Poetry - David R. Slavitt

Spinoza by David R. Slavitt


The Amsterdam rabbis were not altogether wrong.

The kherem on Spinoza was justified

by everything they believed.  He was, in their city,

not just a nuisance but the major threat they perceived

without understanding why or what he threatened.

In 1656 what man in the gabardine of religion

could imagine Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Freud,

not to mention Nietzsche?  The age of reason,

of vertiginous free-fall is dawning there

among a small community of Marranos,

who had no choice but to reject it all

and him with it.


Twenty-some years before,

the Church had been wrong in its wrangle with Galilleo

but, as John Paul II admitted, the earth does move.

The rabbis were much less silly in their worry

about reason run amok, ethics without

God, and destruction not only of what they believed

but belief itself.


                        Kherem?  Give over to God

(often by violence), what they had fled from in Spain.

If we could be there and we had the nerve, we might

tug on a tallit fringe of one of the panel

and point out the uncomfortable repetition

in Amsterdam but with them the inquisitors now.

It’s anyway moot.  We can’t excommunicate Jews,

the Nürnberger Gesetze having determined

that with one Jewish grandparent you were

merely a Mischling but two made you a Jew.

Marked thus with the yellow star, confirmed,

believing or not,  condemned, we were welcomed forever.