In his recent memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, the Israeli novelist Amos Oz recalls discussions he overheard in the late 1940’s as a child in a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. Everybody, he writes, had “definite views” about everything, from the future of Zionism to the novels of Knut Hamsun to women’s rights. Among some local “thinkers and preachers,” Oz adds, were those “who called for the Orthodox Jewish ban on Spinoza to be lifted.” This ban of excommunication, or herem, had been imposed on the great philosopher in 1656.
One of the local Spinozist “thinkers and preachers” was Joseph Klausner, a renowned professor at the Hebrew University (and Oz’s great-uncle). In a 1927 public lecture coinciding with the 250th anniversary of Spinoza’s death in 1677, Klausner, an apostle of “Jewish humanism,” took it upon himself not only to declare “our recognition of the terrible sin” that the Jewish people had committed against Spinoza in excommunicating him but to repudiate the idea that Spinoza was, in fact, a heretic.
About the Author
Allan Nadler is professor of religion and director of the Jewish studies program at Drew University. He is currently completing a book about the reception of Spinoza in modern Yiddish thought and literature.