BARUCH SPINOZA, Dutch philosopher born (b.  1632); One of the great rationalists of 17th century philosophy, he laid the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism. By virtue of his magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, Spinoza is also considered one of Western philosophy’s definitive ethicists. He was raised and educated in the Orthodox Jewish fashion, also studying Latin and was thoroughly familiar with European humanism. What exactly is it that caused him to be excommunicated from the synagogue when he was only 24 years old?

Many scholars have speculated that the horror Spinoza inspired in the Jewish community may have come not only from his espousal of advanced economic theories, but from his espousal, as well, of Greek love among impressionable students in the liberal circle where he taught. A Dutch physician, J. Roderpoort, wrote at The Hague in 1897: “Spinoza excites the youth to respect women not at all and to give themselves to debauchery.” Was Spinoza merely teaching the Greek and Roman classics, with their inevitable passages on pederasty? What were Roderpoort’s motives for discrediting the Jewish philosopher? Was Spinoza, in fact a pederast? It’s all open to speculation.