The Arty Semite

Spinoza Para Bobos (Spinoza For Dummies)

By Allan Nadler

Baruch Spinoza was born in Amsterdam in 1632, the son of Portuguese Marranos (or conversos, or crypto-Jews) who had fled the Inquisition. A prodigy at Amsterdam’s Etz Chaim Yeshiva, he was widely expected to become a rabbi. As rumors of his heretical ideas spread, he was denounced by his yeshiva teachers, and in 1656 he was excommunicated by the Mahamad (Jewish Community Council) of Amsterdam. He lived in several small Amsterdam towns, most notably Rijnsberg, before settling in The Hague, where he died in 1677.

While his writings are notoriously dense, the central doctrines of Spinoza’s philosophy are eminently clear and stunningly sweeping. In “Tractatus Theologico-Politicus” he openly questions the divinity of Scripture and assails the authority of the church. In place of the first, he offers a “natural,” critically historical and philological reading of the Bible; in place of the second, a secular state in which religious authorities would enjoy no power.

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Welcoming the Apocalypse at the Jerusalem Philosophy Festival

By Alon Raab

Courtesy Jerusalem Season of Culture

Two
 days
 before
 the
 world
 was
 to
 end,
 as
 calculated
 by
 engineer
 and
 prophet 
Harold
 Camping,
 seemed
 as
 good
 a
 time
 as
 any
 to
 find
 answers
 to

 eternal
 questions
 about
 human
 life
 and
 meaning. Thus
 I
 joined
 “What’s
 on
 your
 Mind?
” an “International Philosophy Festival” in Jerusalem that ran from May 18 to May 20 as part of this year’s Jerusalem Season of Culture. The
 city
 where
 more
 philosophers,
 prophets and
 messiahs
 roam
 than
 on
 any
 other place
 on
 earth,
 and
 in
 which
 the
 momentous
 events 
of 
the 
Apocalypse 
will 
unfold, 
was 
the 
obvious 
locale. 
The festival 
was 
held
 in
 a 
large 
tent 
erected 
at 
the 
beautiful 
cultural
 center 
Mishkenot
 Sha’ananim,
 a 
stone’s
 throw

 from
 the
 walls
 of
 the
 ancient
 city
 and
 facing
 Mount Zion.

The sessions included “Old Man, What Is His Life,” about modern medicine’s growing ability to extend life, with the participation of a gerontologist, a jurist and 80-year-old novelist Yoram Kaniuk; the impact of social networking on the concept of friendship, led by Web editors and a professor of management; the ways new discoveries in brain research impact the concept of free will and whether it exists, with talks by an Israeli clinical psychologist and by Princeton philosophy professor and author of the best selling study “On Bullshit,” Harry Frankfurt; “The Sexual Revolution — What Next?”; and “Man in the Role of God,” examining scientific innovations in the field of human reproduction. Well Known Israeli law professor Ruth Gavison, philosophy teacher David Heyd, and progressive Orthodox rabbi Yuval Cherlow debated such issues as “improving” the human race.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yuval Cherlow, Roy Brand, Ruth Gavison, Philosophy, Jerusalem Season of Culture, Mishkenot Sha'ananim, Jerusalem Philosophy Festival, Jerusalem, Harry Frankfurt, Harold Camping, David Heyd, Alon Raab

30 Days, 30 Texts: 'Nine Talmudic Readings'

By Ari Weiss

In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Ari Weiss writes about “Nine Talmudic Readings” by Emmanuel Levinas.

I went book shopping during my first week of college in 1999. I had already bought the necessary books for my classes; my goal during this outing was to find new books and new ideas. Wandering through the aisles of the book store, I surprisingly came across a Talmud book in the philosophy section: “Nine Talmudic Readings” by Emmanuel Levinas. In 14 years of day school and yeshiva education, I had not heard of this Talmudical philosopher (or, perhaps a philosopher of Talmud). In the 10 years since, these nine postmodern readings of the Talmud have been central in thinking about the world, justice and Judaism.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Nine Talmudic Readings, Joshua Venture Group, Jewish Book Month, Jewish Book Council, JESNA, Emmanuel Levinas, Books, Ari Weiss, Aggadah, 30 Days 30 Texts, Philosophy, Talmud, Uri L'Tzedek

From the Tribe of Prophets: Swiss Jewish Philosopher Jeanne Hersch at 100

By Benjamin Ivry

Although her centenary is not until July 13, the Swiss Jewish philosopher Jeanne Hersch (1910-2000) is already being remembered as a gimlet-eyed defender of freedom.

Born in Geneva to a Polish Jewish statistics professor and his doctor wife, Hersch studied with the philosopher Karl Jaspers, whose career suffered in Germany after 1933 because his own wife was Jewish. Hersch and a fellow student, Hannah Arendt, were among Jasper’s most devoted disciples. Hersch later taught philosophy and worked at UNESCO, and though she remained less famous than Arendt outside of academic circles, she could make waves.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Hannah Arendt, Czesław Miłosz, Jean Ziegler, Jeanne Hersch, Karl Jaspers, Philosophy, University of Geneva, mmanuel Dufour-Kowalski

Music and Philosophy at a Private Concert Hosted by George Soros

By Benjamin Ivry

Philosophy is what matters most to George Soros, I learned the other day after an elegant party at Soros’s duplex Manhattan apartment (I was invited by a mutual friend) celebrating the latest recording of Bartók by Angela & Jennifer Chun, a Korean-born sister team of violinists.

I shared a cab on the way home with the veteran dance legend Jacques d’Amboise, a longtime Soros chum, who explains that despite the concert which Soros presided over in a room subtly decorated with American Impressionist paintings, music does not rank highest among his passions. “Not economics, either, certainly!” continues the ever-ebullient d’Amboise, who was seen in 2008 in an HBO Documentary “Jacques d’Amboise in China.” Philosophy is what Soros, son of the Hungarian Jewish doctor and author Tivadar Soros (1894–1968), prizes the most.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Schumann, Tivadar Soros, Pnina Saltzman, Philosophy, Perestroika, Music, Nimrod David Pfeffer, Literatura Mondo, Jennifer Chun, Jacques d'Amboise, George Soros, Esperanto, Chopin, Beethoven, Bartok, Angela Chun, Aharon Harlap




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