The Writ of Cherum Against Spinoza

Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677)

On July 27, 1656 the Jewish community issued the writ of cherum against Baruch Spinoza — its harshest form of excommunication.  The language of the writ is unusually harsh, but it does not state with certainty the reasons for its issuance.  According to philosopher and Spinoza biographer, Steven Nadler, it is likely that the writ was issued because Spinoza “was giving utterance to just those ideas that would soon appear in his philosophical treatises.  In those works, Spinoza denies the immortality of the soul; strongly rejects the notion of a providential God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and claims that the Law was neither literally given by God nor any longer binding on Jews.  Can there be any mystery as to why one of history’s boldest and most radical thinkers was sanctioned by an orthodox Jewish community?”

The writ of cherum against Spinoza was effected by way of public denunciation.  Nadler provides the following translation of the official record:

The lords of the ma’amad, having long known of the evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Espinoza, have endeavored by various means and promises to turn him from his evil ways.  But having failed to make him mend his wicked ways, and, on the contrary, daily receiving more and more serious information about the abominable heresies which he practiced and taught and about his monstrous deeds, and having for this numerous trustworthy witnesses who have deposed and born witness to this effect in the presence of the said Espinoza, they became convinced of the truth of the matter; and after all of this has been investigated in the presence of the honorable chachamin, they have decided, with their consent, that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel. 

By the decree of the angels, and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse, and damn Baruch de Espinoza with the consent of God, blessed be He, and with the consent of all the Holy Congregation, in front of these holy Scrolls with the six-hundred-and-thirteen precepts which are written therein with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho, with the curse with which Elisha cursed the boys, and with all of the curses which are written in the Book of the Law.  Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down, and cursed be he when he rises up; cursed be he when he goes out, and cursed be he when he comes in. 

The Lord will not spare him; the anger and wrath of the Lord will rage against this man, and bring upon him all the curses that are written in this book, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven, and the Lord will separate him to his injury from all the tribes of Israel with all the curses of the covenant, which are written in the Book of the Law.  But you who cleave unto the Lord God are all alive this day.  We order that no one should communicate with him orally or in writing, or show him any favor, or stay with him under the same roof, or within four ells of him, or read anything composed or written by him.

Print Friendly