• 16 BENEDICT DE SPINOZA
The logical place to seek refuge was the Republic of the Nether- lands, which had recently declared its independence from Spain and was engaged in war with that country. Not only did the young
Dutch Republic share with the Marranos a common hatred of Spain and the Inquisition, but it also was the most enlightened country in
Europe at the time and allowed some measure of religious tolera- tion. Furthermore, this was the time of the formation of the East
India and West India companies and the emergence of the Republic as a great commercial power. For this reason both the capital and the commercial abilities of the Marranos were welcome, and they were allowed to settle in Amsterdam, which, with their help, soon became the commercial center of Europe. It should be noted, how- ever, that even in the Republic religious toleration was far from complete. The political strength of the Calvinist clergy was far too great to allow that. Thus, although the first Marranos settlers ar- rived in Amsterdam in 1593, it was not until 1619 that they received official permission to hold public worship, and not until 1657 that they were granted citizenship.? This common experience, together with the role which it played in the economic life of the Republic, helped to determine some of the special characteristics of the Jewish community in Amsterdam. As a direct result of this experience, many of the leaders of this community were highly cultivated men, but because of their roots, this culture was more Iberian and general
European than Jewish. They had been educated in Spanish univer- sites and trained in scholastic ways of thinking. Their native lan- guages were Spanish and Portuguese, and they were more at home in Latin than in Hebrew. Furthermore, their commercial adven- tures had brought them into contact with a wide variety of peoples and tended to further inculcate a cosmopolitan rather than a ghetto outlook. Nevertheless, their commitment to Judaism was quite re- al. As Spinoza himself was later to note, their common experience of suffering and persecution served only to reawaken and strengthen their adherence to the Jewish faith, and to intensify their resolve to affirm and preserve their Jewish identity as a people chosen by God.
In addition to this religious factor, economic interests also served as a powerful unifying force in the community and a source of shared values. It has been claimed that the Amsterdam Jewish community was not only a religious group, but also "a virtually autonomous socio-economic entity which negotiated with other nations, cities and Jewish communities." Even if this may be regarded as some-
The Life of Spinoza 17
what of an overstatement, the facts remain that the community was a tightly knit economic group; that as a result of the capital and expertise of some of its members the community as a whole was fairly prosperous; and that commercial success was a focal point of community concern.
As one might expect, this was reflected in a basically conservative political stance. Externally, the Jewish community was a strong supporter of the House of Orange, the source of the Stadtholders who had served as its protectors. Power within the community was concentrated in the hands of the wealthy commercial leaders. The synagogue was the real seat of this power and its ruling council functioned as a virtual dictatorship, exercising almost absolute con- trol over all aspects of community life. Dissent was prohibited, and the publication of allegedly libelous writings or the expression of disrespect for the presiding authority was punished with excom- munication.5 Such control was rendered necessary, not only by the desire of the commercial oligarchy to remain in power, but also by the precarious position of the community within the Republic. Hav- ing recently escaped from the clutches of the Inquisition, and being keenly aware of the far from liberal attitude of the Reformed clergy, they were understandably anxious to keep their own house in order.
This sense of danger was exacerbated by the activities of notorious heretics such as Uriel Acosta, who was excommunicated in 1640. In many ways a precursor of Spinoza, Acosta not only aroused the wrath of the leaders of the Jewish community by ridiculing their religious practices and materialistic values, but also openly denied the immortality of the soul, an act which was sure to arouse the attention of the Reformed clergy.
Both Baruch de Spinoza's grandfather, Abraham Espinoza, and his father, Michael Espinoza, were among the leaders of the com- munity. His father in particular was a fairly prosperous, although not wealthy, merchant and held several honorary positions. Thus
Spinoza was by birth part of the commercial establishment, and was undoubtedly instilled with its values as a child. Apart from the fact that the Espinoza family suffered a number of domestic sorrows, with Michael outliving all three of his wives and all but two of his six children (Baruch and Rebecca, an older half-sister), not much is really known about the philosopher's early homelife. We do, how- ever, have considerable information concerning his early education.
This was entirely religious in nature, and it took place at the Jewish
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