Disclaimer: book bought by reviewer
In modern Judaism, we often struggle with the confluence of religion and “Enlightenment.” As one who attended an institution that attempted to subsume the two under a single roof, I find this to be a continuous struggle. For Rabbi Angel, the answer is to look back to Maimonides, the great medieval Rabbi/Dr. who confronted the conflicts between religion and philosophy/science in his Moreh Nevuchim, the Guide for the Perplexed. Rabbi Angel felt that to best understand Maimonides, he had to set up a foil, in this case Baruch Spinoza, the first of the Modern Philosophers and the most well known Jewish heretic. In each chapter, except for the last 2, he sets up the contrast between Maimonides and Spinoza, leaning heavily towards Maimonides.
After completing Rabbi Angel’s book, I have two observations. The first is that this book felt as if I was reading Rabbi Angel’s philosophical autobiography. Now I grant that most philosophical works of this nature are autobiographical, but it is still something to be noted. The second observation is that the book felt like it was written just for the last two chapters, which discussed the hot button issues of conversion and modern social issues, such as feminism.
Overall, the work was a very interesting comparative study between the two philosophical schools of thought. For Rabbi Angel, Spinoza is the example of the philosopher who trusts his own philosophy more than having faith in something greater, something outside himself. I am left wondering if setting up this contrast was Rabbi Angel’s way of saying that the modern Haredi rabbinate is arrogant to think that they can interpret the system so stringently. In a way, this reminds me of the words of Rebbi in Bava Metzia, that the Second Temple was destroyed because we judged people according to the law without showing favorable judgment.