It's sometimes said that Freud took Jewish mysticism and universalized or secularized it. Is that true in any way of Spinoza?
Yes, I think a strong case could be made. There are these two, very different scholarly traditions in Judaism, the mystical and the Talmudic. And in Amsterdam, the mystical tradition—kabbalah—was very, very important. At least two of the three major rabbis in Amsterdam in Spinoza's time were kabbalists. In the Tractatus Spinoza indicates that he knows the kabbalah and doesn't think much of it. But there are certain preoccupations—why is there something rather than nothing; the meaning of suffering—that are the two ultimate mysteries that kabbalah wrestles with. And Spinoza wrestles with them as well. Also, the Platonic spirit of Spinoza may have been transferred to him by way of kabbalah. Maimonides is Aristotelean, and Jewish philosophy, to the extent that it was anything, was Aristotelean following him. In the 17th century, what they're rebelling against is Aristotle. But Plato is very much in the air in kabbalah. It's much more a mathematic model. You understand something by grasping the abstractions that it realizes. And there's really a return to Platonism, not explicitly, but implicitly, in Spinoza. Rebecca Goldstein NEXTBOOK FEATURE: INTERVIEW