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Conversation with Spinoza II

In his writings, Spinoza sometimes operates on the assumption that there is essentially one interpretation of the Tanakh, which in essence denies the polyvalence of a  text’s meaning. Modern hermeneutics expands the nature of interpretation far more comprehensively than Spinoza could have ever imagined possible. In addition, language is not as monocular as Spinoza envisioned.

Perhaps if Spinoza witnessed the birth of psychoanalysis (Freudian and Laconian) and depth psychology (of the Jungian variety), undoubtedly he would have acknowledged the importance of not taking a classical text like the Bible, or for that matter any classical work, as if it had only one layer of interpretive meaning.

Had Spinoza been privy to Lévinas’s concept of first philosophy and theology is ethics, Spinoza might have realized that morality is rooted in God’s capacity to be or act “personally” with Creation. I wonder whether Spinoza might have agreed with Lévinas’s theory of ethics.

From the writings of Jung, Eliade, Levi-Strauss, Spinoza could have immensely benefited from the wisdom that the sacred is discovered within the space of interpretation in a manner that transcends both the text and the person who is reading it. Spinoza certainly would have benefited from modern hermeneutical theory as well—especially from the ideas of M. Bakhtin and H. G. Gadamer, not to mention the various other thinkers developed hermeneutical thought over the last 300 years.

Nevertheless, despite these limitations, Spinoza’s questions and theological assumptions demand thoughtful refection and answers. In many respects, Spinoza is the prototype of the modern secular Jew who, like Spinoza, challenges the basic beliefs underlying contemporary faith.

Just as excommunication was a failed response in Spinoza’s case, neither will marginalizing Spinoza’s spiritual descendants who find themselves asking the same essential questions today that the great Dutch philosopher raised centuries ago.

Questions like:

* How do we know when it is the word of God that Scripture is speaking or whether it is the word of God we as human beings retroject into the Scriptures only to be made sacrosanct by tradition?

* What are we to do when the word of God commands us to do what violates not only common sense and reason, but also morality itself?

Fortunately, Judaism has always valued the great questions of the ages. A good question is better than a sloppy answer. There are no easy answers. Let’s keep an open mind and explore these questions together.