The Jewish Fellows of the Royal Society: Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England, 15th December, 1947

By:
Articles Image

Some years back I was invited to write an essay on the Jewish Fellows of the Royal Society, as a tribute to the eightieth birth? day of my life-long friend, Elkan Adler, now unfortunately no more. I was well aware that I should probably encounter a two? fold criticism. Some would say that as the Jewish people are merely a group of persons professing a religious faith called Judaism, they are not suitable material for an analytical study such as might be staged between different racial groups in relation to their intellectual endowments. Others, again, might object that the Royal Society, being a body devoted to the interests of science, which opens its doors to men of learning irrespective of race or creed, it would be unseemly to attempt to differentiate between those of its Fellows who are Jews and those who are not.

The first objection is as old as its factual basis is threadbare ; for it to have validity, it must needs be true that the difference between Jew and non-Jew is merely one of the religious belief which either entertains.

To maintain that the Jewish community is merely a group of people thinking alike on religious matters, but in no other way more closely related to each other than they are to the main body of the country's citizens, and not otherwise differentiated from the rest of the non-Jewish world, is to-day a travesty of the truth. Yet even after experiences such as the Jewries of the world have endured these last fifteen years, there are still persons in this country who can so delude themselves, though they deceive but few others in Jewry and still fewer outside it. Furthermore, to believe that there is an accepted and uniform Judaism common to all Jews, is to deny Jewish history for the last thousand years. It would be nearer the truth to say that Jews are a group united by a common ancestry and a long tradition of suffering, but divided more or less acutely by divergent variations of a basic Judaistic faith.

As regards the second criticism, whether it is seemly to use the records of the Royal Society as a criterion of research in a purely Jewish problem, it is not necessary to do more than point out that Jews are neither the first nor the least to do so. Of recent years, religious communities and groups, such as the Noncomformists, the Presbyterians, and the Ministers of the Church of England have found in these archives material to interest them, as have bodies of a purely secular character, such as the Life Insurance Offices and the Indian Medical Service. Good precedent as there is for such an investigation, one must, nevertheless, face that fact that the Jewish case is different and carries with it other implications. The Englishman of the Anglican, Presbyterian, or other dissenting persuasion, is merely an individual who associates his religious thought and loyalties with one or other church. His breeding and his cultural back-grounds

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today

£7

24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More

£40

Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More

£20

Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More

£80

Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More
0

Your Cart