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An open letter to Rabbi Serfaty of Amsterdam

The Amsterdam Sephardi community leader is clearly ignorant of the Dutch philosopher's work and unaware his excommunication ended with his death
Detail of a letter from Rabbi Joseph Serfaty, a leader of Amsterdam’s Sephardic community, to philosophy professor Yitzhak Melamed, sent November 28, 2021
Detail of a letter from Rabbi Joseph Serfaty, a leader of Amsterdam’s Sephardic community, to philosophy professor Yitzhak Melamed, sent November 28, 2021

To: Rabbi M. Serfaty
Rabbi, The Portuguese-Spanish Synagogue, Amsterdam
30.11.2021

Rabbi Serfaty,

Shalom.
Yesterday I was overwhelmed by the emails I received showing me the letter from the 28th of November that you sent to Professor Yitzchak Melamed in the USA. In this letter you forbid him to enter the complex of our synagogue, also called the “Snoge,” to study documents concerning the ban on Spinoza in his efforts to create a film about this philosopher.

It would seem that you may be ignorant of the fact that the famous former Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog z.l. (1888-1959) has already stated that the ban was only in force halachically as long as Spinoza was alive. Furthermore, it would seem you are unaware of the story concerning the ban and the many deliberations concerning the real cause of this ban and the very teachings of Spinoza himself.

As for Prof. Melamed, it may be necessary to inform you that he is a deeply religious Jew who was raised in the ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak in Israel and studied in Yeshivot.

Your view that the ban on Spinoza’s works is still in force clearly indicates that you are not familiar with his writings, and are thus completely incapable of expressing an opinion about his philosophy.

As an orthodox rabbi who studied in the ultra-Orthodox Gateshead Yeshiva in England for many years and who has read all of Spinoza’s works, I am of the opinion that Spinoza sometimes deliberately misrepresents Judaism. I am also aware that Spinoza wrote remarkably noble observations about human beings, nature and society which have helped all of us.

For all these reasons I strongly object to your terming the Professor as a “persona non grata” – an act that is a tremendous insult and chutzpah.

By banning the professor from the complex of the synagogue, and as such, not even allowing him to join a minyan in our synagogue, you have created an enormous Chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name, making Orthodox Judaism a farce in the eyes of the many. You have done all of us, who fight for the honor of Judaism, a great disservice.

Shame on you!

You have all the right in the world to disagree with Prof. Melamed, yet it behooves you to invite him to discuss his intentions and the contents of the film, and possibly contribute to his endeavor.

I hope the lay leaders of the Portuguese-Spanish Community in Amsterdam will take the necessary steps to undo this great damage.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Jerusalem

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy and the Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu in Jerusalem. A sought-after lecturer on the international stage for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, Rabbi Cardozo is the author of 13 books and numerous articles in both English and Hebrew. Rabbi Cardozo heads a Think Tank focused on finding new Halachic and philosophical approaches to dealing with the crisis of religion and identity amongst Jews and the Jewish State of Israel. Hailing from the Netherlands, Rabbi Cardozo is known for his original and often fearlessly controversial insights into Judaism. His ideas are widely debated on an international level on social media, blogs, books and other forums.
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