Anthony Mayer ;  alternative history ;  Jonathan Edelstein's Spinoza in Turkey - Part 17
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1. Preface

2. Spinoza's World, 1664

3. The Sabbateans

4. The Disputation

5. The Holy Land

6. Marriage

7. Common Prayer

8. America

9. Gottfried and Sophia

10. The Sublime Porte

11. Spinoza's World, 1691

12. Mustafa and the Janissaries

13. Naomi

14. Regime Change

15. Tulips

16. Twilight

17. Spinoza's World, 1712

18. Epilogue


Spinoza in Turkey
"In proportion as the mind understands more things by the second and third kind of knowledge, it is less subject to those emotions which are evil, and stands in less fear of death."
-- Spinoza, _Ethics_, part V, prop. XXXVIII

Part 17 - Spinoza's World, 1712

January 1712 found Spinoza in Safed. Strictly speaking, Palestine was his prison, but he was content enough; it was large as prisons went, and no Jew could really be in exile in the Holy Land. He had the means to live comfortably, the companionship of his wife and the friendship of his neighbors, and those were more than enough to sustain him.

Spinoza and Sarah lived in a small house in the old city, on the same street as a Rational meeting hall and next door to the office where she saw her patients. He occupied himself with the same pursuits he had undertaken during his early years in Constantinople; translating Hebrew poetry, corresponding with philosophers and intellectuals throughout the world, and writing commentaries on the Torah. It is also likely that he finished his Hebrew translation of the Koran and accompanying commentary at this time, although it was not published after his death. He did publish a small collection of his own poems, written over the course of sixty years; unlike his philosophy, his poetry was not translated from the Hebrew until modern times and is little remembered today.

As he had fifty years before, Spinoza invited his neighbors into his home for discussions and prayer services; although the development of Rational Jewish theology had long since become independent of him, he was still respected by its practitioners. Nearly all the Jews of Safed were Rational now; Rationalists had drifted in from Europe and the Galilee colonies to replace the declining orthodox community, and the town had come nearly full circle from the days when it was a world-renowned center of cabalism. There were still one or two traditional synagogues in the city, but most of the orthodox Jews had merged with the Rationalists or decamped to Jerusalem.

At the same time, the Rationalists of the Galilee had become more traditional than those elsewhere. The spirit of inquiry and free discussion that Spinoza considered so important was still there, but many of the rituals would not have seemed out of place in an orthodox synagogue, and the congregations practiced meditation as well as reason. Spinoza had found some kindred spirits to take part in his discussions, and a steady procession of colonists visited his house to pay their respects, but the brand of Rationalism practiced in Safed was in many ways alien to him.

In Jerusalem, his old nemesis Rabbi Avraham Amigo was dead, but the holy city was still a bulwark of traditional Judaism. Few letters came Spinoza's way from Jerusalem, and there were still no Rational meeting halls in the city. Elsewhere in Palestine, though, Rationalism was starting to find its way into the cities, and there was also the beginning of a Rational community in Cairo. There, at the seat of the Ottoman Empire's second university, the local governor had favored Rationalists of all religions for professorial posts, and this had not been affected by the change of government in Constantinople. As yet, there were few Rational Jews in Cairo, and the rabbis of the city agitated against them frequently, but the governor prevented them from being molested.

In the other Rational colony - Allegheny - the news was good. There were more than five thousand Jews living there in 1712, along with eighteen hundred of other religions, and the colony had begun to expand beyond the initial settlements. Individual settlers were ranging farther still, trading with the native tribes in the upper Ohio valley and acting as middlemen between the British colonies and the French and Spanish settlements along the Mississippi. At the urging of the neo-Mu'tazilite settlers, the Allegheny Commonwealth also banned slavery in that year - a largely empty gesture given the lack of slaves in the colony, but nevertheless one with symbolic significance.

Elsewhere in America, thriving Jewish communities existed in New York, Newport, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Charleston. In all but Charleston, Rationalists were in the majority, and there were Rational meeting halls there too. It seemed clear that Rational Judaism was the wave of the future in the New World, and it was even beginning to spread beyond North America; in March 1712, the first meeting hall opened in Jamaica, and the archives of the Rational correspondence society in Barbados date to that year.

In Philadelphia, the exile of the Kprl family increased both the number and the prestige of the local neo-Mu'tazilite community. With the addition of the 1710 exiles to the prior Turkish immigrants and freed slaves, there were now more than two hundred Muslims in Philadelphia, one fortieth of the city's population. Most of them had adopted the style of colonial gentlemen and were thoroughly English in their dress and manner; they were substantial men in the colony, with Ismet Celer's son sitting in the assembly and many others practicing medicine and law. The Muslims of Philadelphia were well on their way to acquiring the reputation they would hold for centuries to come - that of a minority distinguished for its industry, sobriety and aversion to crime. [FN1]

In Britain as in America, Rationalists were the majority of the small Jewish community. Their position in British society was one of growing acceptance; although a bill to allow the naturalization of foreign-born Jews failed in Parliament in June 1712 [FN2], the legal climate was otherwise hospitable, and the increasing number of native-born Jews possessed nearly all the rights of other British subjects. Like other non-Anglicans, they could not sit in Parliament or study at Oxford - although, curiously enough, several of them taught there - but these disabilities mattered little in everyday life. This acceptance was mirrored in the attitudes of the Jews themselves, who increasingly saw themselves as Englishmen rather than Jews in England; a manifesto published that year by a Jewish officer who had fought against the Jacobites described the British Jews as "sons of England and loyal subjects of the Crown, who want no other nation." Spinoza's vision of Rational Judaism as a force to break down ghetto walls and unite the scattered Jews with their adopted countries was beginning to bear fruit.

The greatest effects of Spinoza's ideas in Britain, however, were felt in government and in secular academia rather than among the Jewish community. His works were studied and commented upon by the membership of the Royal Society, and his concepts of legislation and social justice informed the political thinkers of court and Commons. Many disagreed with him, and some vehemently so, but his treatises helped shape the debates that would determine the course of the coming century.

In no other country did Rational Jews have the influence they had in Britain. Indeed, in no other place did Rationalists predominate among Jews. There were still whole countries where Rational Judaism had not penetrated; there were no Rationalists in Morocco, Yemen or Persia, and precious few in Poland. There may have been sixty thousand Rational Jews in the summer of 1712; these were drawn disproportionately from the wealthiest and best- educated sector of the Jewish community, but they were little more than one twentieth of world Jewry. Only where the Jewish population was small and the community relatively new - and even there, only on free soil - were Rationalists the majority. As freedom increased, however, so did Rational Judaism, which boded well in a world that was becoming more free.

To be sure, freedom did not progress equally in every place. In the Holy Roman Empire, the position of Jews remained decidedly ambivalent. In Hanover, for instance, Leffmann Behrens was granted a patent of naturalization by Duke Georg Ludwig in August 1712 as a gift in his old age, but the fee for residency permits was increased in the same month. Everywhere in Germany, conditions were the same; rich, assimilated Jews were increasingly accepted into society, but poor Jews were encouraged to leave through steadily harsher restrictions and taxes. The Papal States and the Italian cities subject to the Austrian crown were similar; only in Tuscany did the Jewish population enjoy greater freedom.

In Holland, 1712 saw the formal end of the ban on Spinoza's works. Spinoza had long since outlived his accusers, and the prohibition against Rational Judaism had been steadily eroding for more than twenty years, but it had never been officially repealed. In late October, though, the pressure of the growing Rational community of Amsterdam - now two thousand strong - finally told. To the orthodox Jews of Holland, Spinoza remained herem, but the civil law no longer prohibited his teachings, and the Dutch Rationalists were finally free to circulate his books and worship openly in meeting halls.

But this was something Spinoza would never learn. In early December, he was taken with a sudden illness. He had little resistance at his advanced age, and grew steadily worse as the month progressed. Before long, it was clear that he would not see 1713; he was delirious with fever and no longer recognized the neighbors who came to keep watch at his house.

He was briefly lucid on the afternoon of December 26. He opened his eyes, recognized Sarah by the bedside, and said his last words: "So much yet that I have not learned." Shortly afterward, he lapsed into an unconsciousness from which he never recovered, and just past midnight on December 27, 1712, Baruch Spinoza died at the age of eighty.

[FN1] This isn't necessarily a good thing. Many Americans of succeeding generations will likely have a madonna-whore view of Muslims similar to that in which Jews are commonly held in OTL. Being a model minority can be uncomfortable, especially when some members exhibit non-model behavior.

[FN2] A bill to allow Jews to be naturalized passed both houses of Parliament in 1753 OTL, but was repealed the following year; foreign Jews did not gain naturalization rights in Britain until 1845. This was somewhat less of a disability than it appears - native-born Jews were naturalized from birth, and Jews could obtain naturalization through private bills in Parliament. Curiously enough, colonial Jews could often gain naturalization more easily than British Jews, either by act of the colonial legislature or by one of the blanket naturalizations periodically granted to those who had settled in the colonies before a certain time.

Last modified: Fri Dec 6 12:29:51 GMT 2002