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Monday, July 27, 2020

Spinoza's Excommunication

Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677)

On this day in 1656, 23-year-old Baruch Spinoza (Espinoza) was excommunicated from the Jewish community of Amsterdam, then the most liberal city in the world. Spinoza had not yet published any of the works that would make him known worldwide as brilliant philosopher, as well as the first to advocate separation of religion and state, freedom of conscience, and political freedom generally. He was one of the fathers of the Enlightenment and perhaps the first classical liberal.

Here is the decree, or cherem, ordering him expelled from his congregation. It was unprecedented in its severity, but note that no specific grounds are given for this treatment. Spinoza did not object to his expulsion. He Latinized his name to Benedict and went about his life as a talented lens grinder and philosopher of reason and libealism, his best-known works being A Theologico-Political Treatise and Ethics.

The Lords of the ma'amad, having long known of the evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Espinoza, have endeavoured by various means and promises, to turn him from his evil ways. But 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 practised 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 the matter; and after all of this has been investigated in the presence of the honourable chachamin [sages], they have decided, with their consent, that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel. By the 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 all the Holy Congregation, in front of these holy Scrolls with the six-hundred-and-thirteen precepts which are written therein, with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho, with the curse with which Elisha cursed the boys and with all the curses 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; the anger and wrath of the Lord will rage against this man, and bring upon him all the curses which are written in this book, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven, and the Lord will separate him to his injury from all the tribes of Israel with all the curses of the covenant, which are written in the Book of the Law. But you who cleave unto the Lord God are all alive this day. We order that no one should communicate with him orally or in writing, or show him any favour, or stay with him under the same roof, or within four ells of him, or read anything composed or written by him.

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