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February 08, 1974 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1974-02-08

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Ben-Gurion and Spinoza: The God-Idea in B-G's Philosophy

David Ben-Gurion's philosophic views as
well as his personality will 'be subjects for
discussion without limit, by his contem-
poraries and by future generations. His
ideological emphases have been under dis-
cussion since his death in December. Sur-
prisingly, one subject has been ignored: his
advocacy, on the occasion of the tercen-
tenary of the excommunication of Baruch
Spinoza by the Amsterdam Jewish com-
munity, that the philosopher should be
reinstated as a Jew and that Israel should
publish his collected works.
Nothing has come of this suggestion.
Perhaps it is because the Herem — the ex-
communication — of Spinoza has had less
effect in Jewish life generally than the un-
inhibited, constant reference to Spinoza in
Jewish ranks as if he had never left the
fold, or rather had never been ousted from
it. Nevertheless, history records the ex-
pulsion of Spinoza from the ranks in which
he was raised for his heretical views. It
was because his ideas were condemned as
heresy towards Christianity as well as
Judaism that the Jewish community, non-
too-secure even in Holland, hastened to
punish a heretic who himself stemmed from
Marrano ranks.
Perhaps Ben-Gurion was especially in-
fluenced towards Spinoza because the ex-
communicated philosopher at one time ex-
pressed belief in a reconstructed Jewish
state. He had written in reference to the
Jewish people:
"I would go so far as to believe that, if
the foundations of religion have not en-
feebled their minds, they may, if the occa-
sion presents itself amid the changes to
which human affairs are liable, even raise
their empire anew, and that God may elect
them a second time."
This excerpt from Spinoza's "Tractatus
Theologico-Politicus" is of considerable in-
terest in view of this reference to Spinoza's
Jewish attitudes by Heinrich Graetz in his
"History of the Jews":
"In spite of his condemnatory verdict on

Moshe Pearlman

Judaism, he was struck by two phenomena,
which he did not fully understand, and
which, therefore, he judged only superfi-
cially. according to his system. These were
the moral greatness of the prophets, and
the superiority of the Israelite state, which
in a measure depend on each other. With-
out understanding the political organization,
in Which natural and moral laws, necessity
and freedom work together, Spinoza ex-
plains the origin of the Jewish state, that

Baruch Spinoza

is, of Judaism, in the following manner:
When the Israelites, after deliverance from
slavery in Egypt, were free from all politi-
cal bondage, and restored to their natural
rights, they willingly chose God as their
Lord, and transferred their rights to Him
alone by formal contract and alliance. That
there be no appearance of fraud on the
divine side, God permitted them to recog-
nize His marvelous power, by virtue of
which He had hitherto preserved, and
promised in future to preserve them, that
is, He revealed Himself to them in His glory
on Sinai; thus God became King of Israel
and the state a theocracy. Religious opin-
ions and truths, therefore, had a legal
character in this state, religion and civic
right coincided. Whoever revolted from re-
ligion forfeited his rights as a citizen, and
whoever died for religion was a patriot ..."
Graetz, the pious historian and the dedi-
cated Jew, provided thorough review of
Spinoza's teachings in his monumental "His-
tory of the Jews," and he defined the
threats to the Jewish community from
Spinozaism, thus:
"Spinoza might have brought Judaism
into extreme peril; for he had not only
furnished its opponents with the weapons
of reason to combat Judaism more effec-
tually, but also conceded to every state and
magistrate the right to suppress it and use
force against its followers, to which they
ought meekly to submit. The funeral piles
of the Inquisition for Marranos were, ac-
cording to Spinoza's system, doubly justi-
fied; citizens have no right on national
grounds to resist the recognized religion of
the state, and it is folly to profess Judaism
and to sacrifice oneself for it. But a peculiar
trait of Spinoza's character stood Judaism
in good stead. He loved peace and quiet too
well to become a propagandist for his criti-
cal principles . . ."
For David Ben-Gurion, nevertheless, the
tercentenary of the Herem was a time for
forgiveness. Might he have become a Spin-
ozist? In the time of Moses Mendelssohn
his close friend Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
was accused by the Christian theologian
Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi of being a Spino-
zist. It was then — 200 years ago — con-
sidered adherence to heresy. Mendelssohn
strongly defended his close associate against
the charge. Ben-Gurion needed no defense.
He affirmed belief in God. To this writer
he wrote in March 1972:
"I have not the slightest shadow of
doubt that God exists. He is not a body and

He is free from all the accidents of matter.
We can neither see Him nor hear Him. He
has no lineness but He exists and without
Him nothing can exist in the universe. This
is a profound and correct belief and no
science can speak a greater truth than it.
This is conviction."
He was more expressive when he ex-
changed views with one of his closest asso-
ciates, Moshe Pearlman, who compiled a
most interesting book, "Ben-Gurion Looks
Back" (Schocken). In that collection of Ben-
Gurion's views on all conceivable subjects,
Pearlman, in his talks with Ben-Gurion
gathered his ideas on God and religion. In
these talks Ben-Gurion spoke his interest
in Spinoza. His regret at Spinoz•'s having
been "Cast out" as Ben-Gurion phrased it,
was expressed in this statement quoted by
"The great Book, or rather the collec-
tion of great Books, which has given us the
honor to be known as the People of the
Book, was created at a time when we lived
and enjoyed sovereignty in our own land.
Though we were a small and poor people,
small in number and the size of our ten -i-
tory, we were second to no nation in crea-
tiveness, giving to ourselves and the world
these Books of the highest spiritual values,
of an enduring expression of poetry,
thought, morality and religion.
"What happened when we went into
exile? We continued to live in our hearts
and our minds within the bounds of this
biblical heritage. But we did not continue
our creative process, except for multiplying
our interpretations of interpretations and
explanations of the explanations of our
sacred writings. Our spiritual lives, like our
material lives, were impoverished. They
were shrivelled. And if we did produce
some creative genius, we were quick to
condemn him. In the 17th Century, at
the beginning of the modern renaissance
period, a great eagle, Baruch Spinoza,
emerged from our midst and in his lofty
thought rose to the skies. What did we do?
We cast him out. He gave his wisdom to
others, uttering his profound words in a
foreign tongue. We lived in a political, an
economic and also a spiritual ghetto. This
was not because our creative power had
atrophied — if it had, we could never have
maintained our identity under the terrible
hardships we suffered — but because we
had been torn from the source of our
people's vitality, their independent home-
Another reference to Spinoza contained
in Pearlman's veritable anthology of Ben-
Gurionian views was an answer to Pearl-
man's question "Do you believe in God?"
To which, as recorded by Pearlman in his
collected talks with the architect of the
Jewish state, Ben-Gurion replied:
"You are right. This is of concern only
to the individual. But I do not mind answer-
ing you. I do believe in the existence of a
spiritual, eternal, all-embracing superior
being, but I cannot say that I share the
belief of most of my orthodox friends. Is
it not curious that even institutionalized
religion nowhere describes God in any posi-
tive or recognizable way? We know what
God is NOT — He is not a man, He has
no ears, no eyes. For easier common comm•
prehension and to make Him familiar to
people, He is often evoked in human form,
and we even use the personal pronoun,
with a capital H; but when it comes to
scholarly definition as for instance by
Maimonides, He is defined more by what
He is not than by what He is.
"Nevertheless, as I say, I do believe that
there must be a being, intangible, inde-
finable, even unimaginable, but something
infinitely superior to all we know and are
capable of conceiving. Without such a being,

there are certain phenomena which just
cannot be explained. What is it, for example,
that enables man to think? His brain is
matter, just like a table. But a table does
not think. The brain is part of a living
organism, like my finger-nail, but my finger-
nail cannot think. Nor can the brain think
when removed from the body. But the
whole of the living body taken together
becomes a thinking being.
"I once talked about this to Einstein.
Even he, with his great formula about
energy and mass, agreed that there must
be something behind the energy. And when
I spoke of this to Niels Bohr, he too agreed,
and thought it was probably true of the
entire cosmos, that behind it there must
be some superior being. This is also
Spinoza may have meant.
"If, then, by 'God' is meant • such a
superior being, which is neither material
nor tangible, I say that I believe in God.
From this it follows that, while I respect
the faith of those who believe that every-
thing written in the Bible is divinely in-
spired, my own approach is that I accept
what is written in the Bible except the
passages where God is given material form,
for example where He is represented as
speaking, and being spoken to; except for
the textual contradictions; and except for
the sections which run counter to the laws
of nature. If I believe that the world was
created by the Lord, I believe that He has
more sense than all of us put together,
and He instituted specific laws in accord-
ance with which nature exists. Flinging a
staff and turning it into a snake, as Moses
is said have done in Pharaoh's court, is
against the laws of nature; therefore I
cannot accept it as a true record of what
happened, for I cannot accept that God
would deviate from His carefully conceived
laws governing nature. But I respect those
who do accept it, just as I respect their
belief in a conception of God different from
These views are inerasable from the
record of Ben-Gurion's attitudes which will
retain an interest for future generations.
The founding prim
_ e minister of the Jewish
state, a staunch labor leader, was always
viewed as an atheist, as an unbeliever. In
his later years he emerged with a firm
belief, with a theological philosophy. It had
been spoken of as (Albert) Einsteinian and
as Spinozist. Perhaps it is simply: Ben-

(Copyright, 1974, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Inc.)

David Ben-Gurion

Golds, World Zionist Organization Issue Pleas for an Increase in Aliya

passioned pleas to Jews all
over the world to immigrate
to Israel to "build the land"
and to stand "where the su-
preme struggles of Jewish
history are being waged"
were issued here by Premier
Golda Meir and by the World
Zionist Organization Execu-
Mrs. Meir's appeal was in

2—Friday, February 8, 1974

the form of a letter ad-
dressed to Leon Dulzin, act-
ing chairman of the WZO Ex-
ecutive, which will be distrib-
uted abroad during the "Ali-
ya Months" that will be held
in various countries February
through April to try to stimu-
late increased immigration
from Western countries.
The texts of the letter and
of a "Call to the Jewish Peo-

ple from the World Zionist
Organization" were released
at a meeting of the WZO ex-
ecutive presided oved by Dul-
zin and attended by members
from Israel and abroad.
She said in part:
"The meaning of a Jewish
state is first and foremost an
aliya oriented state, a state
to which thousands of our
brethren will immigrate and
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS in which they will be ab-
i t

• o'


sorbed. A strong Israel, an
Israel whose future and fate
are in her own hands—means
an Israel in which many mil-
lions of Jews are building
their homes. For us aliya is
our life blood. Confident in
our own stand, convinced of
our inherent ability to over-
come all difficulties, believ-
ing in the Jewish people, I
call upon you: Come to Israel
and build the land."

The WZO executive's mes- the challenges of peace," the
sage, in a similar vein, ob- message said. "Today, more
served that Israel was "on than ever, Israel needs Jews
the threshold of f a t e f u l who will come here on aliya
times" in which it could once and join us—with their talent,
again find itself at war or energy, professional skills
"may have embarked on the and devotion—in building a
road to peace. Either altern-
ative means that we must free Jewish society, a com-
build a strong Israel, an Is- monwealth founded on values
rael firmly rooted in its soil, and deeds that shall attract
an Israel capable of facing every Jew wherever he may
the enemy while facing up to be."



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