What would Spinoza say?

Philosophy and comics team up to tell the story of one 17th-century thinker who, though despised in his own time, may be an antidote for today's ills.

By TERRANCE MINTNER
September 5, 2017 12:31
page from Prof. Steve Nadler’s book depicts the 1656 ban against the 17th-century philosopher Baruch

page from Prof. Steve Nadler’s book depicts the 1656 ban against the 17th-century philosopher Baruch de Spinoza.. (photo credit: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS)

 
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Who is the biggest Jewish bad boy you can think of? No, this isn’t a poll for the National Enquirer based on the hottest celebrity gossip. By “bad boy” I mean the pre-“cool” connotations of “bad.” Let’s say someone raised in the Jewish tradition, but who – putting it colloquially – ticked off quite a few people.

Surely the 17th-century philosopher Baruch (Benedict) de Spinoza ranks high on the list. His ideas caused such a stir within the Portuguese-Jewish congregation of Amsterdam that in 1656 its leaders excommunicated the then-23-year-old with the harshest punishment of herem (ban) ever issued by that community. Without bothering to detail their charges, they accused him of “abominable heresies and monstrous deeds,” declaring that he is to be “cast out from all the tribes of Israel” and his name is to be “blotted out from under heaven.”

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