Yitzhak Melamed, professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University, has been declared a “persona non grata” by a rabbi of the Portuguese Jewish Synagogue of Amsterdam, following a request to record footage at the synagogue for a project on Baruch Spinoza.
An Israel television network is making a film about Spinoza, who was excommunicated by this congregation in 1656. The producer of the film had planned to record Melamed in the synagogue and looking through its archives, and asked the synagogue’s officials for permission to do so.
Melamed, a leading 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writings” were excommunicated “with the severest possible ban, a ban that remains in force for all time and cannot be rescinded.” Further, he cites Melamed’s scholarship on Spinoza as the reason he is unwelcome: “You have devoted your life to the study of Spinoza’s banned works and the development of his ideas.” He says the filming request “is incompatible with our centuries-old halachic, historic and ethical tradition and an unacceptable assault on our identity and heritage.”
Here’s the full letter:
Melamed says he has 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 (not his tone, though):
as I suggested in a different context… I am all for minority groups to have the right to decide on their often illiberal and sometimes immoral entry-requirements, not just membership, but also including their houses of worship (as long as Exit is relatively straightforward). The Portuguese Jewish Community of Amsterdam is very small, decimated by the Holocaust and emigration. It doesn’t just have every right to avoid facilitating a movie that however intelligent and sober still will aid in the glorification of its greatest Heretic, but in many ways it has a duty to do so.
See the rest here.
UPDATE 2: The Times of Israel picks up the story.
UPDATE 3: The synagogue has written back to Professor Melamed, saying that Rabbi Serfaty did not have the authority to ban him, 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 has led to an international uproar.” The say they hope Professor Melamed will visit and that the filming will take place. The full text of the letter is below.