The Spinoza Image in Jewish Culture, 1656--1956

Columbia University, 2007 - 320 pagina's
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This dissertation traces major trends in the rehabilitation of the seventeenth-century heretic and philosopher Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza in Jewish culture from roughly 1656 to 1956. Specifically, it inquires into his invocation as a precursor of Jewish modernity by intellectuals associated with German liberal Judaism, the East European Jewish Enlightenment, and secular Zionism respectively. While the view of Spinoza as marking a pivot between the "medieval" and the "modern" in Jewish history has come to enjoy fairly wide acceptance, there has been little work to date on the origin and development of this protean image in nineteenth and twentieth-century Jewish consciousness. It is argued here that the 1830s were a turning point in this regard. While Spinoza had been revisited and, to an extent, reclaimed by a few Jewish thinkers prior to this point, it was in the 1830s that the image of Spinoza as a prototype of the "new Jew" began to be disseminated. After three opening chapters that survey the reception of Spinoza through the "pantheism controversy" of the 1780s, the next three chapters examine his subsequent appropriation for modern Jewish identity within three ideological contexts. Chapter 4 analyzes the beginnings of this perception in the historical fiction of the German-Jewish liberal author Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882), Chapter 5 the continuation of the heroic motif in the Jewish Enlightenment propaganda of the Galician Hebraist Solomon Rubin (1823-1910), and Chapter 6 the efforts of the Russian Zionist Joseph Klausner (1874-1958) to incorporate Spinoza as part of an all-embracing vision of Jewish national community. The focus of the analysis is on the cultural and mental dimension of the Jewish reception of Spinoza---on Spinoza as a symbol in Jewish historical consicousness---and not on the Jewish philosophical response to his writings per se. Ultimately, the work posits that the Spinoza image has functioned in Jewish culture as a consistent if elusive touchstone for reflection on the nature and boundaries of Jewish identity.

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