November 24, 1632: Birthdate of Baruch Spinoza (known also as Benedict De Spinoza). The life and philosophy of Spinoza are too complex for this brief daily blurb and you are urged to read more about him on your own. In brief, Spinoza was born in Amsterdam to Sephardic Jews who had fled from the Inquisition in Portugal, Spinoza received a rigorous Jewish education including the study of such “modern” commentators as Maimonides and Ibn Ezra. However his inquiring mind led him to learn Latin and to study with so-called free-thinkers. He became a disciple of Descartes and his rationalist philosophic approach to life. Spinoza was a pantheist believing that God was within nature and not above nature with His own divine will. To paraphrase Telushkin, Spinoza did not believe that God created nature, but that God is Nature. In 1656, while still in his twenties, Spinoza was excommunicated (in Hebrew “kerem”) for denying the immortality of the soul and God’s authorship of the Torah. On this latter point, Spinoza was a forerunner of modern Biblical critics. He believed that the Torah had not been written by Moses, but by Ezra the Scribe. The ban from the Jewish community was total. Spinoza spent the rest of his life moving from place to place in Holland studying and developing his philosophical works. At one point he joined a Mennonite sect and changed his name to Benedictus or Benedict. By the time of his death in 1677, Spinoza had developed a philosophy of rational pantheism in which to “know” nature is to know God. Over the centuries, many Jews have expressed their displeasure over Spinoza’s excommunication. In the 1950’s no less a figure than David Ben Gurion tried unsuccessfully to have the ban lifted. From the writings of Spinoza: “As long as a man imagines a thing is impossible, so long will he be unable to do it.” “Men who are ruled by reason desire nothing for themselves which they would not wish for all humankind.” (thanks to Mitch Levin)
For your philatelic enjoyment today, I submit images of two stamps honoring Spinoza – the first, issued by Holland in 1977 and the second, issued by Israel in 2002. The latter issue is of special interest to me given the power that the Orthodox factions in Israel have. Apparently, the progressives and the secularists must have infiltrated the stamp advisory committee of the Israel Post!