According to Léon Poliakow, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) inspired Kant’s anti-Semitism. The inspiration came to happen through Kant’s controversy with the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, whose main works were to a great extent a defense of the Jewish religious faith against Spinoza’s teaching on God and his political interpretation of the Mosaic Law. In the controversy with Mendelssohn, especially in Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Kant ended up getting hold of Spinoza’s arguments and strengthened them.
In the Theological-political Treatise, Spinoza comes to the conclusion that Judaism is not an authentic religion. It has no divine revelation, but is mere superstition and is an expression of incorrigible atavist patriotism. He declares “to have shown that the election of the Jews meant nothing other than temporal physical happiness and freedom, in other words, autonomous government, and the manner and means by which to obtain it.” [Chapter 3, P15]. Ceremonial laws “were ordained in the Old Testament for the Hebrews only […] it is evident that they formed no part of the Divine law, and had nothing to do with blessedness and virtue […] They served to establish and preserve the Jewish kingdom.” [Chapter 5, P02] When the Jews came out of Egypt, “they were entirely unfit to frame a wise code of laws [Chapter 5, P16]; they were all uncultivated and sunk in a wretched slavery.” In this context, the whole Mosaic Law had reference merely to the government of the Jews, and merely temporal advantages [Chapter 5, P19].
Spinoza sharply criticizes the books of the Old Testament [Chapters 8. -10] opposing to them the teaching of Christ “Who taught only universal moral precepts, and for this reason promises a spiritual instead of a temporal reward. Christ, as I have said, was sent into the world not to preserve the State nor to lay down laws, but solely to teach the universal moral law” [Chapter 5, P03]. Thus Spinoza prolongs the line of thought historiography, which since Marcion sets the cruel Jahweh of the Jews against the Redeemer of the Gospel: “This goes so far that in the XIX. Chapter the philosopher uses the authority of the New Testament [… (Mt 5: 43)], to validate the statement that the law of the Moses teaches hate against non-Jews.” Their religion and Scripture turn the Jews into man-haters, and this hatred turns others into Jew-haters:
“Thus the love of the Hebrews for their country was not plain love, but also piety, and was cherished and nurtured by daily rites till, like their hatred of other nations, it must have passed into their nature. Their daily worship was not only different from that of other nations (as it might well be, considering that they were a peculiar people and entirely apart from the rest), it was absolutely contrary. Such daily reprobation naturally gave rise to a lasting hatred, deeply implanted in the heart: for of all hatreds none is more deep and tenacious than that which springs from extreme devoutness or piety, and is itself cherished as pious. The usual cause for inflaming such hatred more and more was not lacking either, inasmuch as the hatred was reciprocated; the surrounding nations regarding the Jews with a hatred just as intense.” [Chapter 17, P39]
Since they thought that they themselves were God’s children, and looked upon other nations as God’s enemies, they regarded other nations with intense hatred, “which they took to be piety, according to Psalm 139: 21, 22” [Chapter 17, P36]. Reasons for the extraordinary constancy and valour of the Jews included “a hatred for others not only permitted but pious”, “the awareness of being hatred by others”, “the singularity of their customs and religious rites” [Chapter 17, P40]. And Spinoza adds that self-interest, the strength and life of all human action, “was peculiarly engaged in the Hebrew state” [Chapter 17, P40].
In the Treatise Spinoza opposes Christ to the Old Testament, destroys the Jewish faith, and presents hatred as the very identity of the Jews and the cause of their “otherness”. After Spinoza’s political theology, the Jews are no longer the people loved by God and who loved God, but the people commanded by their God to hate the gentiles, and in their turn abhorred by them.
Undoubtedly it is Spinoza’s great achievement to have promoted the separation of civil and religious power for founding a political order which respects the freedom of persons. However by depriving the Old Testament of its divine origin and making the “hatred for the other nations” to the religious and social identity of the Jews, Spinoza gave the Enlightenment writers “the tools they needed to undermine the claims of organized religion”, and to get rid of the Jews as a religious people too. In this sense Spinoza can be considered the father of the modern secular anti-Semitism, “perhaps the most horrible form of contempt for the Jews”, Poliakov says.
Spinoza was excommunicated from the Portuguese-Jewish community in Amsterdam because of “his abominable heresies and monstrous deeds” in 1656. The ban against him was incomparably harsh:
“With the judgment of the angels and with that of the saints, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, […] we anathematise, cut off, execrate, and curse Baruch de Espinoza with the anathema wherewith Joshua anathematised Jericho, with the curse wherewith Elishah cursed the youths, and with all the curses which are written in the Law: cursed be he by day, and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lieth down, and cursed be he when he riseth up; […] and the Lord will destroy his name from under the heavens; and, to his undoing, the Lord will cut him off from all the tribes of Israel, with all the curses of the firmament which are written in the Book of the Law.”
Why this wrath and contempt directed at Spinoza? Although the Treatise was first published in 1670, Spinoza’s ideas were presumably already known before, and undoubtedly sounded to the Jewish community like “abominable heresies”. The members of the Council who condemned him give the impression to counter a threat to life. Did they prophetically foresaw that Spinoza’s demolition of Judaism as a Religion could become highly dangerous for a Jewish community? It is interesting to see that since it was enacted “the ban on Spinoza was never rescinded”: Still 2013 “after much thought and deliberation” the conclusion was reached that the governing board of the Jewish community in Amsterdam “should leave Spinoza’s ban in place.”
Charmed by Kant (and his fellow philosophers and theologians) the Jews in Berlin disregarded the ban and adhered to Spinoza’s ideas instead Mendelsohn’s ones. In a sense they were victims of a delusion comparable to that Bernie Madoff fashioned in 2008.
To circumvent lengthy, the post about Voltaire will follow later.