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Reviewed by:
  • Leibniz und das Judentum
  • J. Thomas Cook
Daniel Cook, Hartmut Rudolph, and Christoph Schulte , editors. Leibniz und das Judentum. Studia Leibnitiana Sonderhefte, 34. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2008. Pp. 283. Paper, €39.00.

This volume is a collection of papers presented at an international conference (Potsdam, 2004) entitled "Leibniz' Stellung zum Judentum" ("Leibniz's Stance toward Judaism"). Ten of the essays are in German, four in English, and one in French. The topic is unusual, for as the editors point out in their introductory essay, Leibniz wrote no major works or essays on the subject of the Jews or on Judaism. The paucity of direct textual resources is reflected in the volume under review, for most of these essays are only tangentially connected with Leibniz or his philosophy. Still, Leibniz was a man of his time, and in that time there was considerable interest in Judaism, the Hebrew Bible, the hoped-for conversion of the Jews, and the proper place of the Jews in a Christian polity. These subjects connected with each other and with mainstream philosophy in interesting (if mostly indirect) ways. The essays in this collection explore several of these connections.

The papers are organized into four sections, the first entitled "The Historical Situation and Leibniz's Concrete Dealings with Jews in his Time." The first essay, by Ursula Goldenbaum, [End Page 378] discusses the one well-documented case in which Leibniz engaged directly and extensively with the ideas of a Jewish philosopher on questions of scriptural interpretation. Goldenbaum's essay provides a valuable overview of ways in which Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise challenged Leibniz and influenced his views on topics as seemingly disparate as the Christian mysteries and religious tolerance. The second essay (by Christoph Schul) tells of a young Jewish man (Raphael Levi) who was a student of Leibniz for six years late in the philosopher's life. A mathematician and astronomer, Levi is described as an early Jewish Aufklärer who remained religiously observant. In the third essay, Rotraud Ries explores ways in which the Jews and the court aristocracy might have interacted in Hannover in Leibniz's time. Leibniz appears chiefly by way of a brief discussion of the women of the court with whom he enjoyed friendship and conversation. In the final essay in this section, Hiltrud Wallenborn reminds us that Leibniz visited Amsterdam in 1676 and speculates that he would have visited the recently dedicated Portuguese synagogue. The author recounts some of the history of that city's Jewish community, focusing on the importance of Grotius's proposals for a legal framework for dealing with the Jews. Leibniz re-enters the story late in the essay, as Wallenborn reads the Justo Dissertatio as indicating that Leibniz had ". . . barely any interest in and apparently even less sympathy for the legal and social situation of the [Amsterdam Sephardim] community or for the religious-political structures which had made its existence possible" (90-91).

Part II is entitled "Leibniz, the philosophia perennis and the Authority of Religious Traditions." Patrick Riley's opening essay highlights the Platonic roots of some of Leibniz's most basic doctrines and beliefs. The focus is a lecture that Leibniz gave in 1714 entitled "On the Greeks as Founders of a Sacred Philosophy" (included in the original Latin as an appendix to Riley's article). Brigitte Saouma traces the rise of Christian interest in Jewish literature in the Middle Ages, surveying Leibniz's opinions and emphasizing that he does not, on the whole, repeat or endorse traditional negative judgments. Jaime de Salas writes on "Leibniz and the Interpretation of Bodin's Colloquium Heptaplomeres," noting that any conclusions about possible influences of Bodin's work on Leibniz would be speculative.

Part III deals with "Leibniz and the Hebrew Bible" and contains three of the most interesting pieces in the volume. First, Daniel Cook nicely summarizes the sources of interest in the Hebrew language and scriptures among Christian and secular thinkers in Leibniz's day. Stephan Waldhoff follows with a wide-ranging and richly documented discussion of the difficulties that arose in Leibniz's day for the traditional Bible-based history of humanity. Wenchao Li rounds out these three essays with another...


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