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Cast Out: Taboo, Tyranny, and Tolerance From Spinoza to Modern Times

This course was offered in Winter/Spring, 2017.

Fred RosenbaumYou know the name: Spinoza. You may know the headline: Twenty-four year old Jewish man excommunicated from the Dutch Jewish community. But do you know that Spinoza has shaped modern Jewish life, identities, and attitudes?

On the 340th anniversary of the death of Baruch Spinoza, our symposium will demonstrate by the diversity of our presentations and performances the impact this young man continues to have on Jewish life and thought. David Ben-Gurion was inspired to state that Spinoza was, “The deepest, most original thinker to emerge [from our people] from the end of the Bible to the birth of Einstein.”

And yet, the leaders of his own community declared, “We order that nobody should communicate with him orally or in writing, or show him any favor, or stay with him under the same roof, or within four ells (about twelve 12 feet) of him, or read anything composed or written by him.”

But we will. We will celebrate the heretical impulse, investigate the role of the gatekeepers and censors, the price paid by those who speak out, the vitality of the secularist in the Jewish community, and women and gender issues.

Dedication and Reflection

In support of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) declaring Feb. 12 a National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees, the symposium will begin with a dedication and reflection on refugees today and throughout history. This includes Jews who found refuge from the Spanish Inquisition, especially the Jewish community of the Netherlands, including the family of Baruch Spinoza. Today, we honor the anniversary of Spinoza’s passing, February 21, 1677.


  • David Biale
    Great Jewish Heretics, from Acher through the Rambam to Spinoza


  • David Biale
    Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought

  • Fred Rosenbaum
    The Price of Dissent: Southern Rabbis in the Age of Jim Crow

  • Rabbi Dr. Jay Michaelson
    I Do Not Look to Heaven: The Antinomianism of Jacob Frank, Between Philosophical Critique and Esoteric Myth

  • Naomi Seidman
    Is Heresy Gendered?

  • Darren Kleinberg
    The Sociology of American (Jewish) Identity

  • Tova Birnbaum
    From Archeology to Theology: How The Kotel Became an Orthodox Synagogue and the Woman of the Wall


  • Yair Dalal
    Yair Dalal will play a program of Ladino music and poetry, romansas and intriguing folk tales which deal with ethical issues, relationships and traditions. Dalal will speak to Spinoza’s ideas on the subjectivity of musical judgement. He will also introduce songs of Spain and Safed by poets whose opinions do not always coincide with the opinion of Baruch Spinoza.


  • Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan
    A Eulogy for Baruch ben Michael de Espinosa v’Hana Debora d'Espinoza

The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free. —Baruch Spinoza

Made possible by Ingrid D. Tauber Philanthropic Fund of the JCF and Koret Foundation. We would also like to recognize Adele and Mark Lieberman for generously supporting this event.


# Sessions
Date & time

Sunday, February 12
4:00 - 7:30 pm


Pre-registration is strongly encouraged; if walk-in please bring cash for the door

Session Time Days Location Instructors
Feb 12 4:00 PM–7:30 PM Sun OFJCC Darren Kleinberg David Biale Fred Rosenbaum Jay Michaelson Marc Dollinger Naomi Seidman Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan Tova Birnbaum


Oshman Family JCC

3921 Fabian Way

Palo Alto, CA 94306



David Biale

David Biale David Biale is the Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History at UC Davis. He is the author of the forthcoming Hasidism: A New History and a biography of Gershom Scholem. Recent books include The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Judaism; Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought; Blood and Belief: The Circulation of a Symbol Between Jews and Christians; and Cultures of the Jews: A New History. He is the editor, together with Susannah Heschel and Michael Galchinsky, of Insider/Outsider: American Jews and Multiculturalism.

Tova Birnbaum

Tova BirnbaumTova Birnbaum was born in B’nai B’rak in an Ultra-Orthodox home. Her personal Jewish identity began to evolve when at 19 she became a Sh’licha for an Orthodox school in Los Angeles. After Rabin’s assassination, she helped found BINA, a secular yeshiva in Tel Aviv, which is part of what she calls the “renaissance” of Jewish life in Israel. She has recently served as the North America Central Sh’licha for the World Zionist Organization in NYC, and Founded, with the Ameinu organization, the Voices Fellowship for Liberal Zionist discourse. Now she is joining the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto as its head of Jewish and Israeli cultural content. She is interested in speaking throughout the Bay Area and is especially focused on Talmud, Jewish holidays and Israeli society. She is also an actress and does “theater Midrash” work. Tova also officiates secular Jewish life-cycle events.

Marc Dollinger

Marc Dollinger Marc Dollinger is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University. His books include Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern America, and California Jews (co-edited with Ava F. Kahn). He serves on the California advisory committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the board of the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, and is academic vice president of Lehrhaus Judaica.

Darren Kleinberg

Darren KleinbergDarren Kleinberg is Head of School at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, CA. Ordained in 2005, Rabbi Kleinberg received his doctorate in 2014. He is a faculty member of the Wexner Heritage Program and Gvanim. The title of his forthcoming book is Hybrid Judaism: Irving Greenberg, Encounter, and the Changing Nature of American Jewish Identity.

Jay Michaelson

Jay MichaelsonJay Michaelson is an affiliated assistant professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, and the author of six books, including God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality and Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism. Dr. Michaelson holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University, where he wrote his dissertation on Jacob Frank; his monograph based on that work, The Heresy of Jacob Frank: Esotericism, Sexuality, Antinomianism, Myth is presently under review. Other recent publications include “Queering Kabbalistic Gender Dimorphism” (Theology & Sexuality) and “The Repersonalization of God: Monism and Theological Polymorphism in Zoharic and Hasidic Imagination” (Imagining the Jewish God). Michaelson is also a columnist for The Jewish Daily Forward and The Daily Beast.

Fred Rosenbaum

Fred Rosenbaum Fred Rosenbaum, founding director of Lehrhaus Judaica, has written four books on Bay Area Jewish history and three books on the Holocaust. He has taught numerous courses on the history of contemporary Israel at Lehrhaus and the University of San Francisco. He has been awarded the S.Y. Agnon Gold Medal for Intellectual Excellence by the Scopus Society of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Covenant Award for Exceptional Jewish Educators, as well as the Anne and Robert Cowan Writers’ Award for making an exceptional impact on the Bay Area by writing on Jewish themes.

Naomi Seidman

Naomi Seidman Prof. Naomi Seidman is Koret Professor of Jewish Culture and Director of the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Her first book, A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish, appeared in 1997. Her second, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, was published in 2006.

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan Peretz Wolf-Prusan is the Chief Program Officer and a Senior Educator at Lehrhaus Judaica. From 1975 to 1985 he was actively involved in informal education (UAHC Camp Swig) and in the creation of Jewish scribal art. From 1985 to 1990 he attended the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, receiving his MAHL and Rabbinic Ordination. From 1990 to 2010 he served Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco as Rabbi and Educator, and in 2002, he was awarded the Covenant Award as “An Exceptional Jewish Educator who has had a significant impact on others, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the transmission of Jewish knowledge, values, and identity.” At Lehrhaus since 2010, he is engaged in community education for the Bay Area, focusing on conferences, retreats, tours, the Bay Area Community Talmud Circle, and Lehrhaus Philosophy Circle, and adjunct faculty for the JFCS Holocaust Center.