Shalem College
December 8, 2014

Shalem Press Releases Hermann Cohen’s Famous Tract on Spinoza

Shalem Press Releases Hermann Cohen’s Famous Tract on Spinoza

Spinoza on State & Religion, Judaism and Christianity, by the leading German-Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen, was released this fall by Shalem Press, marking the first time the rationalist thinker’s critique of Spinoza’s theories has been available to an English-speaking audience.

Robert Schine, the Curt & Else Silberman Professor of Jewish Studies at Middlebury College, writes in his introduction to the work that Cohen condemned Spinoza, the Dutch-Jewish philosopher, for lacking in the ethical virtue of fidelity. This virtue, Schine explains, was for Cohen not only the key to maintaining one’s Jewish identity in a world rife with anti-Semitism. It was also essential to efforts to purify Judaism from its mythological elements, and bring it closer to a “religion of reason” that can be understood and appreciated by all reasonable people. As an “insider,” Cohen argued, Spinoza should have known that at the core of Jewish religion lies a commitment to morality and the ideal of a unified humanity. By renouncing his religion, Spinoza led many thinkers—including, most famously, Kant—to misunderstand Judaism as a narrow, tribalist, and essentially political identity, and therefore to feed the anti-Jewish flames that burned across Europe.

It is this original, compelling defense of Judaism that spurred Professor Moshe Halbertal of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to praise Cohen’s polemic as “one of the most loyal, profound, and genuine articulations of Judaism’s philosophical and moral foundation,” one that is essential our efforts to navigate the fraught encounters between Jewish thought and the modern condition.