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Collected Essays on Spinoza 1. Life and Works Spinoza came into the world a Jew. Born inhe was the son of Marrano parents.
They had immigrated to Amsterdam from Portugal in order to escape the Inquisition that had spread across the Iberian Peninsula and live in the relatively tolerant atmosphere of Holland. Spinoza's father, Michael, was a successful merchant and a respected member of the community. His mother, Hanna, the second of Michael's three wives, died injust before Spinoza was to turn six.
The young Spinoza, given the name Baruch, was educated in his congregation's academy, the Talmud Torah school. There he received the kind of education that the community deemed necessary to constitute one as an educated Jew.
This largely consisted of religious studyincluding instruction in Hebrew, liturgy, Torah, prophetic writings, and rabbinical commentaries. Although Spinoza no doubt excelled in these, he did not move on to the higher levels of study which focused on the Talmud and were typically undertaken by those preparing for the rabbinate.
Whether by desire or by necessity, Spinoza left the school in order to work in his father's business, which he eventually took over with his half-brother, Gabriel.
The Jewish community in Amsterdam was by no means a closed onebut Spinoza's commercial activities put him in touch with more diverse currents of thought than those to which he had hitherto been exposed.
Most significantly, he came into contact with so-called 'free-thinking' Protestants - dissenters from the dominant Calvinism — who maintained a lively interest in a wide range of theological issues, as well as in the latest developments in philosophy and science.
This naturally included the work of Descartes, which was regarded by many in Holland to be the most promising of several alternatives to scholasticism that had emerged in recent decades.
In order to discuss their interests, these free-thinkers organized themselves into small groups, they called colleges, which met on a regular basis. Spinoza may have attended such meetings as early as the first half of the 's, and it is most likely here that he received his first exposure to Cartesian thought.
This is not to say that Spinoza ceased to mine the resources of his own tradition - he became steeped, for example, in the writings of such philosophically important figures as Maimonides and Gersonides - but his intellectual horizons were expanding and he was experiencing a restlessness that drove him to look further afield.
It was at this time that he placed himself under the tutelage of an ex-Jesuit, Franciscus Van den Enden, who had recently set up a Latin school in Amsterdam.
Van den Enden turned out to be the perfect teacher for Spinoza. In addition to having an excellent reputation as a Latinist, he was a medical doctor who kept abreast of all that was new in the sciences.
He was also notorious for his allegedly irreligious cast of mind, and he was a passionate advocate of democratic political ideals. It is safe to say that Spinoza's studies with Van den Enden included more than lessons on how to decline nouns.
Spinoza's intellectual reorientation, however, came at a cost. His increasingly unorthodox views and, perhaps, laxity in his observance of the Jewish law strained his relations with the community.Disclaimer: This work has been submitted by a student.
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