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The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image Hardcover – February 26, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Co-Winner of the 2012 Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize, American Academy for Jewish Research

Finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in History

"We have long needed a thorough and careful study of the various ways in which Spinoza has been appropriated by Jewish causes and movements. Daniel Schwartz's welcome book takes a close look for the first time at what the author calls 'the rehabilitation of Spinoza in Jewish culture.'"--Steven Nadler, Times Literary Supplement

"Whether Baruch Spinoza was 'the first modern Jew,' as the title of this outstanding volume suggests, has been a subject of continuing debate. . . . Schwartz displays admirable versatility in tracing the idolizations, disputes, and ambivalences evoked by Spinoza in Germany (Moses Mendelssohn and Berthold Auerbach) and eastern Europe (Salomon Rubin), within Zionism (Yosef Klausner), and in Yiddish literature (Isaac Bashevis Singer). . . . Essential."--M. A. Meyer, Choice

"[P]assionate arguments, of the kind now richly documented by Schwartz, about Spinoza's Jewishness and his relevance to our times, still enrich and enrage . . . and probably will continue to do so--without end."--Allan Nadler, Forward.com

"This is the first full-scale history of Spinoza's reception among Jews. . . . [I]t clearly demonstrates how this excluded philosopher could be viewed as religious or secular, as more Baruch or more Benedict, but almost necessarily as a touchstone in defining Jewish identity in the modern age."--Choice

"With extensive and helpful notes, an index and a bibliography, this work is highly recommended for all academic collections that deal with Jews and Judaism in the modern age."--Marion M. Stein, Classical World

"Schwartz has written a superb study that not only presents Spinoza as a thinker who fits uneasily into the modernist categories of 'religious' and 'secular': he has also composed a daring challenge to the popular interpretation of the modern age as a purely secular affair that left religion behind over 300 years ago."--Grant Havers, European Legacy

From the Back Cover

"This is a spectacular book, deeply researched and brilliantly written, on a riveting subject--the historical reception of Spinoza from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. Schwartz demonstrates his command of European philosophy, modern European Jewish history, Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and Zionist culture. A tour de force."--David Biale, University of California, Davis

"In this daring and outstanding book, Schwartz does a superb job of bringing Spinoza back to life in a number of diverse and intriguing historical contexts. A full-bodied cultural history, attentive to the various settings in which Spinoza was rediscovered and revivified, this is the most wide-ranging, historically grounded, and illuminating book that has been written on the subject."--David N. Myers, University of California, Los Angeles


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691142912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691142913
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,420,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The philosophy and character of Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza (1632 -- 1677) have inspired a growing number of popular and scholarly studies in recent years. Much, but not all, of the attention given to Spinoza focuses upon his relationship to Judaism, the religion of his birth, and to subsequent developments in Judaism. In 1656, Spinoza was excommunicated, in a document of unusual harshness, by the Sephardic Jewish community of Amsterdam. Following the excommunication, Spinoza wrote two seminal philosophical works: the "Theological-Political Treatise", which includes a strong critique of revealed religion, and the "Ethics" which sets forth Spinoza's own detailed and difficult metaphysics.

Daniel Schwartz' new and first book, "The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image" is the most recent study that examines the relationship of Spinoza to Judaism. More precisely, as the subtitle of the book points out, Schwartz is concerned with the history of studies of Spinoza in the Jewish community over the years, more than with Spinoza himself. Schwartz, an Assistant Professor of History at George Washington University argues that Jewish students of Spinoza have projected their own questions and thoughts about the relationship between Judaism and secularism upon the elusive 17th Century philosopher. The natures of both "Judaism" and "secularism" are both notoriously difficult to pin down. Schwartz identifies two broad understandings of secularism which run through his study. The first sees secularism, and a this-worldly orientation as a rupture from and a decisive break with a theological understanding. The second understanding sees secularism as evolving from religious sources and as developing, without necessarily fully repudiating, a religious outlook.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Daniel Schwartz did an excellent job. Highly readable and informative. First class work about Spinoza and his influence on modern Jewish thought.
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