Seductive science and the emergence of the secular Jewish intellectual

Shmuel Feiner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This article depicts the emergence of the modern, secular Jewish intellectual in the eighteenth century as a process of intellectual seduction and irresistible attraction of young men to knowledge outside the boundaries of Jewish culture. In the rhetoric of the Haskalah (Enlightenment), the cultural conversion was often described metaphorically as sexual attraction to a forbidden woman. The passion for knowledge inaccessible within the traditional Jewish culture (mainly of the natural sciences, but also of Hebrew, European languages, and philosophy) and intense curiosity were the hallmarks of the early maskilim (Jewish Enlighteners). It is difficult now to assess the sense of audacity, the awareness of sin, of guilt, and of subversion entailed in the desire to enter the realms of extra-Jewish and extra-religious knowledge, as well as the barriers of language and social norms that had to be crossed. The encounter of the Ashkenazi elite in eighteenth-century Europe with extra-Jewish knowledge was a traumatic conflict that grew in intensity as the shelf of Hebrew books and the number of maskilim grew.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-135
Number of pages15
JournalScience in Context
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2002


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