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.
Melamed says he has responded to the rabbi, but the content of that response has not yet been made public.
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.
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writings” were excommunicated “with the severest possible ban, a ban that remains in force for all time and cannot be rescinded.”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: