goldstein traces the history of the Sephardic Jews in Spain and Portugal, and reveals how the brutalized Jewish population dealt with life, first under Moorish oppression, then Christian cruelty during the church's ghastly Spanish Inquisition. She follows the migration of large numbers of Jewish survivors to the relatively tolerant city of Amsterdam, which had its own conflicts with various competing European powers, but allowed Jews an uneasy coexistence with the Protestant Dutch majori ...more
3++. Professor Goldstein discusses the life of Spinoza and his insights, focusing often on her own perspective as a female raised in a Jewish upbringing and her work as a philosophy professor once she left that culture.

According to the footnotes, she works from early source materials. Also, she sometimes adds her own fictional musings, which is sometimes clear but sometimes explained only in the endnotes rather than in the text where I think the attributions properly belonged.

Some good backgro
A cultural ignoramus when it comes to the Judaism ( despite the fact that I was married to the Jewish man for almost 17 years) , this book for me was less about Spinoza and more about the culture. I am grateful as Goldstein simultaneously managed to instill a sense of awe and healthy curiosity for the rich Jewish heritage and to provide the introductory delve into Spinoza's humane philosophies. Enjoyable and intellectual read through and through.
Peter Landau
How could I not love a book about a Jew who was excommunicated and wrote his own laws based on rationality and logic? It doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome, at least on the cover painting of BETRAYING SPINOZA: THE RENEGADE JEW WHO GAVE US MODERNITY by Rebecca Goldstein, who does betray Spinoza by trying to place him in context of a time and place instead of honoring his mathematical principles of understanding. Spinoza’s ETHICS and other writings are an attempt to remove one from the prison of self ...more
This is my third book by Goldstein and I have the same response to all three of them. I am very intrigued by the philosophical ideas she explores and not so enamored at the personal and historical stuff she intersperses within it. In this book, we learn about the history of Jewish philosophical development during Spinoza's era, a bit about Spinoza's personal history and then the philosophical stuff about Spinoza and his very unusual, particularly in his era, approach to God. The philosophical fo ...more
May 10, 2014 Terry rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Terry by: Spinoza
Shelves: religion
As reluctantly as I finally capitulated to great pressure and harassment and read this book - a long story - I have to admit that I actually enjoyed the experience. First of all, being introduced to Spinoza's philosophy as filtered through Rebecca Goldstein's perspectives is about as painless as it gets. She delineates his ideas in clear, precise language, yet softens the experience with her memoir-like approach and her "betraying" of Spinoza by trying to find the person inside this philosopher ...more
Not yet completed. Got bogged down with the rabbis disagreements around death, salvation and messiah. I can see why Spinoza went rational...
Goldstein does a wonderful job of making the story of Spinoza more personal as she recounts his history in tandem with her with her introduction to the philosopher in grade school and her evolving opinion of him as she goes on to research him on her own. Spinoza was incredibly forward thinking. To me he seems to be one of the first to express openly the idea that to have a moral code does not require a belief in "god." He translates "god" into nature - it is in the amazing wonders of the world t ...more
Simcha Wood
Betraying Spinoza is ostensibly a biography of the 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. At its heart, however, the book is a rich mix of memoir, history, and speculative biographical narrative.

The author approaches Spinoza and his work from various angles. She finds parallels between her own experiences growing up as an orthodox Jew and the philosopher's upbringing and ideas. She explores the history of the Spanish and Portuguese Marranos and the establishment and development of Amsterdam's
once i got thru the first few chapters, the book was a breeze. the first few chapters were brutal for me, a person whose mind gets twisted with vocabulary i don't understand and concepts unfamiliar to me. i've never studied philosophy past basic logic and "a priori", ontological truths, and the "is/ought gap" are totally new terms for me and their usage, obviously, i'm still shaky on that.
anyway, the book felt like a conversation with goldstein about a very interesting character of history, whe
A very good book which might be accused of going off on tangents for too long. I'm not sure what this book essentially is - it isn't a biography, although it details much of Spinoza's life, both the external circumstances of his life and what the author believes Spinoza must have mentally went through in the development of his philosophical thoughts. Nor is it merely about Spinoza, as it details the historical and psychological circumstances of the Portugese Jewish community in Amsterdam, expand ...more
Founder of the Religious Science movement Ernest Holmes was a civil servant who aggregated many religious traditions to form what's become a significant stream in the New Thought movement. Among his sources were Ralph Waldo Emerson, that Yank separatist, and Madame Blavatsky, herself a compiler of older and even ancient religious traditions.

People who met Holmes in his later life found him still obsessing about fundamental questions. He was said to accost complete strangers with the urgent plea,
Lynne Williamson
The "betraying" in the title is the author's attempt to try to understand something about Spinoza as an individual in his time and culture. This getting to the personal is a "betrayal" because Spinoza rejected the focus on himself as an individual and sought to connect everyone and everything into a oneness with the universe that he referred to as "god." This "god" for Spinoza was nothing like the god of the Jews or of the Christians at the time or like any god for that matter, and Spinoza was, ...more

I have become a Spinoza enthusiast since I started to develop a serious interest into oriental philosophy. Thus I have began reading up on him and his system.
After reading Spinoza: A Life, a thorough but somehow unfocused biography, I found this book much more enjoyable.

The betraying here is the attempt to tell the story of the philosopher as an individual thus foregoing Spinoza own effort to connect everyone and everything into a oneness with the universe and God.

The book is highly informati
In this charming little book, Goldstein betrays Spinoza by using her novelist's imagination to try to discover the man behind a philosopher who made such an effort to abstract himself from the personal. Some parts of the book work better than others. I feel that I did get a better understanding of how Spinoza's ideas relate to living. the history of the Jews that she uses to try to understand where Spinoza was 'coming from' was also quite interesting. Her effort to imagine his life without proje ...more
Bruce Hartman
This is one of the best written and most accessible books on Spinoza that has been written. Rebecca Goldstein is a novelist as well as a philosopher and she writes with the best qualities of both.
Goldstein starts by telling what she learned about Spinoza in her own yeshiva education as a child - that he was a heretic, the evil one, &c. Subsequently, a professor of philosohy at Columbia, she returned to Spinoza & ended up teaching about him in a course on Descartes, Leibniz, & Spinoza. The "betraying" part of the title refers to the fact that she's trying to capture his personal life, when his whole philosophy was about rejecting personal preferences & specificity. In plac ...more
This is new subject for me and a good book to start with. Easy to read and with her personal experiences included, it was enjoyable.
Ian Purkis
This book is much more than a biography of Spinoza, it is also an important historical insight into Jewish history in Western Europe. Very well written, edited and documented.
I loved Goldstein's book on Goedel and wish this had followed more of the same format, that is, half biography half explanation of the proof/philosophy. I was really hoping for more of Spinoza's philosophy but the material that makes up the historical background that takes up most of the book is really interesting (and it is after all part of a "jewish thinkers" series). Also, I didn't think the "novelization" of his life at the end added anything that she hadn't already gone over in speculating ...more
I like schizophrenic books, frequently, and enjoy tangents, and there are some highly interesting paragraphs about Spinoza's philosophy in this book, but there are also dozens of pages on the author's own childhood learning about Spinoza (not irrelevant, but not interesting enough to warrant the volume they get), waaaay too much speculation to establish the context of what Spinoza might have been exposed to, and to end the book, an imagined narrative of what Spinoza's life and thoughts may have ...more
Goldstein theorizes that the Portuguese Nation's struggle to reclaim Judaism in the wake of the Inquisition propelled Spinoza toward a philosophy free of an identity imposed at birth. He argued we are only free when we abandon arbitrarily acquired definitions of self for universal truths. According to her, that's no accident. She implies a comparison of the Sephardic transition to Holland to the anxious, border-sensitive atmosphere of American Ashkenazic Judaism since the Holocaust.
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Rebecca Newberger Goldstein grew up in White Plains, New York, and graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College, receiving the Montague Prize for Excellence in Philosophy, and immediately went on to graduate work at Princeton University, receiving her Ph.D. in philosophy. While in graduate school she was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship and a Whiting Foundation Fellowship.

After e
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