Latest Spinozium Tally – With 1 Week Before The FINAL VOTE!

It’s another entirely Sold Out weekend of performances as we return to the poll we’ve been asking audiences to respond to in ballots at the theater and on line — a question which will be more fully debated on April 1st at our “Spinozium…”

SHOULD BARUCH DE SPINOZA’S CHEREM BE REVERSED?

The Background:  In 1952, David Ben-Gurion, in between terms as Israel’s prime minister, appealed to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to cancel the “cherem” (the religious banishment) on Spinoza. The Rabbinate rejected the appeal, arguing that they were not competent to overrule the wisdom of the rabbis who signed the original writ in Amsterdam on July 27, 1656.  Theater J now turns to its own audience to ask, “if you had the power, would you move to reverse Spinoza’s excommunication?”

As of 8 pm, March 25, 2012, votes from theater-goers and online follows are:

527 YES

90 NO

7 NO POSITION TAKEN (BUT COMMENTS GIVEN)

3 SPLIT VOTES

Comment of the day:

“Why do Yes and No have to be different?  They are the same, of God, and they are of nature”

“Yes, but only if everything is political”

“A yea or nay vote is not as important as the fact that we are discussing the issues of philosophy and religion!”

2 thoughts on “Latest Spinozium Tally – With 1 Week Before The FINAL VOTE!

  1. Amicus Curiae Brief:
    Regarding the Motion to Lift the Cherem Imposed Upon Baruch “Bento” Spinoza

    I thank the court for allowing me status to file this brief and beg your indulgence as I proceed in delineating this position. My name is Daniel Smith, and I am otherwise known as Daniel Ben Hourek Ephraim, or Daniel, stepchild of the Western half-tribe of Ephraim. I wish to testify in this matter because of the profound effects Mr. Spinoza’s works have had and continue to have upon myself, and those near to me.
    We meet here in the name of justice, yet I wonder if everyone here is in full agreement as to what justice really is. I have heard some refer to justice as the settling of accounts. This may be, but if it is the case, how does justice differ from mere revenge? I have heard that justice must be merciful, and that justice without mercy is tyranny. Yet justice is not mercy. I have heard others state that justice is undefinable, but we all recognize it when we see it. That statement does not work because justice then becomes some ephemeral concept in the eyes of the beholders that is easily modified by whim and emotion. Juries can just as easily fall prey to good salesmanship as they can dispense real justice.
    In providing a working definition, let us then agree that justice is a reckoning, settlement of accounts or decision that both serves the true best interests and produces the best results for all concerned parties. The party receiving a decision or sentence is, by definition a concerned party. The person, group or groups filing petition of aggrievement are concerned parties. This much is obvious to even the most casual observer. What is less obvious is that the person or group rendering a decision or decisions are also concerned parties, as they have a very strong interest in maintaining their status and recognition of legitimacy in being able and entitled to render such decisions. The society as a whole at the time of judgment or decision must also be considered to be a concerned party, as all are affected in varying degrees by the essence and quality of the decisions made. Lastly, the heirs to that society are affected by the quality and content of these decisions. Are not Germans and Jew living today both affected by decisions by trials at Nuremburg regarding the conduct of their predecessors during the Holocaust? Are we as citizens of the world not affected by the decision of the United Nations, made in the name of justice in 1948 to grant statehood to the people of Israel?
    When true justice is rendered, accounts are balanced, debts to individuals, groups and society are paid, and life goes on. The matters that precipitated the decisions rendered are soon forgotten. When justice is rendered poorly, or not at all (let us say that injustice has been rendered), matters fester. There is disquiet within the very being of all affected by the injustice. That disquiet may span generations. Such is the case in the decision to impose the cherem against Baruch “Bento” Spinoza. If that were not the case, we would not be here.
    Let us note the status of each and every one of us in this room. The court meeting here has no standing or legitimacy to render any decision that is binding in any way for or against any person, party or society that might or will be impacted by such decision. As such, each and every one of us, having recognized the impact of the original decision to bar contact with Baruch Spinoza or his works by every Jewish person of that day and their heirs has had upon us, must recognize our status in this matter either as aggrieved parties or plaintiffs, or as defenders of that decision if we agree with it in whole or in part. We are not jurors and we are not judges. Baruch Spinoza is dead, and he has been in that state for over 350 years. Recognize that any discussion, any debate, any decisions made today will not be for the benefit of Baruch “Bento” Spinoza, it will be made for the benefit, use and enlightenment of us the living!

    I would like to introduce a motion to consider changing the status of the concerned parties in the original cherem decision. I propose that the status of Mr. Spinoza be changed from that of defendant to that of victim. I propose that the status of Rabbi Mortera’s status also be changed to that of victim. Neither of these individuals acted in a vacuum; both were products of and influenced by the society in which they lived. I submit to you that the nature and substance of that influence amounts to forceful coercion. Any action influenced by, or forced by coercion must be viewed in that light if true justice is to be served.
    Those who called themselves Christian from the time that religion ascended to the status of state religion under Constantine I up through at least the time of Baruch Spinoza lived under a special curse. Constantine declared Christianity to be the one true faith on August 25, 325 CE. Later, under the reign of Theodosius, it became a crime punishable by being burned to death for a Christian to disagree with the creeds of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Of course, it was every good Christian’s duty to spread the Gospel and convert the infidel, by force if necessary. Independent thought was not allowable, as that was considered a direct threat to the authority of the Church. The Roman Empire may have fallen politically, but it managed to maintain its influence at least in the West through the Church that it had sanctioned under Constantine. Those were the conditions in which Christians lived during the time of Baruch Spinoza. They were a cursed people, forced to live in intellectual lock step under the reign of those who claimed to have legitimate, G-d given authority over them.
    By a fluke of circumstance probably having more to do with human greed than with enlightenment, the good Christian people of the Dutch city of Amsterdam proved to be far more tolerant of practicing religious Jews than their peers in Portugal and Spain. Jews as a whole were smart business people, and the Jewish mercantile community that had fled the Inquisition in Portugal brought a higher standard of living to the Dutch Christians that allowed them to live and practice their faith in Amsterdam. Judaism was tolerated, but Jewish teaching was not allowed to influence or question the primacy and legitimacy of the Christian Hierarchy. Christians could preach to Jews, but Jews could not preach to Christians. In a very real sense, both societies were victims of the system(s) under which they lived.
    Although he was a victim of the constraints and prejudices of the societies in which he lived, Baruch Spinoza did not acquiesce to wearing the mental and spiritual straightjacket that others would place upon him. Rather than accept the more normative path of belief, recitation and scholarship, Mr. Spinoza chose to question how, and even why things work the way they do. He challenged then current beliefs regarding the nature of G-d. He even challenged and denied beliefs regarding the human soul. I would go so far as to argue that the nature of his denial proved the existence of that very soul, but that is another discussion beyond the purview of this brief. Whether we agree with his philosophy or not is a moot point. Baruch Spinoza willingly and freely chose his course of thought and action, and he faced and lived with the consequences of those thoughts and actions. We argue today that the mental constraints placed upon Mr. Spinoza by the societies in which he lived are not justified by any true legitimacy of the Christian Hierarchy under which he and his Jewish brethren lived. We also argue that the Christian Hierarchy placed undue constraint and influence upon the Jewish community in which Mr. Spinoza lived. Based upon this, I petition this court to recognize Mr. Spinoza’s status as victim, and not that of one creating an intentional threat to either the Jewish or the Christian communities.
    I propose a similar argument regarding the status of Rabbi Saul Levi Mortera. Because of the rapacious nature of Christian doctrine in that time period, Rabbi Mortera was under considerable pressure to either reign in or discredit Baruch Benedictus Spinoza. If he did not, the status and level of seeming independence enjoyed by the Amsterdam Jewish community would have been placed in peril. It must be noted that Rabbi Mortera was no shrinking violet when it came to acquiescing to Christian teaching. He is on record as referring to the so called miracles of a holy nun of Lisbon as so much charlatanism, noting that when King Phillip II of Portugal ordered her to bless his fleet, the ships sank. We may deduce that it was not for lack of a spine that Rabbi Mortera signed off on the edict of cherem, but I submit to you that he was still influenced to the point of duress by the Christian community to take such action. Thus my petition is to also change Rabbi Mortera’s status, at least in part to that of victim.

    The motion before this court is to lift the restraints of cherem regarding the life and works of Baruch Benedictus Spinoza. Given the sentiments that I have seen expressed by those voting on the proceeding to date, I suspect that the motion will carry by a large margin. Let us once again recognize that this motion is not filed for the benefit of the now deceased Baruch Spinoza, but for the benefit of us the living. Let us also use this activity to observe, and recognize our own status as victims in today’s society, and to chart courses for meaningful response to that victimization. Where Spinoza and his societies were victim to draconian religious thought control, we are every bit as much victims of other forms of mental and spiritual straightjacketing. Do we acquiesce to our victimhood, or do we, like Baruch Spinoza, speak up and stand for what we know is just and right for ourselves and for the societies in which we live – even in the face of dire and painful consequences?

  2. There exists a threshold, beyond which we are unable to affect our circumstances. Beyond that point, we are their victims.

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