Artwork Title: Spinoza wyklêty (Spinoza, Excommunicated)

Spinoza wyklêty (Spinoza, Excommunicated), 1907

Samuel Hirszenberg

(At least one site gives the title as Spinoza and the Rabbis.) Spinoza wyklêty (Excommunicated Spinoza) of 1907 shows the philosopher in 17th-century Dutch dress walking down the street and reading a book, while Orthodox members of the Jewish community withdraw from him in fear and anger. Hirszenberg directly experienced the confrontation between the old Jewish world and the new one explicitly addressed in these paintings. {} In July 1656, the 23-year-old Bento de Spinoza was excommunicated from the Portuguese-Jewish congregation of Amsterdam. It was the harshest punishment of herem (ban) ever issued by that community. The extant document, a lengthy and vitriolic diatribe, refers to the young man’s ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds’. The leaders of the community, having consulted with the rabbis and using Spinoza’s Hebrew name, proclaim that they hereby ‘expel, excommunicate, curse, and damn Baruch de Spinoza’. He is to be ‘cast out from all the tribes of Israel’ and his name is to be ‘blotted out from under heaven’.... Unfortunately, the herem document fails to mention specifically what Spinoza’s offences were – at the time he had not yet written anything – and so there is a mystery surrounding this seminal event in the future philosopher’s life. And yet, for anyone who is familiar with Spinoza’s mature philosophical ideas, which he began putting in writing a few years after the excommunication, there really is no such mystery. By the standards of early modern rabbinic Judaism – and especially among the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam, many of whom were descendants of converso refugees from the Iberian Inquisitions and who were still struggling to build a proper Jewish community on the banks of the Amstel River – Spinoza was a heretic, and a dangerous one at that. What is remarkable is how popular this heretic remains nearly three and a half centuries after his death, and not just among scholars. Spinoza’s contemporaries, René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz, made enormously important and influential contributions to the rise of modern philosophy and science, but you won’t find many committed Cartesians or Leibnizians around today. The Spinozists, however, walk among us. They are non-academic devotees who form Spinoza societies and study groups, who gather to read him in public libraries and in synagogues and Jewish community centres. Hundreds of people, of various political and religious persuasions, will turn out for a day of lectures on Spinoza, whether or not they have ever read him. There have been novels, poems, sculptures, paintings, even plays and operas devoted to Spinoza.... [Article continues at] ...Uriel Acosta and Spinoza was one of Hirszenberg’s first paintings; his Spinoza and the Rabbis of two decades later is one of his last. No longer a boy in the lap of his heterodox tutor, the Spinoza of this mature work is an excommunicated heretic. Hirszenberg portrays Spinoza, dressed like a Dutchman, walking composedly in the foreground of a cobblestone street, rapt in a book he is reading. To all appearances, he is utterly unperturbed by the scowls and menacing glares of the bearded brood all in black behind him. While one of the men kneels down, perhaps to pick up a stone to throw at Spinoza, the rest simply recoil, packing ever closer together in herd-like fashion, and in so doing underscoring the degree to which Spinoza stands abandoned and alone, apart from the crowd. If Hirszenberg’s earlier opus had hinted at a Jewish counter-tradition of dissent to which Spinoza belonged, here the emphasis was exclusively on rupture. This too, however, was a crucial aspect of the 19th century Spinoza: the “rebel against the past,” the “founder of a new path that our forefathers could not have imagined,” the hero of freedom and solitude. (ibid). []
Uploaded on Feb 1, 2018 by Suzan Hamer

Arthur is a
Digital Museum