Bans, Then and Now

Can anything surprise us anymore? A madman with no political experience who boasts of sexually assaulting women is elected president of the United States, and the only thing that keeps him from doing irreparable harm to the American republic is his own stupidity and incompetence. A rabid mob of citizens, incited by his lies and the misinformation promulgated by right-wing pundits, attacks and ransacks the United States Capitol while Congress is in session. In America, books are being banned from libraries and schools. Meanwhile, the planet is on what seems to be an irreversible path to environmental disaster, while a global pandemic continues to rage and disrupt our social, economic, and political welfare. Conspiracy theories are everywhere. And none of this is keeping billionaires from devoting their immense wealth to a competition that involves sending themselves (on round-trips, alas) into space. We deserve to be the least surprisable, the most jaded and disabused, people who ever lived. And yet, out of a usually quiet corner of the beautiful, peaceful, and tolerant city of Amsterdam, late in the year of 2021, came this gem of a letter, addressed by a prominent Dutch rabbi to an Israeli-American professor of philosophy: Amsterdam, 28 November 2021 / 24 Kislev 5782 To the attention of Professor Yitzhak Melamed, The chachamim [rabbis] and parnassim [lay directors] of Kahal Kados Talmud Torah [Talmud Torah Congregation] excommunicated Spinoza and his writings with the severest possible ban, a ban that remains in force for all time and cannot be rescinded. You have devoted your life to the study of Spinoza’s banned works and the development of his ideas. Your request to visit our complex and create a film about this Epicouros [heretic] in our Esnoga [synagogue] and Yeshiva (Ets Haïm) is incompatible with our centuries-old halachic, historic, and ethical

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