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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy