The Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry at the Hebrew University have the pleasure to announce an international Colloquium on “Science and Philosophy in Ashkenazi Culture: Rejection, Toleration, and Accommodation,” to be held at the AIS on June 25-28, 2007. The colloquium is organized by Ruth Glasner (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Gad Freudenthal (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris) on behalf of the group on “Transmission and Appropriation of the Secular Sciences and Philosophy in Medieval Judaism” at the IAS (March to August 2007) and by Israel Bartal on behalf of the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry.
The purpose of this international Colloquium is to examine the responses of Ashkenazi culture to science and philosophy in the Greek-Arabic tradition, between the 12th and the middle of the 19th century.
Science and philosophy as understood here are a part of the rationalist body of knowledge, which emerged in ancient Greek culture, was subsequently developed in the medieval Arabic and the Latin cultures, leading up to the emergence of modern science in Western Europe. In Jewish cultures it was accommodated first in Arabic (in the East as well as in the West) and afterward in Hebrew (Provence and Italy, notably). One of the most striking and consequential facts of medieval intellectual Jewish history is that this process of cultural transfer did not include Northern Jewry in Ashkenaz and Tsarfat. The rationalist Jewish culture that developed in Hebrew in the wake, notably, of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed found next to no reception in the North: although Jewish scholars there studied the Talmud in eminently rational methods, they as a rule rejected as “alien” the rationalist body of knowledge. A first objective of this Colloquium is to try to describe as precisely as possible the differences in attitude to science in the medieval and early modern Jewish cultures, and, especially, try to explain them.
Although Ashkenazi intellectual activity remained by and large concentrated on Talmud study (to which some circles associated also mystical studies), yet some Ashkenazi scholars evince an acquaintance with science and/or philosophical writings. This aspect of Jewish intellectual history has not been attended to sufficiently, and another objective of the Colloquium is to try to shed more light on it.
Science and philosophy made massively penetrated Ashkenazi Jewish societies only during the Haskalah era. The Haskalah was not one process of acculturation, but a cluster of many, partly independent partly interdependent processes, whose timing and déroulement depend on local conditions in each region and often even in each locality. The cluster of phenomena called “Haskalah” can be said to begin a little prior to the middle of the 18th century and to extend until the second half of the 19th century. Inasmuch as maskilim drew on the heritage of medieval rationalist culture in Hebrew, Ashkenazi Judaism can be said to have accommodated the latter during the Haskalah era, after not having done so during the medieval period. It is another of our objectives to describe these acculturation processes, tracing notably the propagation of haskalah from Western Askenaz (Germany, France, The Netherlands) to Eastern Europe (the Polish provinces of the Kingdom of Austria and The Russian Empire).
The attitude of circumspection that Ashkenazi culture evinced toward rationalist culture in Hebrew as soon as it emerged in the 12th century lasted for many centuries. We can therefore tentatively speak of an Ashkenazi mentalité, very different from the one that allowed Jewish scholars in southern Europe to study science during some four centuries preceding the Expulsion. To describe and explain historically the conditions that produced and maintained this distinctive mentalité and its eventual change during the Haskalah era in Central and Eastern Europe, is the primary objective of this Colloquium.