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Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe

Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe

Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 404
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  • Book Info
    Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe
    Book Description:

    This book is the first to examine closely the interaction between Jewish culture, medicine, and science during Europe's age of "scientific revolution." Most students of Jewish history have treated the period from the late sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries as a mere extension of the Jewish Middle Ages, a time when the Jewish world was cut off from intellectual developments in the Christian world. The eminent scholar David Ruderman here argues, however, that during this era Jewish culture and society became increasingly aware of medical and scientific advances, and that a new Jewish scientific discourse evolved that had significant repercussions for Jewish religious concerns.Ruderman discusses the intellectual and social factors shaping Jewish cultural development. He then focuses on three distinct but interrelated groups: converso physicians and other university-trained intellectuals who fled Spain and Portugal in the seventeenth century and served as doctors and purveyors of scientific learning throughout the Jewish communities of Europe; circles of Jewish scholars in Central and Eastern Europe who pursued scientific learning (especially astronomy) as a desirable supplement to their own rabbinic study; and the hundreds of Jews who graduated from Italian medical schools. Ruderman shows how these thinkers formed an international community of Jewish intellectuals knowledgeable about modern scientific developments.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14595-3
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-13)

    One of the most common assumptions about Jews, especially those living in modern times, is their conspicuous involvement in and propensity for scientific achievement. The assumption is based on the noticeably high percentage of Jewish scientists throughout the Western world, and particularly the high percentage of Nobel Prize recipients in physics, chemistry, and medicine who are Jews. Various writers have offered an assortment of generally impressionistic explanations of this striking phenomenon. These include a perceived openness to the sciences in Jewish religious thought, the Jewish drive to try harder in the face of prejudice and discrimination, the Jewish gene pool,...

  5. 1 Medieval Jewish Attitudes toward Nature and Scientific Activity
    (pp. 14-53)

    Although this chapter was originally intended as a prelude to the major part of the book, it presents serious challenges in its own right regarding both content and methodology. Up-to-date overviews of Jewish involvements in the natural sciences from roughly the tenth through the fifteenth centuries hardly exist. The available surveys are primarily bibliographical or biographical, documenting specific Jewish “contributions” to science—that is, the extent to which Jews participated in the scientific activities pursued by their non-Jewish Muslim or Christian neighbors.¹ Furthermore, because most historians of Jewish culture are not historians of science, and vice versa, Jewish scientific activity...

  6. 2 The Legitimation of Scientific Activity among Central and Eastern European Jews
    (pp. 54-99)

    To the historian of Jewish-Christian relations in early modern western Europe, the terrain of central and eastern Europe appears bland and stolid in comparison. From the perspective of the West, Jewish intellectual life seems relatively isolated and inner-directed; on the surface, Jewish writing displays little of the current thinking and literary tastes of the outside world; and the primary dialogue of Jewish thinkers with ideas outside their own culture is with those stemming from earlier Jewish cultures of the ancient and medieval worlds. While Jews of the West were generally conversant in all the major languages of their host civilizations,...

  7. 3 Padua and the Formation of a Jewish Medical Community in Italy
    (pp. 100-117)

    Notwithstanding the openness of the Maharal and his students to the cultural ambiances of Prague and Cracow, neither city came close to offering the same intellectual stimulation that was available to Jews fortunate enough to be living in or to make their way to the old university towns of the Italian peninsula. For a Jewish student in search of a university education who found the means and fortitude to make the journey southward, crossing the Alps to the Veneto, with Padua as his final destination, the contrast was surely remarkable. By way of introducing the novelty of that experience, I...

  8. 4 Can a Scholar of the Natural Sciences Take the Kabbalah Seriously? THE DIVERGENT POSITIONS OF LEONE MODENA AND JOSEPH DELMEDIGO
    (pp. 118-152)

    Leone Modena’s public display of satisfaction with the graduation of Joseph Ḥamiẓ from the medical school of Padua in 1624 was genuine and deeply felt.¹ Equally authentic was his angry and pained response some fifteen years later to the shocking news of Ḥamiẓ’s infatuation with the kabbalah, eventually leading to an enthusiastic endorsement of the messiahship of the notorious Shabbatai Ẓevi. Having encouraged his illustrious student to pursue rational and naturalistic inquiries, Modena must have seen Ḥamiẓ’s turn to mystical fantasies as a repudiation of his prodigious studies and a betrayal of his mentor.² Modena’sAri Nohem, his well-known critique...

  9. Photographs
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 153-184)

    If it were not for a brief remark by Joseph Delmedigo regarding Simone Luzzatto’s extraordinary skills as a mathematician, no one might have associated this erudite but somewhat contentious Venetian scholar with the sciences in the first place. Recent interest in Luzzatto, who functioned as rabbi for almost sixty years until his death in 1663, has centered almost exclusively on his apologeticDiscorso circa il stato de gl’Hebrei et in particolar dimoranti nell’inclita Città di Venetia(Venice, 1638), addressed to the Doge and Senate of Venice, eloquently defending the political and economic rights of Venetian Jewry.¹ Luzzatto’s extant writing is...

    (pp. 185-212)

    The assumption that rabbis Judah Assael del Bene (1615?–1678) of Ferrara and Azariah Figo (1579–1647) of Pisa and Venice were allies in promoting the study of the sciences and in appreciating the natural world might appear ludicrous at first blush. Until recently, the only scholar to make an in-depth comparative study of their writings focused on their severe criticism of rationalism. Isaac Barzilay, writing in 1967, understood “the uncompromising and negative attitudes of Figo and del Bene … against the growingéloignementbetween Christians and Jews, and the increasing hopelessness and despair among Italian Jews which had set...

    (pp. 213-228)

    Well into the first half of the eighteenth century, the issues regarding the place of the kabbalah in Jewish culture, argued so vigorously by Leone Modena against Joseph Ḥamiẓ and Joseph Delmedigo a century earlier, continued to evoke acrimonious debate among Jewish intellectuals of the Italian ghettos. As in the case of Modena’s rigorous assault, the matter of the kabbalah was never considered in isolation but was often interlaced with other intellectual and social concerns, not the least being the emerging prominence accorded the study of the sciences, and especially medicine, within the Jewish community.

    In this chapter I will...

  13. 8 On the Diffusion of Scientific Knowledge within the Jewish Community THE MEDICAL TEXTBOOK OF TOBIAS COHEN
    (pp. 229-255)

    Padua’s most distinguished Jewish medical graduate, with the possible exception of Joseph Delmedigo, was Tobias Cohen. Certainly, hisMa’aseh Tuviyyahwas the most influential early modern Hebrew textbook of the sciences, especially medicine. First published in Venice in 1707 after a delay of some six years, it was reprinted in the same city in 1715, 1728, 1769, and 1850, in Jessnitz in 1721, in Lemberg in 1867 and 1875, in Cracow in 1908, in Jerusalem in 1967 and 1978, and in Brooklyn in 1974. No other Hebrew work dealing exclusively with medical and scientific matters, and unrelated directly to concerns...

  14. 9 Contemporary Science and Jewish Law in the Eyes of Isaac Lampronti and His Rabbinic Interlocutors
    (pp. 256-272)

    The Jewish community of Ferrara in the first half of the eighteenth century, like the rest of Italian Jewry, was dominated by physicians and rabbis, who in most cases were the same persons.¹ No Jew better exemplified this fusion of Jewish legal and scientific expertise than Isaac Lampronti (1679–1756), Ferrara’s most illustrious Jewish citizen, a “medico teologo tra i dotti celebratissimo,” as a later generation of his fellow citizens once called him.² Educated in both rabbinics and medicine, Lampronti had studied with the distinguished rabbi-physician Isaac Cantarini³ and then completed his medical studies at the University of Padua. After...

  15. 10 The Community of Converso Physicians RACE, MEDICINE, AND THE SHAPING OF A CULTURAL IDENTITY
    (pp. 273-309)

    Notwithstanding their large numbers and conspicuous presence in the Netherlands, Italy, southern France, Germany, and elsewhere from the late sixteenth century on, the converso émigrés who returned to Judaism, many of whom were university-trained physicians, have hardly been perceived as major contributors to the scientific revolution. Yosef Kaplan’s recent assessment appears quite decisive: “Despite the relatively large number of Sephardic Jewish physicians in those generations, including prominent scientists (such as Amatus Lusitanus, Elijah Montalto, Abraham Zakut, known as Zacutus Lusitanus, and many others), they took no part in the scientific revolution in the field of medicine.” Kaplan offers an explanation...

  16. 11 A Jewish Thinker in Newtonian England DAVID NIETO AND HIS DEFENSE OF THE JEWISH FAITH
    (pp. 310-331)

    David Nieto (1654–1728), the first rabbi of the new Bevis Marks Synagogue and theḥakhamof the Spanish and Portuguese congregation of London at the beginning of the eighteenth century, is not an unstudied figure in recent Jewish historiography. From the portrait of Moses Gaster to the later elaborations of Cecil Roth and Moses Hyamson, and from the exhaustive bibliographical study of Israel Solomons to the pioneering study of Nieto’s thought by Jacob Petuchowski, Nieto’s public career and theological writings have been examined as thoroughly as those of any other Jewish intellectual figure of early modern Europe.¹ Yet each...

  17. 12 Physico-Theology and Jewish Thought at the End of the Eighteenth Century MORDECHAI SCHNABER LEVISON AND SOME OF HIS CONTEMPORARIES
    (pp. 332-368)

    In 1744 Israel ben Moses Ha-Levi of Zamosc (1710–1772) published a seemingly traditional Hebrew commentary onRu’aḥ Ḥen, a medieval philosophical dictionary commonly attributed to the Maimonidean Jacob Anatoli.¹ Zamosc is known primarily as a Talmudic scholar with interests in mathematics and the sciences who, during his sojourn in Berlin, became an early teacher of Moses Mendelssohn.² In electing to explicate a medieval classic, as he had also done in the cases of Judah Ha-Levi’sSefer ha-Kuzariand Baḥya ibn Pakuda’sḤovot ha-Levavot, he was seemingly revealing once again his strong allegiance to the past and to the traditional...

    (pp. 369-374)

    Having considered Levison’s reflections on Judaism and science in the last chapter, it would be tempting to conclude this book by tracing an inevitable progression (or regression) of Jewish thinking on science from the limited toleration of science of the Maharal of Prague at the end of the sixteenth century to its enthusiastic endorsement by Mordechai Schnaber Levison at the end of the eighteenth. Obviously, such a conclusion would be overly simplistic, and unwarranted even on the basis of the limited evidence presented in the preceding chapters. We can safely conclude, however, that Jewish thinking about the new developments in...

    (pp. 375-382)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 383-392)