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by [?]

By a happy accident, this beautiful girl of seventeen had escaped from her tormentors and was huddling, sobbing, in an alley as the young Jew came hurrying by on his way to the ship that was to bear him to freedom. It was near day-dawn–there was no time to lose–the young man only knew that the girl, like himself, was in imminent peril. A small boat waited near–soon they were safely secreted in the hold of the ship. Before sundown the tide had carried the ship to sea, and Portugal was but a dark line on the horizon.

Other refugees were on board the boat; they came from their hiding-places–and the second day out a refugee rabbi called a meeting on deck. It was a solemn service of thanksgiving and the songs of Zion were sung, the first time for some in many months, and only friends and the great, sobbing, salt sea listened.

The tears of the Moorish girl were now dried–the horror of the future had gone with the black memories of the past. Other women, not quite so poor, contributed to her wardrobe, and there and then, after she had been accepted into the Jewish faith, she and Michael d’Espinoza, aged twenty-two, were married.

The ship arrived at Amsterdam in safety. In a year, on November Twenty-fourth, Sixteen Hundred Thirty-two, in a little stone house that still stands on the canal bank, was born Benedict Spinoza.

* * * * *

Benedict Spinoza was brought up in the faith and culture of his people. Beyond his religious training at the synagogue, there was a Jewish High School at Amsterdam which he attended. This school might compare very favorably with our modern schools, in that it included a certain degree of manual training. Besides this he had received special instruction from several learned rabbis. In matters of true education, the Jews have ever been in advance of the Gentile world–they bring their children up to be useful. The father of Benedict was a maker of lenses for spectacles, and at this trade the boy was very early set to work. Again and again in the writings of Spinoza, we find the argument that every man should have a trade and earn his living with his hands, not by writing, speaking or philosophizing. If you can earn a living at your trade, you thus make your mind free.

This early idea of usefulness led to a sympathy with another religious body, of which there were quite a number of members in Holland: the Mennonites. This sect was founded by Menno Simons, a Frieslander, contemporary of Luther; only this man swung on further from Catholicism than Luther and declared that a paid priesthood was what made all the trouble. Religion to him was a matter of individual inspiration. When an institution was formed, built on man’s sense of relation with his Maker, property purchased, and paid priests employed, instantly there was a pollution of the well of life. It became a money-making scheme, and a grand clutch for place and power followed: it really ceased to be religion at all, so long as we define religion in its spiritual sense. “A priest,” said Menno, “is a man who thrives on the sacred relations that exist between man and God, and is little better than a person who would live on the love-emotions of men and women.”

This certainly was bold language, but to be exact, it was persecution that forced the expression. The Catholics had placed an interdict on all services held by Protestant pastors, and the deprivation proved to Menno that paid preaching and costly churches and trappings were really not necessary at all. Man could go to God without them, and pray in secret. Spirituality is not dependent on either church or priest.