The Surprising Tale of the Stabbing of Spinoza

In his influential Historical and Critical Dictionary, the 17th-century French philosopher Pierre Bayle wrote that an unnamed Jew stabbed Benedict Spinoza—and that this apparent attempt on his life precipitated his break with the Amsterdam Jewish community. The story is given some credibility in an early biography of the Jewish apostate thinker, published in 1705, even if some of the details differ in the two accounts. But, unlike previous biographers of Spinoza, Steven Nadler believes that, if the stabbing happened at all, it was provoked not by the philosopher’s heretical beliefs but by the anger of a debtor from whom Spinoza had attempted to collect:

The Amsterdam Portuguese Jewish community [to which Spinoza then belonged] was fairly cosmopolitan. To be sure, one was not free to proclaim whatever one wanted; . . . there were clear limits not just to what one could do but also to the ideas one could voice. But many members of the community, including its rabbis, engaged in wide-ranging philosophical and theological discussions. Even if Spinoza went too far—and he clearly did—to see the attempted murder as a reaction to his heretical views and rejection of communal authority now seems to me a little far-fetched. In fact, there is a more readily available and plausible, if mundane, explanation. . . .

When Spinoza’s father Miguel died in 1654, Spinoza and his brother Gabriel took over the family importing firm. Several notary records from April and May 1655 provide an interesting glimpse into Spinoza’s character and business acumen. There were three Portuguese Jewish brothers, Anthonij, Gabriel, and Isaac Alvares, who . . . were jewel dealers and apparently rather shady characters. Spinoza had a bill of exchange—basically an IOU—for the amount of 500 guilders to be paid by Anthonij Alvares. . . .

There was certainly bad blood between Spinoza and the Alvares brothers, who appear to have had a tendency to physical violence. Not only were they giving Spinoza the runaround [when he tried to collect the debt], but they would have been angered by his resort to the legal authorities to have them arrested. It is a classic tale, from a competitive mercantile city in the Dutch golden age where trade disputes were frequent and where it was essential to one’s business to maintain a good reputation for fair dealing. With notarized complaints and arrests, Spinoza publicly put the Alvares brothers under suspicion of being untrustworthy. It would not be surprising if one member of this . . . trio responded with an attack on Spinoza’s life.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Amsterdam, Benedict Spinoza, History & Ideas, Jewish history

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat