Science in Medieval Jewish Scholarship

Jewish scholars in the Middle Ages viewed science as an avenue for knowing God.

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Yet in contrast to Ha-Levi, Maimonides' approach reflected a remarkable openness to the influence of "foreign wisdom." The legitimization of appropriating knowledge that originated from non-Jewish sources and outside the confines of the Jewish community was a major effect of the medieval scientific movement.

Anti-Rationalism

Science was not without its detractors, as demonstrated by the so-called "Maimonidean Controversy," an anti-rationalist campaign that rejected the philosophical and scientific trend which characterized much of the Jewish scholarship emanating from Andalusia in Spain and, later, from Provence.

Anti-rationalist movements existed alongside the rationalist bent in Jewish thought from the time of Saadia Gaon, though the dispute between the scientist-philosophers and the traditional religious thinkers peaked in the early decades of the thirteenth century and again in the fourteenth.

Opponents of "Greek wisdom," who drew support from the scholars of northern Europe, rejected the synthesis of faith and reason and attempted to ban the study of philosophy and science. But despite their best efforts, the detractors were unable to stamp out the scientific movement, which impacted Jewish scholarship to an extent that was not felt again until the enlightenment of the modern era.

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Rachel Furst is a Talmud teacher and a graduate student in medieval Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.