Humanities has a good article analyzing the causes for the uniquely vicious writ of excommunication pronounced upon the philosopher Baruch Spinoza by the leaders of the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam. The text is notable for its eye-popping condemnations, curses, and vitriol, particularly since it was written before Spinoza had published any controversial opinions.
Let’s learn from our Elder Brothers in the Faith: this is how to kick someone out of your religious community:
The Senhores of the ma’amad [the congregation’s lay governing board] having long known of the evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Spinoza, have endeavored by various means and promises to turn him from his evil ways. However, having failed to make him mend his wicked ways, and, on the contrary, daily receiving more and more serious information about the abominable heresies which he practiced and taught and about his monstrous deeds, and having for this numerous trustworthy witnesses who have deposed and borne witness to this effect in the presence of the said Espinoza, they became convinced of the truth of this matter. After all of this has been investigated in the presence of the honorable hakhamim [“wise men,” or rabbis], they have decided, with the [rabbis’] consent, that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel. By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of the entire holy congregation, and in front of these holy scrolls with the 613 precepts which are written therein; cursing him with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho and with the curse which Elisha cursed the boys and with all the castigations which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up. Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law. But you that cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day.
Can I get an Amen!
I’m sure I’m supposed to be all enlightened and hand-wringy about this bilious blast against “intellectual freedom,” but my only reaction was, “More, please.”
Spinoza’s metaphysics wasn’t worth a bucket of cold donkey snot. He was functionally atheist, transforming God into “Nature” and then making him not-God by robbing him of anything resembling power, will, or, intellect. He denied the inspiration of scripture, creation, the covenants, the law, miracles, and everything except a limp humanistic: “Be nice.” He did the spadework for the worst elements of the so-called Enlightenment, and his influence gave us of two centuries of bone stupid commentary on scripture.
Boil him down to his essence, and you get nothing deeper than “The Force is with you.” I think he even wrote about midichlorians.
The Humanities article, by Steven Nadler, is worthwhile as a portrait of that particular Jewish community, and of the reasons they responded to Spinoza with such hate.