Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Judaism, Israel, Spinoza


On July 27, 1656, at the age of twenty-three, Baruch Spinoza was cast out of the Jewish community of Amsterdam. In a proclamation read publicly in the Portuguese Synagogue, the "Lords of the ma'amad" [Synagogue Board] declared that,

having long known of the evil opinions and the acts of Baruch de Spinoza... [and] 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... [we] have decided... that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel.

By placing Spinoza in cherem-a ban or excommunication-the elders declared him not only forbidden, but a source of pollution or corruption; he was menuddeh-"defiled:' To escape further contagion, all the "people of Israel" were forbidden to communicate with him either in person or in writing. As if Spinoza carried a contagious disease, community members were told to remain at least four cubits distance from the rebel at all times.