The Spinoza Case

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This Friday, I am off to Amsterdam for a one-day symposium co-organized by the University of Amsterdam, CRESCAS Institute for Jewish Education, and the city's Talmud Torah Portuguese-Jewish congregation -- yes, that congregation, the one that excommunicated Spinoza 350 years ago.

Here is a link to the event.

Several years ago, and much to its credit, Talmud Torah, at the request of one of its members, decided to take up the question of whether Spinoza's herem should be lifted. Feeling in need of more information, the congregation's directorship put together a scholarly committee--myself, Jonathan Israel (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton), Yosef Kaplan (Hebrew University), and Piet Steenbakkers (University of Utrecht)--to provide them with the essential biographical, historical, and philosophical background to Spinoza's ban. They also asked us what, in our respective opinions--and we did not confer with each other--would be the benefits to lifting the ban and what obstacles stand in the way of doing so.

I wrote about Spinoza's herem and my experience on this committee in a short essay for the New York Times opinion column "The Stone".
This Sunday, December 6, a sold-out crowd of 500 will hear short lectures from the four committee members, followed by a panel that will include Rabbi Toledano, chief rabbi of the Portuguese congregation, who will presumably explain at greater length his decision that the herem should not be lifted after all.

Stay tuned for a report.