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Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind [Hardcover]

Steven Nadler
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2001 0199247072 978-0199247073
Why was the great philosopher Spinoza expelled from his Portuguese-Jewish community in Amsterdam? Nadler's investigation of this simple question gives fascinating new perspectives on Spinoza's thought and the Jewish religious and philosophical tradition from which it arose.

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Editorial Reviews


"Nadler's project is intriguing because it takes us right into the heart of the most difficult and interesting parts of Spinoza's philosophy, as well as into the thick of the historical milieu in which the expulsion took place and which helped shape Spinoza's intellectual development....Nadler does an excellent job of summarizing and synthesizing a vast body of literature into an accessible and plausible narrative....In short, Nadler's book is an admirable piece of work. It relates Spinoza's thought to a wide variety of contexts, each of which enrich our understanding of Spinoza. It is clearly written and highly readable, continuing the story begun in Nadler's earlier Spinoza: A Life. It will be mandatory reading for students of Spinoza, as well as for students of Jewish thought and history more generally."--Martin Lin, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

About the Author

Steven Nadler is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199247072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199247073
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,060,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why was Spinoza Excommunicated? March 29, 2005
Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza (1632 - 1677) was one of the most seminal philosophers in history. His work constitutes a crucial component of Enlightenment thought and of modern secularism. In 1656, at the age of 23, Spinoza was excommunicated from the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam in which he had grown up. Excommunication was not an uncommon occurence at that time and place, but the excommunicating document banning Spinoza is extremely and unusually harsh. There have been many theories over the years about why Spinoza was excommunicated and excommunicated with such uncompromising sternness.

Steven Nadler,is Professor of Philosophy and the Director of the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin and the author of the biography, "Spinoza" (1999). In "Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind" Professor Nadler offers his understanding of the reasons underlying Spinoza's excommunication. But this book is not simply a historical account of the events leading up to Spinoza's excommunication in 1656. Professor Nadler gives the reader as well a study of Spinoza's philosophy and of some of the key concepts on which it rests.

Professor Nadler begins with a discussion of the Portugese Jewish community in Amsterdam and of the role excommunication (cherem) played in that community. He examines in detail the particular ban issued against Spinoza. (Much of this material can also be found in Professor Nadler's biography of Spinoza.)

Professor Nadler finds that Spinoza's excommunication is an overdetermined event -- which he analogizes to the American Civil War -- in that many reasons can be found for it and the difficulty lies in trying to isolate a specific factor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent book July 25, 2013
By toronto
Format:Kindle Edition
Nadler has written another excellent book on Spinoza. As with the others, this is clear and deals with the complex material in a humane way. The great problem the book deals with is not so much the cherem (ex-communication), but the puzzle of Part V of the Ethics, where we are confronted with what some critics have determined is a failure on Spinoza's part, what others have seen as a culmination, and others have remained just puzzled. Nadler handles it all judiciously. I am not sure I agree completely with his interpretation, but it does work coherently with the main drift of the text, which is about all you can ask. There is something visionary about the last Part (akin to Wittgenstein's remarks on the ethics of wonder, a kind of intuitive, even aesthetic, grasping of the overall onto-logic) that Nadler doesn't quite capture.
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spinoza and the Maumad... April 20, 2009
By Sam
I am a fan of Professor Nadler and have been reading his works for some time now. However, I am not a fan of Spinoza and this is why:

It is in my humble estimation that the herem issued to Spinoza was necessary and that it was necessary on more than one issue. Scholars don't agree with Professor Nadler's view that it was strictly the issue of immortality that played a significant role, and I concur with this view.

That is not to say that these "unorthodox views" emanating from Spinoza were not directly correlated with his excommunication from the Hispano Luso Jewish community in Amsterdam. They were...but the main reason was more complicated and much more political.

The dynamics of a Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, in particular the one in Amsterdam at the time, has to be taken into consideration when addressing Spinoza's herem. This is a consideration that has been downplayed throughout the years. In other words, the voice of the community has been purposefully neglected when trying to determine the factors determining Spinoza's ex communication. Gebhart, who studied the Prado-Spinoza case better than Revah, explains:

The excommunication of the Amsterdam community has been taken as an example of medieval cruelty, and even in our days there are plenty of efforts to posthumously denigrate it. But if we disregard the pathetic formulas, it is impossible not to recognize that the community was right.
Its duty was to organize a Judaism faithful to the Law, and under no circumstance could it permit that the youth, following the example of Prado, would create its own religion; in which revelation is substituted by reason, that searched God in nature and that only recognized as divine the laws of Nature.
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