Is there such thing as a Jewish science? Philipp Lenard, one of Hitler’s most esteemed scientists, thought so. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist called German scientists disciplined and “truth-seeking,” whereas Jewish and other “mixed-race” scientists were prone to wild theorizing. Those scientists included Albert Einstein, whose special theory of relativity Lenard dismissed as “Jewish science.”
Though this notion sounds tinged with anti-Semitism, in his new book Einstein’s Jewish Science, philosophy professor Steven Gimbel makes the surprising and uncomfortable claim that there really might be a Jewish way of thinking—and that it’s got its advantages.
Gimbel looks at the social and scientific background of Einstein’s theories and asks how a lonely patent clerk was able to beat the world’s top scientists, including those of the Third Reich, to cracking the bomb. Though Einstein wasn’t religious, Gimbel points to the wide-ranging associative thinking and Talmudic-style deductions in his theories the same way that others have detected Catholic ways of thinking in the writings of Newton and Descartes.
Though Einstein’s Jewish way of thinking isn’t really inferior or evil—at least, we hope it’s not—this book would have us believe that it may not be so far from what the Nazis suspected.