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.