Devra Lehmann on Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker

Aug 14, 2015

Devra Lehmann’s new book, Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker, is a National Jewish Book Award winner in the category of Young Adult Literature. 

Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker
Credit Devra Lehmann

Devra Lehmann's award-winning book, Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker, is aimed at young-adults, but provides insight on the life of this somewhat-less-known philosopher that a person of any age can enjoy and learn from.

Lehmann's book is filled with information about Spinoza’s family, how they arrived in Amsterdam, and how Baruch or Bento Spinoza – his childhood names – was brought up, and what the Jewish community was like in Amsterdam in the 17th Century, which was a golden age for the Dutch Republic.

Further, Lehmann writes about Spinoza's beliefs that the Bible is a human not divine product; the Jews are not a Chosen People for all time; the rituals and commandments are not eternal but a product of a particular development in time; there is no such thing as miracles—it only means you don’t understand the natural causes; the moral core of the Bible is to love God, which is identified with nature, and to love others. Spinoza even argues for the tolerance of others beliefs and the separation of church and state.

Spinoza led a difficult life, however. A brilliant schoolboy in seventeenth-century Amsterdam quickly learned to keep his ideas to himself. When he turned twenty-three, those ideas proved so scandalous to his religious community that he was cast out, cursed, and effectively erased from their communal life.

The scandal showed no sign of waning as his ideas spread throughout Europe, where he was almost universally reviled as an instrument of the devil. At the center of the storm, he lived the simplest of lives, quietly devoted to his work as a lens grinder and to his steadfast search for the truth—an endeavor that paved the way to all that is best in modern democracies. He did not live to see the results of his efforts, but his ideas changed the world.

For more information about Devra Lehmann, you can visit her website.