Amsterdam Synagogue Declares Scholar Spinoza “Persona non grata” (Updated)

Yitzhak Melamed, a professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University, has been declared a ‘persona non grata’ by a rabbi at the Portuguese Jewish Synagogue in Amsterdam, following a request to record footage at the synagogue for a project on Baruch Spinoza.

An Israeli television channel is making a film about Spinoza, who was excommunicated by this congregation in 1656. The film producer had planned to record Melamed in the synagogue and go through its archives, and asked synagogue officials to permission to do so.

Melamed, a prominent Spinoza scholar, shared on Facebook the harsh letter he received from Rabbi Joseph Serfaty in response to this request.

In it, the rabbi notes that “Spinoza and his writings” were excommunicated “with the most severe prohibition possible, a prohibition which remains in force forever and cannot be reversed.” Additionally, he cites Melamed’s scholarship on Spinoza as the reason he is unwelcome: “You have devoted your life to the study of Spinoza’s forbidden works and the development of his ideas. He says the filming request “is inconsistent with our age-old halachic, historical and ethical tradition and constitutes an unacceptable assault on our identity and heritage.”

Here is the full letter:

Melamed says he responded to the rabbi, but the content of that response has not yet been made public.

UPDATE 1: Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) defends the rabbi’s position (but not his tone):

as I have suggested in a different context… I am all for minority groups having the right to decide their often illiberal and sometimes immoral entry requirements, not just membership but also their places of worship (as long as the output is relatively simple). The Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam is very small, decimated by the Holocaust and emigration. He not only has the right to avoid facilitating a film that, no matter how smart and sober, will help glorify its greatest heretic, but in many ways he has a duty to do so.

See the rest here.

UPDATE 2: The Times of Israel picks up the story.

UPDATE 3: The synagogue responded to Professor Melamed, saying that Rabbi Serfaty had no authority to ban it, and expressing “regret that a perfectly normal request to visit the premises of the Portuguese Synagogue in order to work on a documentary for Kan Israel Broadcasting Corporation caused an international outcry. They say they hope Professor Melamed will come and the shooting will take place. The full text of the letter is below.


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