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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

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  510 Ratings  ·  69 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
Mar 08, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jan 03, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
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
Sep 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 11, 2015 rated it liked it
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.
Oct 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
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
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Golsdstein describes the style of this book as a memoir, which captures well enough the way it weaves together a biography of Spinoza, an introduction to his philosophy, an attempt to place this in the context of his times and his particular cultural history as a Jew in the 17th Century, and some personal reflections on her own, personal introduction to him. What she does very well, I think, is to demonstrate how The Ethics really is concerned with finding a way to live well in the face of suffe ...more
Oct 06, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Apr 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
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
Jan 09, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Apr 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Not yet completed. Got bogged down with the rabbis disagreements around death, salvation and messiah. I can see why Spinoza went rational...
Jan 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Spinoza, seventeenth century Amsterdam, the Spanish Inquisition, Descartes, Leibniz, Maimonides, Kabbalah--This book is fascinating.
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reality is ontologically enriched logic.

Personal, uniquely structured biography of Baruch Spinoza, with a strong focus on the history and situation of Jewish life around Baruch at the time of his birth, and how that unique culture influenced his thought. It doesn't directly work as an introduction to Spinoza's thought (even though the later quarter of the book tries to make up for that), but I don't think that's the focus, a lot of the book looks at the author's own experiences with Spinoza, wha
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
The world is the all-embracing web of necessary truths, intelligible through and through―and our own individual salvation rests in our knowing this.

Goldstein writes a deeply engaging biography of Spinoza, centering around his complicated identity as a first generation Dutch Jew of Sephardic/Portuguese origin, apostatizing from his faith and excommunicated from his community. His radical rationalism replaced any need for religious dogma. From logic, he derived a whole system of being, which Golds
Manuel Sanchez
Hard to categorize this book, but Spinoza was the founder of modern humanism, a classical philosopher, excommunicated Jew, and member of the Jewish diaspora forced out of Spain and Portugal after the Reconquista of those lands from the Muslim occupiers from North Africa. The narrated history alone is worth the read, the historical sources of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish history are beautifully retold, and the tolerance of the people of Amsterdam is so wondrously revealed. Add to that, Spinoza' ...more
Asher Gabbay
On the face of things, reading a book about Baruch Spinoza is not an easy task for a religious Jew. After all, Spinoza is one of the great rationalist philosophers who started his "career" by annoying his Jewish community in Amsterdam so much that eventually it was decided to penalise him with the Jewish version of an excommunication. Spinoza went on to change his name to Benedictus (Baruch in Hebrew and Benedictus in Latin mean "blessed"), to learn Latin (forbidden to Jews in those days) and to ...more
Ari Landa
May 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent biography of Spinoza incorporating philosophical, historical and psychological elements, both communal and personal, regarding the Spanish Portogeuse Jewish community and their then recent transformation from hidden religious practicioners in Portugal to open Jewish orthodoxy in liberal Dutch Amsterdam. The scene is well set to examine how and why Spinoza chose to abandon his faith and write his heavily scorned book that ushered in the secular and atheistic modern world. Goldstein is j ...more
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Simcha Wood
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Peter Landau
Sep 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Spinoza is wedged between Descartes and Leibniz in the 17th century, one of the philosophical giants who laid the foundation of what commentators would later call modernity and the great thinkers that came to represent it like Immanuel Kant, John Locke and many others.

But, I didn't know much about Spinoza: His almost fanatical pursuit of the truth as he understood it -- an intricate hyper-rationalist system as it turns out; or his willingness to suffer excommunication from th
Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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,
Aug 15, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Lynne Williamson
Jul 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Aug 13, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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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
More about Rebecca Goldstein...
“A person whom one has loved seems altogether too significant a thing to simply vanish altogether from the world. A person whom one loves is a world, just as one knows oneself to be a world.” 10 likes
“The only object we truly possess is our own mind. The only pleasure over which we have complete dominion is the progress of our own understanding.” 5 likes
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