The Baltimore Book Festival last weekend featured a presentation by Steven Gimbel, author of Einstein’s “Jewish Science”, recently published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gimbel, professor and chairman of the philosophy department at Gettysburg College, did not stray from his impassioned discussion about the life and works of Albert Einstein throughout the talk. He first stated, in an addendum to his opening statement, that we are all Einstein fans. “Jews really love Einstein,” Gimbel said.
While many people are aware of the scientist’s religious background, the question of whether and how Einstein’s theories are uniquely a “Jewish science” remains. Gimbel’s book aims to solve this mystery.
Firstly, what was Einstein’s relationship to Judaism? Gimbel argues that despite Einstein’s secular household, his Jewish community in Germany acted as a cultural influence. During a particularly rebellious year at age nine, Einstein became devoutly religious in reaction to anti-Semitic experiences at his Catholic school.
Beyond this, there’s no evidence of other religious influences, and Gimbel makes no link between Einstein’s work and Talmudic theology.
Not that the scientific world was otherwise devoid of theological influence. “We have seen that the content of both Descartes’ and Newton’s theories of space were pregnant with their theologies. Can we say the same for their methods? Did Descartes think like a Catholic? Did Newton do research in a Protestant fashion? Are Einstein’s advances methodologically Jewish science? The answer to all three is yes,” Gimbel writes in his book.
For an example of Jewish influence, Gimbel uses the openness required to accept the different perspectives proposed in the Theory of Relativity. “The problem isn’t in the science, it is in the interpretation... By adopting a ‘Jewish-style’ approach... we only experience the world from a limited context and, therefore, have an incomplete view of the larger absolute truth, each perspective giving us different, but no less true, results...” Gimbel writes.
Gimbel, who wrote his dissertation on the philosophy of Einstein, shared lesser-known details about Einstein’s life, weaving them together into a complete picture of the man the world has come to idolize.
Of course, there are the negative implications of a Jewish individual proposing these revolutionary theories in Germany in the early 1900s. In addition, contrary to what one might think, Einstein was not a model student and struggled before passing his university exams. At the time when his four major papers were published, he had a severely troubled home life and was working as a patent clerk. Gimbel finds this remarkable. “Here’s a guy who doesn’t even have a job in physics. He’s doing it in his spare time!”