It was on this date, November 24, 1632, that Portuguese-Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza was born in Amsterdam to a family settled in Holland. The family were Portuguese crypto-Jews – that is, Jews forcibly converted to Christianity while secretly remaining Jewish. Spinoza was a bright student in the Talmud Torah school and might have become a rabbi. His father died when he was 21, and Spinoza’s career path took a sudden turn when his open skepticism about the nature of God, the existence of angels, and the immortality of the soul prompted an attempt to silence him for “monstrous deeds” and “abominable heresies.” Failing in that, on 27 July 1656, the rabbis issued on Spinoza a writ of cherem, or excommunication – showing that Jews can be just as intolerant of Freethought as Christians.
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Originally published October 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.