For decades I’ve joked about an institution I “founded” called the Spinoza Society. It’s a group of distinguished Jews who, over the ages, have been ostracized or excommunicated from their respective Jewish communities for holding views outside the mainstream. They were dissenters who chose a different path. One that took them outside the mainstream, but resulted in ultimate vindication. Of course the first, and charter member was Baruch Spinoza. He was excommunicated from the Amsterdam Jewish Community in the 17th century for speaking heresies in which he denied the Afterlife and that God acted outside the natural order. His co-religionists deemed such views as dangerous and sent him packing.
If we look for the first Jews expelled from the community, we need look no farther than the Bible, where women who were menstruating and all who had skin diseases like leprosy were expelled from “the camp” (i.e. the community). They were seen as defiling the sacred Tabernacle and therefore must be set apart from it till their ailments were healed. Some may argue that women today continued to be viewed as ‘tainted’ and certainly less valued than men, especially in the Orthodox community. But this ostracism derived from a physical condition rather than a personal belief or expression.
Einstein was a heretic of sorts as well, because he rejected Jabotinsky’s Zionist Revisionism. He denounced Etsel and the Irgun going back to the late 1940s and called them “misled and criminal people.” He also refused to accept the honor of being Israel’s second president when it was offered to him. Einstein rejected nationalism, which was the epitome of Zionism. He too is an honored member of the Spinoza Society.
One of the most transgressive members of the club was Lenny Bruce, who was not afraid of telling all of our darkest secrets to the goyim. His provocative comedy created a love-hate relationship both with his audience and among American Jews. Here is one of his classic jokes about killing Christ:
“Yes, we did it. I did it. My family. I found a note in the basement: ‘We killed Him–signed Morty.’
“Why did you kill Christ, Jew?” “We killed him because he didn’t want to become a doctor, that’s why.”
…Not only did we kill him, but we’re gonna kill him again when he comes back.
Here’s another that drove him from the “Israelite” camp:
I was a Jew talking about Goyim. If I had just stuck to Moses, everything would have been cool. But, copping to being part of the whole Christ murder conspiracy got everyone goose-stepping again.
Speaking of great Jewish comedians commenting on being kicked out of the tribe, Groucho of course told the famous joke: “PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER.”
I was one of the early members of New Jewish Agenda, a progressive national grassroots Jewish organization founded in the early 1980s. The group advocated gay rights, the two-state solution, and social justice in America. That platform was considered extremely controversial both in the United States and Israel. I remember a group of Orthodox rabbis meeting in Massachusetts and convening a pulsa di nura, which was a strange Jewish ritual by which Jews would be excommunicated from the faith for heretical beliefs. The Washington Post asked Noam Chomsky’s response (he was another one of those excommunicated):
Linguist Noam Chomsky of MIT, another of those excommunicated, recalled that he shared the honor with the 17th century Dutch philosopher Benedict de Spinoza.
At the time, I was proud to be one of the newly-inducted members of the Spinoza Society.
Today, Israel is vastly increasing Spinoza membership with its excommunication of hundreds of Jews thousands of Jews who show insufficient fealty to Zionist dogma. Any Jew who supports BDS is immediately beyond the Pale, if not a self-hating terrorist. Such individuals are so dangerous that Israeli secret agents are right now burrowing into their homes and lives searching for ways to destroy them and their reputations: that means you, Ronnie Barkan!😉
Currently, in the UK, the Israel Lobby is mounting a scorched-earth campaign against British Jews and Palestinian activists who betray (in the case of Jews) the tribe. One of the latest members inducted into the club was Jackie Walker, who had the temerity to question whether Holocaust Memorial Day was a day that should not also embrace other ethnic groups who were victims of the Nazis. She also correctly claimed that some Portuguese and Brazilian Jews played an important role in financing the Brazilian leg of the Atlantic slave trade. For her trouble, she was suspended from the Labour party. Jackie, join us, you’re welcome to the Club.
Today brings news that a new member of the club is being inducted: Baroness Tonge, a member of the House of Lords. She chaired a parliamentary meeting about the Palestinian the Right of Return. At the meeting, an audience member compared Israel, with its religious fundamentalist faith to Isis, and its Islamist fundamentalism. The comparison, if made in a careful and nuanced way, is a valid one.
But not for the Israel Lobby, which screamed bloody murder in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle, the Lobby’s in-house propaganda organ. As a result, Baroness Tonge has been suspended from the Liberal Democratic Party. She has happily renounced her affiliation and become an independent member of the Lords. Her ostracism is the Spinoza club’s gain. Yes, the Baroness is not a certified member of the tribe. But in this instance, I think we can make an exception. Or perhaps declare her an honorary member of the Society.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.