How was Albert Einstein’s approach to science inflected by his Judaism? Steven Gimbel’s provocative new book takes on the chief accusation of Einstein’s Nazi opponents: the claim that relativity somehow expresses a Jewish sensibility.
Gimbel, the chair of the philosophy department at Gettysburg College, decries the anti-Semitism associated with the Nazis’ attempt to frame Einstein’s theories as “Jewish science,” but he simultaneously identifies a grain of truth in the claim, citing parallels between practices of talmudic interpretation and Einstein’s approach to science.
To understand Gimbel’s argument about the Jewish quality of Einstein’s approach — and to perceive the boldness of Gimbel’s decision to re-examine twentieth-century, anti-Semitic ideas about “Jewish science” — it’s necessary first to understand the historical moment out of which the theory of relativity emerged.
In 1919, British astronomers’ observations of stars seen near the sun at the time of a solar eclipse made Einstein the world’s...