Skip to main content
Back to Results
Share this Title:

A Chosen Calling

Jews in Science in the Twentieth Century

Noah J. Efron

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy

Questions traditional explanations for Jewish excellence in science in the United States, the Soviet Union, and Palestine in the twentieth century.

Scholars have struggled for decades to explain why Jews have succeeded extravagantly in modern science. A variety of controversial theories—from such intellects as C. P. Snow, Norbert Wiener, and Nathaniel Weyl—have been promoted. Snow hypothesized an evolved genetic predisposition to scientific success. Wiener suggested that the breeding habits of Jews sustained hereditary qualities conducive for learning. Economist and eugenicist Weyl attributed…

Questions traditional explanations for Jewish excellence in science in the United States, the Soviet Union, and Palestine in the twentieth century.

Scholars have struggled for decades to explain why Jews have succeeded extravagantly in modern science. A variety of controversial theories—from such intellects as C. P. Snow, Norbert Wiener, and Nathaniel Weyl—have been promoted. Snow hypothesized an evolved genetic predisposition to scientific success. Wiener suggested that the breeding habits of Jews sustained hereditary qualities conducive for learning. Economist and eugenicist Weyl attributed Jewish intellectual eminence to "seventeen centuries of breeding for scholars."

Rejecting the idea that Jews have done well in science because of uniquely Jewish traits, Jewish brains, and Jewish habits of mind, historian of science Noah J. Efron approaches the Jewish affinity for science through the geographic and cultural circumstances of Jews who were compelled to settle in new worlds in the early twentieth century.

Seeking relief from religious persecution, millions of Jews resettled in the United States, Palestine, and the Soviet Union, with large concentrations of settlers in New York, Tel Aviv, and Moscow. Science played a large role in the lives and livelihoods of these immigrants: it was a universal force that transcended the arbitrary Old World orders that had long ensured the exclusion of all but a few Jews from the seats of power, wealth, and public esteem. Although the three destinations were far apart geographically, the links among the communities were enduring and spirited. This shared experience—of facing the future in new worlds, both physical and conceptual—provided a generation of Jews with opportunities unlike any their parents and grandparents had known.

The tumultuous recent century of Jewish history, which saw both a methodical campaign to blot out Europe's Jews and the inexorable absorption of Western Jews into the societies in which they now live, is illuminated by the place of honor science held in Jewish imaginations. Science was central to their dreams of creating new worlds—welcoming worlds—for a persecuted people.

This provocative work will appeal to historians of science as well as scholars of religion, Jewish studies, and Zionism.

Jump to
Quick Add
A Chosen Calling

Noah J. Efron

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy
Related

Related Books

Cover image of The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism
The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism

Stephen P. Weldon

$49.95
Quick Add
The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism

Stephen P. Weldon

Publication Date
Binding Type
Cover image of Physico-theology
Physico-theology

edited by Ann Blair and Kaspar von Greyerz

$54.95
Quick Add
Physico-theology

edited by Ann Blair and Kaspar von Greyerz

Publication Date
Binding Type
Cover image of Geographies of Knowledge
Geographies of Knowledge

edited by Robert J. Mayhew and Charles W. J. Withers

$54.95
Quick Add
Geographies of Knowledge

edited by Robert J. Mayhew and Charles W. J. Withers

Publication Date
Binding Type
Cover image of Righting America at the Creation Museum
Righting America at the Creation Museum

Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger Jr.

$26.95
Quick Add
Righting America at the Creation Museum

Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger Jr.

Publication Date
Binding Type
Cover image of Creationism in Europe
Creationism in Europe

edited by Stefaan Blancke, Hans Henrik Hjermitslev, and Peter C. Kjærgaard
foreword by Ronald L. Numbers

$39.95
Quick Add
Creationism in Europe

edited by Stefaan Blancke, Hans Henrik Hjermitslev, and Peter C. Kjærgaard
foreword by Ronald L. Numbers

Publication Date
Binding Type
Reviews

Reviews

An excellent book recommended for most libraries, especially those with strong holdings in science and Jewish history.

A very interesting and enlightened take on why the Jewish people have excelled in the field of science during the 20th Century and still stand out today.

About

Book Details

Table of Contents

Preface: A Vanload of Rabbis in the Culture Wars of Kentucky
Introduction: "Ridiculously Disproportionate"?
1. "Holding High the Torch of Civilization": American Jews and Twentieth-Century Science
2.

Preface: A Vanload of Rabbis in the Culture Wars of Kentucky
Introduction: "Ridiculously Disproportionate"?
1. "Holding High the Torch of Civilization": American Jews and Twentieth-Century Science
2. "Second Only to Communism": Making Soviet Jews and Soviet Science
3. "Making a Land of Experiments": Science and Technology in Zionist Imagination and Enterprise
Conclusion: When All Worlds Were New Worlds
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Noah J. Efron
Featured Contributor

Noah J. Efron

Noah J. Efron teaches at Bar-Ilan University, where he was the founding chair of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society. He served as president of the Israel Society for the History and Philosophy of Science and on the Executive Committee of the International Society for Science and Religion.