Thursday, August 30, 2018

Isaac Newton & His Interest in Judaism


Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), by James Thornhill; circa 1712.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

ir Isaac Newton [1643–1727], one of the world’s greatest scientists, responsible for Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, or simply Principia Mathematica, published in July 1687, which was at a time of high rationalism, might have been influenced by Jewish religious writings.

This interest in Judaism was revealed in Newton’s private papers, which were unread for more than 200 years after his death, collecting dust in the family home. They were eventually sold in 1936 in a public auction and now have a home in three universities: King’s College at Cambridge; MIT; and the National Library of Israel of Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1969), which exhibited the papers for the first time in 2007. As an example, see [here].

Although his private papers were made available to scholars in the last 25 years, the public is only recently finding out more; in an article (“Sir Isaac Newton and Judaism;” August 25, 2018) for Aish, B. Gordon writes:
It’s no wonder that both Christian and secular-minded scientists who had originally revered Newton had little incentive to publicize their findings. Newton’s manuscripts revealed that he took a keen interest in “archaic” Jewish wisdom. Newton’s knowledge of Jewish thought was not superficial; he referred to rabbinic works such as the Aramaic Version of Esther, Vayikra Rabba, the commentaries of Sa'adia HaGaon, Ibn Ezra, Rashi, Sifra, R. Aharon ibn Hayyim; Seder Ma'amadot (about the daily sacrifices) the Bartinurah and Talmudic passages from the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud in Latin. One of Newton’s manuscripts was entitled “On Maimonides,” where he quoted the Latin translation of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. 
There is more to Newton than what the public knew. In a Chabad-Lubavitch article (“The Newton You Never Knew”), Dr. Arnie Gotfryd, a Hasidic Jew and environmental scientist from Toronto, writes:
To quote Jose Faur, a Jewish scholar who has studied Newton's papers: "The papers reveal that Newton was a strict monotheist. He saw no need for a new revelation and rebuffed the Christian notion of atonement and salvation. Siding with Rabbinic tradition and contra Christian doctrine, he maintained that the Noahide precepts alone suffice for salvation, and thus there is no need for J----' expiatory death. ...Newton was resolute in his belief that the Law of Moses was not abrogated with the advent of Christianity... Therefore, the Christian Scripture must be understood in light of the Hebrew Scripture, and not the other way around."
Newton was neither a typical Christian nor a strict secular rationalist—that much can be said with certainty—and moreover he might have been the first Christian Zionist;  he also saw no barrier between science and religion. Newton was, it could be inferred, a man who wanted to both understand and know, using all the knowledge that was then available, which was considerable.

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