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Mathematics and the Sciences

Medieval and post-medieval authors made substantial contributions to Western science in the fields of medicine, astronomy, mathematics and logic. It was through Hebrew translations from Arabic versions that ancient Greek learning was transmitted to the West, in Latin translations from the Hebrew and then in vernacular translations from the Latin, during the Middle Ages. Eastern and Hellenistic medical lore, in particular, was preserved and introduced to Europe by Jewish physician-translators who rendered classical non-Jewish works into Hebrew and developed at the same time a scientific vocabulary in this language.

Aside from translations of Arabic works, a central concern of medieval Jewish astronomy was the calculation of the calendar, and Maimonides, who also wrote major medical works and a very popular tract on logic, demonstrated himself fully au courant with contemporary Ptolemaic mathematical astronomy of the 12th century. Physicians continued to play a leading role in the development of Hebrew scientific writings during the Renaissance: Abraham Portaleone of Mantua in the 16th century and Delmedigo of Candia (Crete) during the next century are curious examples. Displayed here are some of these works, together with some others of peripheral scientific interest, properly within the domains of Jewish philosophy and Jewish law.

Avicenna [Abu 'Ali al-Husain b.
Abdallah Ibn Sina ], of Baghdad,
ca. 980-1037

[ Kanon ]
Naples: Azriel b. Joseph Ashkenazi
Gunzenhauser, 9 November 1491

The encyclopedic medical Canon of the Muslim philosopher Avicenna was often translated from Arabic into Hebrew and Latin. This version by Nathan of Cento (1279) and Joseph Lorki (1408) was the first scientific work printed in Hebrew. This is the only printed edition in that language.

Shem-Tov b. Joseph ibn Falaquera
[ Palqera ], of Spain,
ca. 1225-1295

[ Tsori ha-yagon ]
Cremona: Vincenzo Conti, 1557.

Supposedly modelled on a tract by Galen, Falaquera's essay on coping with grief is of psychological interest (he also wrote a textbook based on Avicenna's Compendium of Psychology). This first edition was edited by Saul b. Simeon, whose annotations and poetry accompany the text.

Mishneh Torah 1574- 1575
Moses b. Maimon [ Maimonides ],
of Spain and Egypt, 1135-1204

[ Mishneh Torah ]
Venice: Meir Parenzo, for
A. Bragadini, 1574-1575.
Maimonides' Code contains laws for fixing the date of the New Moon and calculating the lunar calendar. Accompanying diagrams were introduced for the first time in this edition, which also includes for the first time the commentaries of Joseph Caro and of Rabad of Posquières.
Printer's mark (Meir Parenzo)

Sefer Elim Ma'ayan Ganim 1628-1629
Sefer Elim Ma'ayan Ganim 1628-1629
Sefer Elim Ma'ayan Ganim 1628-1629
Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, of Candia
(Crete), 1591-1655

[ Sefer Elim - Ma'yan Ganim ]
Amsterdam: Menasseh Ben Israel,
These first published tracts of Delmedigo, a pupil of Galileo and a Copernican, treat of plane and spherical geometry, symbolic algebra, astronomy and astronomical instruments, chemistry, and the aphorism of Hippocrates. This volume is the most sumptuously illustrated of early scientific works in Hebrew, and unique in printed Hebrew literature before the modern period.
Sefer Elim Ma'ayan Ganim 1628-1629
Sefer Elim Ma'ayan Ganim 1628-1629

Abraham b. David Portaleone,
of Mantua, 1542-1612

[ Shiltei ha-Giborim ]
Mantua: Eliezer d'Italia, 1612.

Although ostensibly an exposition of the ancient Temple and its service, Portaleone's work includes extensive geological and medical-pharmaceutical discourses and a technical discussion of the printing art reflecting Renaissance science and technology. It is the first Hebrew book to use European punctuation.

Milot ha- higayon 1566
Moses b. Maimon [ Maimonides ],
of Spain and Egypt, 1135-1204

[ Milot ha-higayon ]
Cremona: Vincenzo Conti, 1566.
This treatise of Maimonides', translated into Hebrew (from the Arabic original) by Moses ibn Tibbon, is the first extant work on logic written by a Jew. A final leaf in this edition, absent in other copies, contains Aristotelian syllogisms and a pictorial "tree of logic."

Shabbetai b. Meir ha-Kohen [ Shakh ],
of Lithuania and Poland,

[ Gevurat Anashim ]
Dessau: Moses b. Simhah Bunem, 1697.
All aspects of sexuality, including menstruation, birth control, sterilization and abortion, are treated at length in the codes and responsa. This work, of which this is the first edition, discusses the implications of sexual impotence in Jewish marital laws. Of linguistic interest, the book also contains - in an appended responsum by Shabbetai's father - an extremely curious gloss in an eastern Judeo-Slavic language, apparently spoken in the early 17th century.

Go to Chap. 8 Go to Chap. 10

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