- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 31, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199754799
- ISBN-13: 978-0199754793
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.1 x 6.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought 1st Edition
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"Jeremy Brown has written a deeply researched and insightful account of a fascinating chapter in the often-fraught encounter between religion and science: the impact of the Copernican revolution on Jewish thinkers from its first appearance to today. This is an enthralling work, a wonderful addition to scholarship on a subject that continues to engage us today." --Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, author of The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning
"This fascinating volume offers both a definitive history of the Jewish encounter with Copernican thought and a carefully-nuanced analysis of how religion and science interact. A model study." --Jonathan D. Sarna, Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University and Chief Historian, National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, PA
"New Heavens and a New Earth presents a fascinating study of a major subject of early modern and modern Jewish intellectual history. Jeremy Brown has written a comprehensive, intelligent, well researched, and well-written survey of the long history of Jewish responses to Copernicus. His masterful treatment of the subject is clearly the best written to date, revising, correcting, and significantly enlarging all previous accounts. Brown's work is a major contribution not only to the history of Jewish thought on cosmology and science but is also important in providing scholars a comparative lens through which to consider Jewish responses with those already well-known within the Christian world and beyond." --David B. Ruderman, Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History, University of Pennsylvania
"Reams have been written about the gradual acceptance of Copernicus's sun-centered system, but this book blazes a new trail: the Jewish reception of heliocentric cosmology. A moving earth challenged the tenets of the Jewish faith, and, as in Catholic and Protestant circles, it took centuries to shake off a strictly literal reading of the Torah. Brown's volume now makes it easy to examine the similarities and differences of these faith traditions on a critical scientific hinge point." --Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science, Harvard University
About the Author
Jeremy Brown is associate professor of emergency medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington DC. He has written for Discover Magazine, and his op-ed pieces have appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Top customer reviews
It shows, on the one hand, the complex acrobatics that some thinkers had to make to acknowledge the revolutionary implications for traditional Jewish belief about the cosmos' heliocentricity occasioned by Copernicus; on the other, the (perhaps even more) complex acrobatics performed by others who were unwilling to contradict what they perceived as traditional rabbinic doctrine, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth. It is both a case study in Jewish reaction to modernity, taking as its subject an issue whose veracity is incontrovertible by most; and a general illustration of traditional religion coping with the challenges of modernity and science.
No review should fail to mention the fact that the author is not even an academic in the field - he is a Professor of Emergency Medicine in real life, which makes his achievement even more impressive! How on earth did he find the time to write this? Has to be a candidate for a "Book Award' somewhere!
When it comes to Judaism, science can open up a long line of endless debates. Is organ donation allowed? Is it acceptable for women to get tattoos? Can a man or priestly descent, forbidden to be in the presence of the dead, dissect cadavers in medical school? The list goes on and one, but in this new book, New Heavens and a New Earth, we focus on one debate only; the Heliocentric Theory. It was not a Jew but a Polish clergyman, Nicholas Coppernick (or Copernicus if you prefer) who decided that the planets revolved around the Sun. Some Rabbis argued in favor, others against. In Judaism, the calendar is based on the cycles of the Moon, so it would’ve come as a shock to some that the great shining star would now be the center of the galaxy.
One unusual Jewish scholar who argued against it was Isaac Cardoso. His family was Portuguese Marranos who were publicly Catholic, but Jewish in secret. After attending medical school in Spain, he moved to Venice and began living as a Jew. What was unusual about him was not that he “came out” as a Jew, but that he went from being pro-Copernican to anti-Copernican. He first argued in favor, citing practical evidence; if the Earth was so tiny compared to other heavenly bodies, it did not make sense to him that the satellites could be greater than the mother planet. Then he argued against it, claiming that the rapid movement of the Earth would prevent bullets from hitting their targets.
A pattern emerges in this book regarding the geographics of the Jewish scholar and the Heliocentric theory. Most of the Jews discussed in the first part are Sephardic, while Ashkenazi Jews factor in later. The Jews of the Mediterranean world appear to have been on the receiving end of all the great scientific knowledge of the world at the time, though it’s understandable, as the Jews of Poland and Lithuania were further away. Later on you have German Jews, like Raphael Levi in Hanover, who argued in favor of Copernicus, in concert with non-Jewish scholars. Another pattern can be clearly seen in this book; the astronomers were all amateurs and hobbyists. Cardoso was a physician, Copernicus was a priest, and Levi was a banker. Nobody went to college to study astronomy in those days, it was the work of mathematicians, and the mathematicians were either bankers or engineers. Perhaps there was even less debate of their work as nobody was truly an expert in the field?
New Heavens and a New Earth is a serious study, but funny as well. I enjoyed reading about how the Jewish community became more accepting of scientific trends, and it reminds me even more of today’s debate over things like grafted fruit trees, genetically modified cattle, and the use of robots on the Sabbath.