The Perennial Spinoza:
Three hundred years ago, in 1656, the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam proclaimed: “In accordance with the judgment of the angels and the decision of the elders, and with the consent of God and this holy community, we hereby excommunicate, expel, curse, and anathematize Baruch de Spinoza. . . .” About two years ago Premier David Ben Gurion of Israel published an article in which he proposed that the tercentenary of Spinoza’s excommunication serve as the occasion for an official revocation of that ban. Ben Gurion also suggested that the Hebrew University undertake the publication of Spinoza’s collected works in Hebrew. (Actually, a new edition of Spinoza’s Ethics, translated by Jacob Klatzkin, had already been made available some time before. When this translation first appeared, Franz Rosenzweig wrote that in many respects it expressed Spinoza’s meaning better than the philosopher himself had been able to do in the original Latin.)
Ben Gurion’s article provoked a heated debate. In Holland the Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad protested sharply against the idea of lifting the ban of excommunication. In Israel, too, many voices were raised in defense of the Amsterdam synagogue. Rosenzweig tells us, incidentally, that Hermann Cohen, the great German Jewish philosopher, once justified the act of excommunication, declaring that the community had every right to expel a blasphemer and atheist.
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