Recently the Jewish Community of Amsterdam took up the question of repealing Spinoza’s excommunication. The banishment, effected in 1656, has never been formally challenged despite many promptings over the years from within the congregation of those whose ancestors ordered Spinoza’s expulsion.
The present congregation convened its own review board, as well as comissioned an advisory board of scholars and philosophers to consider the question. Several precedents related to revoking such a harsh sentence. (Indeed Spinoza was the only one of Amsterdam’s exiled Portuguese Jews to be so disgraced.) It was established the person in question need be alive, and show some measure of recognition, as well as contrition for their transgressions.
These conditions being absent, the group decided to affirm Spinoza’s outsider status. Thus perpetuating the notion that his views were heretical, however prescient they may in fact have been. After over a year of deliberation, it was decided by consensus that the decree would stand. Spinoza would not posthumously be returned to the fold.
One of the takeaways from the committee's review was the thought that since Spinoza showed no remorse- on the contrary he blatantly furthered his apostate view- he probably would not give a damn about redemption from posterity.
In thinking about this, I have come to disagree with the committee. They are engaging in an act of pride by absolving themselves of blame for the original congregation’s decision. Further, they are projecting on Spinoza continued judgment based on self-justification and wish-fulfillment. And last but not least, by avoiding the thorns they are continuing to take the low road. That's especially unfortunate in the light of a crossroad presenting itself.
By affirming Spinoza’s questioning and universal views, the Jews of Amsterdam could have hit a note harmonizing with an evolved soul, who by dint of heredity alone was, is, and will always be one of their own. And drawn from that note an overtone could have sounded which in itself establishes a positive example of mercy, restoration and reparation.
To annul the ban, ('the shuntment' to use local coinage) the modern, living adherents would have signaled that accepting diversity, as well as having the humility to revise one’s position, is consistent with our highest laws and ideals. They would have stepped-up and taken responsibility. It seems religion, or in any case the religious, have yet to learn the simplest of truths- one leads by following.
h/t- T.M. More details from a recent NYT story