Baruch Spinoza

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Baruch Spinoza (Hebrew: ברוך שפינוזהBaruch Shpinoza, Portuguese: Bento de Espinosa, Latin: Benedictus de Spinoza) and later Benedict Spinoza (November 24, 1632 – February 21, 1677) was a Dutch Jewish Philosopher.[1] Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death. Today, he is considered one of the great rationalists[2] of the 17th-century philosophy, laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment[2] and modern biblical criticism.[2] By virtue of his magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed Descartes' mind–body dualism, Spinoza is considered to be one of Western philosophy's most important philosophers. Philosopher and historian Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said of all contemporary philosophers, "You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all."[3] Spinoza attended the Keter Torah yeshiva headed by Rabbi Shaul Levi Morteira, and maintained a connection with Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, whose home was a center for Jewish scholars in Amsterdam.[3]

Though Spinoza was active in the Dutch Jewish community and extremely well-versed in Jewish texts, some claim that his controversial ideas eventually led community leaders to issue a cherem (Hebrew: חרם, a kind of excommunication) against him, effectively dismissing him from that Jewish society at age 23, though most of his friends were Marranos (secret Jews, or Sephardic Jews). Prior to any action by the Dutch Jewish community, however, his books were put on the Catholic Index of banned books, and were burned by Dutch Protestants, for their humanistic take on the Bible. Some historians argue that the Roman Catholic Church influenced the nascent Jewish community of Marranos to enact this rare excommunication law. Historian Adri Offenberg and others argue that the Amsterdam Jewish Community, at the time in its infancy and struggling to secure its position in the Dutch republic, was placed under aggressive external pressure by the Dutch Reform and Roman Catholic Churches to unwillingly quell what was perceived as heresy in dominant Christian circles (Die Lebensgeschichte Spinozas). Philosopher and historian of ideas Richard Popkin questions the historical veracity of the documents claiming Spinoza was issued a cherem, which emerged close to 300 years after Spinoza's death.[4] All of Spinoza's works were listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books) by the Roman Catholic Church.

Spinoza lived quietly as a lens grinder, turning down rewards and honors throughout his life, including prestigious teaching positions, and gave his family inheritance to his sister. Spinoza's moral character and philosophical accomplishments prompted 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him "the 'prince' of philosophers."[5] Spinoza died at the age of 44 allegedly of a lung illness, perhaps tuberculosis or silicosis exacerbated by fine glass dust inhaled while plying his trade. Spinoza is buried in the churchyard of the Christian Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague.[6]

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