Tal Kogman; Science and the Rabbis: Haskamot, Haskalah, and the Boundaries of Jewish Knowledge in Scientific Hebrew Literature and Textbooks. Year B Leo Baeck Inst 2017 ybw021. doi: 10.1093/leobaeck/ybw021
The present article will examine the rabbinical haskamot (approbations) given to maskilic scientific literature published in central Europe from the last decades of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century. These haskamot include valuable evidence of disputes between maskilim and traditionalists, as well as of important areas of agreement between them. They also shed light on the essential change that took place in rabbis’ attitudes towards the sciences and science books. At the beginning of the relevant period, Hebrew science books were considered by rabbis to be potentially dangerous. Rabbis sought to minimize the Haskalah movement’s impact by blocking its library. To this end, one of the main tools available to them was the rabbinical institution of haskamah. But this state of affairs changed gradually during the nineteenth century. Haskamot and recommendations that encouraged the reading of Hebrew science books became more common, illustrating the rabbis’ awareness of the changing times, as well as the manner in which they made use of the haskamah as a vehicle for achieving the goals they deemed essential at the time. Rabbis began perceiving Hebrew science books as a remedy of sorts for the worrying decline in Hebrew articulacy. Like the maskilim, they believed that reading about astronomy, physics, geography, and other sciences in Hebrew would bypass the need to acquire foreign languages and assist in preserving the Jews’ affinity with the Holy Tongue and the Jewish community.