Galileo Galilei (1564-1642): Science and Religion – Part V: Reason on Trial

In 1632, Galileo was summoned to appear personally in Rome at the Palace of the Holy Office upon the appearance in print of Dialogue concerning the two Chief Systems of the World, Ptolemaic and Copernican. It was a sensation. Copies sold as soon as they reached the shelves of a bookseller. However, prudently, copies were not initially delivered to Rome, ostensibly because they might carry the plague. His friend, Benedetto Castelli, received an advance copy and found it to be an infinite delight.

However, the Jesuits were now once again in the ascendency in Rome and were on the warpath. Father Christopher Scheiner, an astronomer himself who had published Rosa Ursina the year before, demanded that the Dialogue be banned as heresy. In fact, Galileo’s volume had included a clearly recognizable pointed attack on Scheiner’s position. This time, however, the book also provoked his old friend, Pope Urban VIII, perhaps because the controversy created more enemies and more demands on himself when he was already under siege for his self-aggrandizing schemes that had thrown the Vatican into deep debt. His illegal seizure of Medici properties did not help. Nor did his foreign policy. After all, as Gaspare Cardinal Borgia charged, Urban had failed to back King Philip IV of Spain (1621-1640) in the Thirty Years War against the German Protestants. The pro-Spanish faction was in the ascendency over the those befriending France. Urban did not need a troublesome academic dispute to add to his mounting troubles.

Further, Urban felt that he had himself been insulted when the character in the Dialogue, Simplico, weakly defended his views in the volume. As Sobel wrote, Urban felt that, “Galileo had played him for a fool.” (Sobel 225) That is the immediate background to Galileo being summoned from Florence in September to appear before the Roman Inquisitional Court, the Congregation of the Holy Office. In the meantime, sales of the book were banned, but all copies had already sold out.

The strategy initially was to stall. Galileo was old and sick. Further, no one wanted the plague now ravaging Florence once again to arrive in Rome with copies of the book. Galileo had appealed to his powerful old friend, Francesco Cardinal Barberini, Urban’s nephew, for some clemency. In December, a medical report on Galileo’s ill health certified by three physicians was sent to Rome. The Inquisitors were unmoved and threatened to bring Galileo to Rome in chains. In January, Galileo voluntarily set out to travel to Rome and arrived after two weeks of travel and two in quarantine.

When first called on 12 April 1633, he had already been held two months under house arrest in the Tuscan embassy. During that time, Galileo learned from a leaked document that his alleged crime dated back to 1616 when he had visited Rome before Urban had been elected pope, before Ferdinando had become the Grand Duke and before his foremost advocate at this time, Ambassador Niccolini, had reached a position of power.

According to that note, the initial suspended trial of 1616 was much harsher than had generally been believed. Not only was the publication of the Discourse supposed to cease. Not only was Galileo required to desist from teaching the Copernican doctrine, as he had pledged, but he had been ordered not to discuss his now dubbed hypothesis with anyone. The spin that he was allowed to discuss it, but only as a hypothesis, was denounced as false. Galileo was in real trouble even though he had preserved Cardinal Bellarmino’s letter that supported the contention that he could discuss the theorem, but only as a hypothesis.

Had Galileo actually received an injunction never again to discuss the Copernican theory?  Was he ordered no longer to defend, no longer to teach the Copernican position view? Galileo adopted what later became known as the Berthold Brecht tactic of dealing with the Stasi, the East German thought police. Be not only contrite but profess your absolute innocence. Insist that others had misinterpreted your intent. “I did not seek permission to write the book, because I did not consider that in writing it that I was actually doing something contrary to, far less disobeying, the command not to hold, defend or teach that opinion. Rather, I was refuting the opinion.”

Galileo went before two officials and a secretary and no witnesses in a form of what is now called a preliminary inquiry. The ten judges as jurors were not in attendance. The questioning was totally pedestrian – when did he come to Rome, by what means, can you identify the book, can you summarize its contents, have the words been altered, when and where were the contents penned, when and how had he received notice from the Court, what had he discussed with the Cardinals in 1616 in Rome at the previous stage of this trial, what was his authority for writing the book, had he received an injunction, did he recall its words, in light of the injunction had he sought permission to publish?

As Galileo replied, permission to publish in 1616 was not required, only minor changes. He had not defended Copernicus, he insisted, but refuted him. As he offered his initial informational testimony, he remained humble.

Had the initial stage inquisitors not read the book? If they had, they would certainly know that this was a bald-faced lie. Galileo had only disguised his opinion. The first hearing ended and three theologians were assigned to read the book and cross examine Galileo in a second hearing equivalent to a Grand Jury in the American legal system. They unanimously concluded that Galileo had unequivocally supported Copernicus and to add to that “crime,” Galileo was guilty of perjury before the court.

All three wrote separate opinions and all concurred on the major conclusion – Galileo had defended rather than criticized Copernicus. Further, he had treated the opponents of Copernicus as mental dwarfs. Though the book had received the imprimatur of the Sacred Palace, the highest office now had to be embarrassed since the volume reeked of heresy. Even Francesco Cardinal Barberini could no longer stick his neck out and defend Galileo both to his uncle, the pope, and before the court. His friend Father Riccardi persuaded Galileo to confess and an effort could be launched to settle the affair quietly. Given Galileo’s age, his issues with health, hopefully the punishment would be mild.

In the second hearing Galileo offered his Brechtian performance. He had reread the Dialogue. The readers were indeed correct. He had not seen what they had with their greater perspicacious reading. He thanked them for the opportunity to reread the text and admitted fully that he had overlooked very heretical statements. But he insisted, he had not intended to defend Copernicus but to find fault in his position. Further, the argument from sunspots and from the tides had been stated with too much forcefulness and had led to the justifiable misreading of his intent. The problem was one of inattention, ignorance and inadvertence. He promised to revise the book and refute Copernicus in a more effective way. Had they given him the chance, would Galileo have set a precedent for Brecht in putting his views even more cleverly in an even stronger way?

In his third hearing before the full court of ten theologians, he showed the affidavit of 1616 of Cardinal Bellarmino. He claimed that neither in the public document nor in any private correspondence had he been enjoined not to teach or in any was disseminate the doctrine. He believed he could put it forth for refutation. He had neither willfully nor knowingly disobeyed any order of the Inquisition. His fault had merely been one of wanting to appear clever. He asked to be able to make amends and pleaded for mercy and for his jurors to take into consideration the honour and esteem with which he was held.

Members of the Holy Office fell into two factions, those excited and enthralled by the Copernican thesis and its proofs and those appalled at the affrontery and dishonesty of Galileo and were not persuaded that God had to be logical, only omnipotent. As my Hasidic cousin has said in countering the argument for evolution, God could have created the world as if the world had been created for twelve billion light years when in reality it was less than 6,000 years old. Such are the gambits of the irrational.

On 16 June 1633, Pope Urban III convened and presided over a meeting of the Cardinals responsible for determining Galileo’s guilt. The whole history of the affair from 1616 to date was before them. The issue was one of intent. Was there any evidence that President Donald Trump intended to insist that the president of Ukraine make a public announcement that the government of Ukraine would look into the role of the Bidens in 2016? The evidence was not 100% conclusive, but it overwhelmingly supported such a conclusion. The evidence that Galileo supported and disseminated the views of Copernicus was also overwhelming.

In one case, the guilt was about of irrationality, conspiracy theories, undermining agreed and established American foreign policy, endangering Ukrainian soldiers and, most of all, doing so to benefit Potus in a coming election. In Galileo’s case, he was guilty of esteeming reason and accurate observation so greatly that he was willing to lie before the court and pretend he believed what he actually condemned. He had, with smarmy intent, tried to deceive the court. His defence had been pitiful and his plea of mercy did not move the majority.

They ordered Galileo to serve a prison term and to perform penance. He was to be publicly humiliated. On the issue of intent, Galileo did not offer a defence, but repeated his now unbelievable assertion that he had held the condemned Copernican view to be false. I am not guilty, he insisted. “Do with me as you will.”

It is apparent that his defence was never a retraction and merely a false front. The court saw through it and insisted that he had indeed defended the Copernican worldview. They offered, however, to be merciful if he, “with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith [no, not a professed belief in the truth] …abjure, curse and detest the said errors and heresies, and every other heresy contrary to the Catholic and Apostolic Church in the manner we will prescribe for you.” The Dialogue would be prohibited from distribution. Further, Galileo was sentenced to an indefinite prison term. He would also be required to undertake penitence.

It was not a unanimous decision; 7 of the 10 jurors signed the majority opinion. Francesco Cardinal Barberini, Galileo’s old friend, did not appear for the sentencing. The guilty document was presented for Galileo to sign. However, it contended that Galileo had lapsed as a Catholic and that he had used deceit to obtain an imprimatur for the publication of the Dialogue in 2016. The officials agreed to delete these references from the document. Galileo then abjured as ordered.

How then can I argue that he never recanted? Because he admitted to promoting the Copernican theory, whether intentionally or inadvertently. He agreed that the Church had banned the teaching of the theory. These were all true statements. He swore that, “I have always believed, I believe now, and with God’s help I will in future believe all that is held, preached, and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” and that “I abjure with sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and detest such errors and heresies, and generally all and every error and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church. And I swear that for the future, I will never again say nor assert in speaking or writing such things as may bring upon similar suspicion; and if I know any heretic, or person suspected of heresy, I will denounce him to the Holy Office.” He also promised to deliver all the penances – alms, prayer and satisfaction.

Galileo was assigned to his friend, Ascanio II Piccolomini, Archbishop of Siena under house arrest. However, his host treated him as an important guest. Dialogue was suppressed. But the publishing house, Elzevir, printed his Two New Sciences in Leiden, Holland in 1638, and his fame became immortalized four years before his death and one year after he became blind.  

I hope I have established Galileo’s importance to science, to freedom of speech and to a culture of humanism where all humans are first and foremost treated as human beings. But what is the importance of Galileo to Jews? First, as I said in my initial blog, he treated them as equal human beings. Second, Jews generally at the time were, via the Rambam (Maimonides) in the Aristotelian camp antithetical to experimental science and mathematical proofs. Galileo provided a route out of their parochialism. Third, Galileo sewed the initial seeds for a scientific reading of the biblical text, whether through linguistic, historical or other modes of scientific hermeneutics. The Reform movement can be said to have had its roots in Galileo.

But Reformers do not seem to have acquired Galileo’s Brechtian skills.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642): Science and Religion – Part IV: Reason and the Religious Establishment

Galileo was distrusted by much of the religious establishment, first because he trespassed on territory considered the monopoly of religious authorities, both natural and religious beliefs, and, second, because of Galileo’s flamboyant style. Both the natural world and religious practices were seen to be the prerogative of the established religion. In 1612, Cardinal Conti had supported Galileo’s conclusion rejecting Aristotle’s view of the immutability of the stars. He even accepted that scripture supported the rejection of immutability. His views were verified through the work of the Bendictine monk, Benedetto Castelli. It is one thing to assert that Holy Scripture cannot err and that its conclusions are absolutely true and inviolable versus the very questionable thesis that biblical interpretations were inviolable.

There existed the divinely-made world and divine words. According to even Joshua, the sun appeared to stop its regular supposed Ptolemaic motion, but that was merely how the appearance was represented, how what was seen was experienced, and not how what was experienced actually occurred.  Further, reason alone would show: 1) that if the sun stopped in the heavens, the earth would also have to stop as well and the day would have to be extended; 2) the sun stopped in the heavens at noon precisely where it had been located in the Copernican system. As Vatican librarian Cesare Cardinal Baronio remarked, “the Bible was a book about how one goes to Heaven – not how Heaven goes.” (Sobel 65)

However, in 1616, both the pope and a cardinal inquisitor reprimanded Galileo. Roberto Cardinal Bellarmino, a Jesuit, the same man who prosecuted the case against Giordano Bruno in 1593, without examining any evidence, had concluded that the motion of the earth was contrary to scripture and that Galileo was a heretic. On 29 June 1930, that same Bellarmino was canonized by Pope Pius and named Doctor of the Church, one of only 36 in two millenia of church history even though he had been the major figure who led the Church to decree that professing heliocentrism was heresy. Galileo was ordered to refrain from teaching those ideas.

For the previous two years, hotheaded philistines in the church had denounced not only Galileo, but concluded that the universities were made up of a traitorous “deep state” of scientists and mathematicians who practiced diabolical arts. As has been the custom through the ages, these troglodytes took their opinions, however absurd and unsupported by evidence, as truth, in fact, as the real truth in contrast to conclusions drawn and supported by evidence and reason. If “the people believed it, it (whatever that was) had to be true.”

As Galileo noted, these ignoramuses engaged in propagating conspiracy theories and fabricated interpretations which they contended were supported absolutely by the words of the Bible. The lies contravened the truth, repressed it, even as the evidence mounted that revealed the truth more fully and more accurately. Of course, the support for lies had been institutionalized in the Council of Trent held between 1545-1563 that dictated the precise way clergy had to be educated, determined who had the right to interpret Biblical texts, rejected the rabbinic (and Lutheran) support for varied personal interpretations and, most importantly, decreed that no one other than lawfully appointed authorities were even permitted to interpret scripture contrary to established views.

Galileo took the prudential course of choosing silence on the issues in contention, but did not renounce his views. He simply turned to other pursuits – inventing navigational instruments to allow sailors to navigate by the stars as well as the compound microscope. He also wrote poetry and literary criticism, but avoided biblical criticism.

It was only when Supreme Pontiff Urban VII, became the new pope in 1623 that he resumed his work on the heavens, though he would take another nine years to publish his classic defence of the heliocentric universe in contrast to the earth-centered view of the world, Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican. Galileo quickly fell out with his old friend, Urban VIII, ten years before he died and was summoned to Rome in 1624. He was especially at odds with The Inquisitional Court.

Galileo was summoned to Rome again in 1632. Contrary to the claim of The New Scientist (, Galileo did not recant. He was contrite. He confessed, and, as the third act of penance required, he offered satisfaction by engaging in good works – alms for the poor, prayers and fasting. On the 1992 occasion of Pope John Paul the II retracting the reprimand of Galileo by The Inquisitorial Court, the Pope deemed Galileo’s repression to be the result of “a tragic mutual incomprehension,” when there was nothing mutual about it, and the incomprehension was totally on one side.

The New Scientist erroneously stated that Galileo recanted. “In 1633, the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church forced Galileo Galilei, one of the founders of modern science, to recant his theory that the Earth moves around the Sun. Under threat of torture, Galileo – seen facing his inquisitors – recanted. But as he left the courtroom, he is said to have muttered, ‘all the same, it moves’.”

In 1616, Galileo, to repeat ad nauseum, did not recant. Further, Bellarmino never demanded a retraction. He simply informed him of the unanimous ruling of the theological panel that the Copernican theory was heretical and advised that Galileo not publish his beliefs as facts. Galileo agreed to present his claims as a hypothesis. Galileo acquiesced in the request that he stop teaching his theory, but, again, he did not recant. Further, in his communications he referred to his convictions as hypotheses. His book was suspended until the requisite amendments were made referring to his theories as hypotheses.

Bellarmino even published a letter that insisted that Galileo had not abjured any doctrine held by him, but only that the Copernican theory was contrary to scripture and, though it could be held up as a hypothesis, it could not be defended or promulgated. Galileo obeyed the decision of the authorities and would refer to his convictions as poetic conceits, fancies, chimera, elements of a dream. In 1633, when the trial was renewed, did Galileo retract? Did he renounce, repudiate and abjure in formal solemnity his long held scientific conclusions?

After 1616, Galileo retreated into other activities, but he did not retract his convictions. This was Galileo’s pattern. He very much depended for his work, his rapidly increasing wages and his safety on whomever occupied positions of power. Look at his prior history in academia. Would Galileo have achieved his position at the University of Padua if Ferdinand I had not become the Grand Duke of Tuscany five years earlier following the death of his brother from malaria? Galileo had been his son’s tutor. Later, in 1605, thirteen years after he assumed his professorship at the University of Padua, Prince Cosimo de’ Medici was being tutored by Galileo. Four years later, Cosimo became Grand Duke of Tuscany when Ferdinand I died (1605), even though Galileo had agreed to prepare his horoscope in spite of his personal skepticism about its value. Five years after that, in 1610, at the age of 45, Galileo was appointed chief mathematician and philosopher to the Grand Duke.

Five year after the Thirty Years War began in 1618, Maffeo Cardinal Barberini became Pope Urban VIII. Even though Galileo had first made his acquaintance in 1611, they shared a mutual experience of age, place of origin, alumni standing at the University of Padua as well as interest in both science and poetry. However, even though Galileo dedicated his book, The Assayer, to him in 1623, it did not win him protectzia, even though Barbarini had been an admirer and friend. In history, as a politician, Barberini proved to be adept at nepotism, patronage and corruption. He even had himself named to the prestigious Lyncean Academy. That corruption went well beyond monetary theft and included the appointment of ignorant and unscrupulous clerics to attend to mass and confessions at nunneries where they were free to prey on young girls who had donned the habit.

In The Assayer, Galileo mocked terms that pretended to be scientific explanations, such as “sympathy,” “antipathy,” “occult properties,” “influences,” for their inability to be backed by evidence that could verify or falsify the notions connoted. (Sobel 92) Received wisdom and majority opinion were not routes to the truth.“I believe that good philosophers fly alone, like eagles, and not in flocks like starlings.” (The Assayer) He went on to declare that, unlike eagles that are rarely seen or heard, starlings “fill the sky with shrieks and cries, and wherever they settle befoul the earth beneath them.” They appear to be kin to Canadian geese.

As a result of the restrictions placed upon Galileo, Italian astronomers had to lead a double life, rejecting Galileo theologically while admiring him “theoretically” so that cognitive dissonance became integrated into their scientific versus their political lives. Between 1623 and 1632, Galileo remained safe for a decade until he published his classic, Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican in 1632. This was made possible because the style he adopted allowed the manuscript to obtain a provisional license, subject to a few minor corrections, but more importantly, because his friend, Niccolò Riccardi, controlled the licensing of books.

Once again, Galileo was summoned to Rome to stand trial for heresy by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. When Galileo arrived, he witnessed the extent to which the Pope had expended monies to heighten his own self aggrandizement. On trial was not only Galileo’s classic, Dialogue, but the suppression of science by a religious self-serving establishment, individual rights versus authoritarian demands, reform versus a petrified tradition, knowledge versus ignorance, discovery versus mindblindness, freedom of thought and speech versus their repression.

Galileo was not treated like any other individual who came before the inquisitional court. He had the protection of Grand Duke Ferdinando. He was an acclaimed scholar. He was also frail and sick. Instead of being placed in a dungeon, he was allowed to stay in the Tuscan embassy hosted by Ambassador Francesco Niccolini and his wife Caterina. Further, just as contemporary detectives do, the Court sent Monsignor Lodovico Serristori to befriend and extend to him the court’s good graces, all the while working to ferret out the strategies and tactics by which Galileo intended to defend himself. But Galileo was required to pay this supposed defence attorney 6 scudi for his advice.

Galileo was allowed to remain in isolation for weeks and then two months before he was called in for questioning. Niccolini intervened on his behalf, but to no avail. The Inquisitional Court rejected the ambassador’s entreaties to allow the elderly and sick Galileo his freedom or, at the very least, to return to Tuscany under house arrest where he could await being called for trial.  

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642): Science and Religion – Part III: Galileo – Science and the Bible of Nature

The Torah begins with a cosmological metaphorical account of the creation and character of the universe. One can get caught up in the literary and religious meaning, but it is important to recognize that the initial cosmological story is a claim that the universe is a bible of nature and that the understanding of that bible precedes any understanding of the various historical and political accounts of human behavior.

If you do not understand and grasp the bible of nature, you will not understand the condensed tales of the behavior of all of humanity and then of the origin and development of the nation of Israel. That there might be a correspondence between what we observe at a behavioral level, at the level of the human microcosm and then the level of the macrocosm has been a conceit of astrology. Galileo turned a literary notion of that conceit (astrology was a literary rather than scientific conceit dressed up in pseudo-scientific garb) into a natural one. Radically different orders of experience had to be grounded in a common conception of nature, and that accomplished by paying close attention to what we grasp with our senses to a microscopic degree and what we deduce from reason and mathematics abstracted as much as possible from experience itself.

For Galileo, both science and religion were preoccupied with the “marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.” The point of both science and religion is to make the unknown known and for both to bracket what could not be known at this time given the developments of our skills and knowledge. Further, on the alleged dichotomy between science and religion, Galileo’s eldest daughter’s letters, “recognized no such division during his lifetime.” (Sobel 12)

Galileo’s aptitude for mathematics and science came early. There is the tale that he used the Tower of Pisa to test his theory that material objects fell at virtually the same degree of acceleration regardless of their weight though differentiated by air resistance. If Galileo had used the anecdotal feather versus a cannon ball to prove his theory, he would have been laughed out of the academy. Instead, according to established Aristotelian belief that material objects fell at a speed relative to their weight, Galileo showed mathematically that a cannon ball would have to reach the ground ten times faster than a musket ball one-tenth the weight when the latter, in fact, as he demonstrated physically, reached the ground very shortly after the cannon ball did. Reason and experimentation were necessary to validate a theory. The traditional explanation was patently absurd.

Galileo was a prodigious inventor as well as a scientific and mathematical genius. He invented a device for irrigation, a marine compass, an improved telescope, a way for ship pilots to navigate, the way to determine longitude at sea, a way to improve military fortifications, an early pocket calculator, all enormously valuable to the mercantilist nobility of Tuscany. He revealed the mathematics behind the lever, developed lenses with twice the magnifying quality of those made by the Dutch, a significant benefit to sailors at war watching enemy ships and maneuvers through an eyeglass. He invented the pendulum clock. But his greatest initial achievement was his validation of the Copernican theory of the movement of the heavenly bodies. That depended on his increased improvement of lenses that eventually had a magnifying power of twenty and that were used in telescopes to show that heavenly bodies were anything but perfect spheres. The moon was not spherical at all.

Nicolous Copernicus was born ninety years before Galileo and had long before published his classic, De revolutionibus. In 1543, this Polish cleric had argued that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. Even its sun was not. As we would learn, there are 200 billion other stars in the Milky Way galaxy to which the sun belongs. The Milky Way is also not the centre of the universe. There are 200 billion galaxies. 200 billion stars in this galaxy and 200 billion galaxies – I cannot imagine numbers that large let alone the number of stars in all the galaxies. And to think just 400 years ago, the vast majority of people on this earth believed that the earth was the centre of the universe.  It was Galileo who established that the distant stars only appeared immoveable because of their great distance. Talk about a revolution in thought!

The scientific revolution was taking place throughout Europe. Already in the sixteenth century, Andreas Vesalius had disproven the belief that men had one less rib than women by simply counting them and showing that both genders had 12 pairs. (On the Fabric of the Human Body) He also demonstrated that the earth was just one of a finite number of planets that circled the sun. A contemporary of Galileo, Johannes Kepler, published the first two laws of planetary motion. In 1628, William Harvey disproved Aristotle’s ebb and flow theory of blood and established that blood circulated by means of the heart as a pump. By tracing the nerves to the brain, Harvey also established that the heart was not the centre of the nervous system.

The cosmological world view, the anatomy and physiology of the body, the physics of motion to which Galileo would contribute so much, the geography of the earth and its spherical shape and motion through the solar system, all provided a brand new sense of the world around us. Galileo was perhaps the greatest contributor to that revolution, not only because of his theories, but because he established the basic principles of the scientific method dependent on repeated and repeatable observations married to abstract theories from which predictions could be made. Further, he showed that advances in technology were often necessary prerequisites to advances in science.

Galileo became obsessed with the heavens at the age of 40 in 1604 when a new star appeared, much to the consternation and concern of the intellectual world at the time since stars were not supposed to come into being or die; they were supposedly fixed in the heavens for eternity. When Galileo himself began to teach at the University of Padua in 1592, he himself had taught that the earth was the centre of the universe. In the new century, Galileo began to question this long held and widespread belief.

By the time that new star appeared, Shakespeare, who had been born the same year as Galileo, had written his greatest classics. In the 1580s he had already become not only the greatest playwright of his time, but the greatest playwright of all time. Who claims that mathematicians and scientists come into their greatest productive and creative period in their twenties while artists take a much longer period of gestation to mature?

Galileo was highly productive after he turned forty. In 1610, when Shakespeare had already written 38 plays, Galileo discovered the planet Jupiter with his improved version of the Dutch Hans Lippershey’s 1608 creation of the refracting telescope which he had used to discover and describe mountains on the moon in 1609. Galileo published The Starry Messenger. As a result of his prodigious number of inventions and his experimental and mathematical proofs, in 1610 he was made what we now call a research professor with no teaching duties and a salary sufficient that he no longer had to depend on renting quarters to students.  A year later, he was named to the Lyncean Academy that had been founded only eight years earlier and quickly became the most famous institution for academic networking at the highest level for its time.

However, by then, Shakespeare had written Hamlet (1601), Othello (1605), Macbeth (1606) and The Tempest in 1612. Galileo was a late bloomer in comparison. But what a tempest he produced when, by the same year Shakespeare’s play of the same name appeared on stage, Galileo had established empirically that the surface of the moon was rough, with mountains, valleys and craters, that other planets had their own moons, that at least Venus travelled around the sun, and that the sun itself was imperfect with many dark spots, spots that came into being and decayed, did so with irregularity, changed shape, but were nevertheless enormous and, depending on their number and size, could impede sunlight from reaching earth. Galileo even invented a system whereby the portraits of the sun each day could be projected on paper on which he could draw the daily location and sizes of those sunspots.

In 1612, he published his erroneous theory of the tides in Bodies That Stay Atop Water or Move Within, though the work very successfully demonstrated why ice floated on water and clearly demonstrated that the sun did not have a perfect body. However,instead of the tides resulting from the gravitational attraction of the moon, Galileo then contended that they were the result of the rotation of the earth and the movement of the earth around the sun much as water piles up on one side of a basin when it is moved.

He held onto that theory and published an elaborated account in 1616, Theory on the Tides, even though it later directly contradicted his own explanation for why we and other animals never experienced the earth’s rotation. In 1613, Galileo published his Sunspot Letters about the shifting position of black spots on the sun with pictures with near photographic quality that established that the sun rotates on its own axis and, further, proving that the earth rotates around the sun rather than vice versa. However, his dismissal of comets as mere illuminations proved erroneous.

However, I must jump ahead to the end of Galileo’s life after he had been condemned by The Inquisition when he returned to his very early interest in motion and his developed interest in the strength of different materials. In 1633, Galileo penned his most important work, not his Discourse dealing with Copernican theory, but returned to his work on motion which he had begun to explore thirty-five years earlier when he was a very young professor at the University of Pisa before he even moved onto Padua.

He had begun with the study of the speed of falling bodies, but went on to describe the swinging of a pendulum in accordance with a mathematical scientific law. His mathematical calculations for the rate of acceleration of a falling body arose from repeated observations of the rate of travel of a bronze globe down an inclined trough. That study of motion yielded the mathematical law of the rate of acceleration for bodies on earth, 32.2 feet per second per second. Prior to then, traditional science dictated that the acceleration of a falling body would be proportional to its mass — that is, a 10 kg object was expected to accelerate ten times faster than a 1 kg object. Galileo demonstrated the absurdity of such a claim.

Instead of making determinations about the physical world in terms of a telos, a final cause, an end to which an object wanted to go as if it had a built-in inner intention, Galileo focused on how an object behaved. That focus included observation, experimentation and the development of mathematical formulae in terms of which predictions could be made about the motion of bodies. While Aristotle had held that mathematics belonged to the immaterial world, Galileo demonstrated its applicability to the material world. In terms of a thrown object instead of one in free fall, Galileo demonstrated with mathematical precision that the object always followed the arc of a parabola.

Galileo was not only interested in the motion of bodies, but in their malleability, how they bend and break. His new dialogue, Two New Sciences, revived his characters, Salviati, Sagredo and Simplicio, from his Discourses. It was set in a Venetian shipyard where precise measures had to be made when a new ship was launched lest it be crunched by its own weight.

The title page of the Leiden, Holland 1638 edition read:





Concerning Two New Sciences

Pertaining to

Mechanics & Local Motions

by Signor

Galileo Galilei, Lyncean

Philosopher and Chief Mathematician to His Serene Highness

The Grand Duke of Tuscany

With an Appendix on the center of gravity in various Solids

I want to end this blog with a metaphor rather than science. In Galileo’s last book, he had broken down the motion of a hurled projectile into two vectors, its forward motion and the downward acceleration of an object in free fall. For a quarter century, his scientific achievements traveled a similar parabola, between two vectors, the forward projection of his science initially towards the heavens and the downward repression by the Inquisition that ended with the science of local motion and of the strength of solids falling to earth. Ironically, these two new sciences were, in part, the product of repression and not free fall, for in his house arrest, Galileo found the time to complete his original scientific work. Earth was precisely where those two sciences belonged. From the soil of Italy, the Dutch would resurrect and lift on high this last illustrious scientific product. The last blog will cover the latter vector of religious repression.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642): Science and Religion – Part II: Galileo’s Biographical Background

Giulia di Cosimo Ammannati, the maiden name of the wife of Vincenzio Galilei, gave birth to Galileo in Pisa in 1564, four hundred and one years earlier on the same day that my second son, my fourth child, was born, 15 February 1965. The year of birth is in accordance with the Gregorian calendar that came into being in 1582, but Galileo was born in 1563 according to the old Julian calendar at the time.

Galileo enrolled in the University of Pisa in 1581 at the age of 15, the same year his father published his book on musical theory in Florence, Dialogue of Ancient and Modern Music. Fifty years later, Galileo adopted the same format of a dialogue when trying to persuade a recalcitrant establishment of the verity of the Copernican universe. His father had taught him the theory of ratios for notes, when music was taught as a branch of mathematics. However, his father was a composer and believed that creativity – in mathematics, in science and in music – was not confined to logically deductive methods. Sensitivity to the sweetness of sound as well as accurate ratios was required in tuning an instrument. And Galileo was a very sweet as well as a very logical man, sweet in temperament and sweet in taste in the sense of his acute sensitivity to the world of his experience.

In his book on musical theory, Vincenzio wrote, “It appears to me that they who in proof of any assertion rely simply (my italics) on the weight of authority, without adducing any argument in support of it, act very absurdly. I, on the contrary, wish to be allowed freely to question and freely to answer you without any sort of adulation, as well becomes those who are in search of truth.” (Sobel 17) Galileo grew up to become his father’s heir in spirit.

Galileo entered university at the age of 15, not so much because he was a prodigy, which he was, but because students then went to university at a much younger age than they do now. By 1592, eleven years later, he was teaching at the same prestigious University of Padua and by then had significantly improved upon a rudimentary thermometer that had been invented in Holland a few years earlier. Galileo had begun to work on the motion of falling bodies, which would culminate with his final, and many would argue, his most important book, Two New Sciences (1637), that dealt with material science and with the laws of motion.

In Padua, his eldest daughter, Virginia Galilei, later Sister Maria Celeste, was born to his beautiful Venetian mistress, Marina Gamba, who never lived with Galileo. It was 1600, the same year Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake. Livia, his second daughter, was born a year later. Five years later, his son, Vincenzio, named after his father who died in 1591, was born, the same year that Galileo invented the military compass. In 1614, when Virginia was 14 and Livia only 12, they both assumed a religious habit. Vincenzio was 8 years old. Since Galileo had to earn a dowry for his daughters in the nunnery and then sufficient funds to spread around to get his son legitimized in 1619, the year his mistress, Marina Gamba died, Galileo was under enormous financial pressure that was eased as his fame led to a much higher salary and a greater sinecure. However, it is difficult to find a year in which he was not under financial pressure from a number of sources.

Vincenzio, though legitimized at great monetary expense and the goodwill of friends of Galileo, seemed to be destined to be a ne’er-do-well, squandering his money when he attended university. He was a rapscallion. But he later straightened himself up to earn a doctor of laws at the age of 22 and became an upstanding citizen. Galileo, though burdened financially by his three children and emotionally by his son’s youthful waywardness, in the 1620s became burdened by his extended family. In 1627, his brother, Michelangelo, who had followed in the footsteps of his father as a musician, asked if his wife and some of his eight children could live with Galileo while Michaelangelo traveled to Munich to seek greater acclaim. His brother also wanted his family to be safe from the turmoil of the Thirty Years War.

Without awaiting Galileo’s consent, his brother’s family arrived on his doorstep in 1627 and Galileo now found that, at the age of 63, he had a number of extra mouths to feed, his sister-in-law, Anna Chiaria, and six of her children for what turned out to be a stay of almost a year rather than a month or even a couple of months. Further, shortly after, Galileo lost his sinecure at the University of Pisa. The following year, his eldest daughter, Maria Celeste, pleaded for additional financial help because she needed a private room to escape the craziness of her roommate and the nunnery had entered a period of financial straits. It did not help that in 1630, the plague once again ravaged Tuscany.

Galileo’s brother died in Munich, presumably of the plague, and once again Galileo had to resume support of his sister-in-law and her numerous children. The plague also ravaged through Tuscany. After it subsided, and once he was freed from house arrest, Galileo moved to the Martinelli villa in Arcetri to be much nearer his eldest daughter in the nunnery. But Galileo had the greatest burden to bear of his whole life. After he moved to Arcetri, his dearest eldest daughter, Maria Celeste (Virginia), died in 1634.

These are all personal background notes for our concern with Galileo’s contribution to the freedom of religion, freedom to take on any religion and within that religion subsume one or other set of beliefs, all against a very different intellectual biography of a scientific and mathematical genius who not only made critical contributions to the science of astronomy, the laws of motion and the strength of materials, but, most critically, to the scientific method which would also have a profound influence on how the Torah is read and interpreted. However, what entrances most people is Galileo’s political biography and his relationship with the Inquisition that pursued him in 1616 and then again in 1633 as a continuation of that prosecution and the sentence he had to endure for the rest of his life.

This biographical note also requires setting the above political/religious struggle against the background of the scientific one (which I will expand upon in subsequent blogs) by discussing Galileo’s close friends. For the sake of economy, I have selected three: the Benedictine monk, Benedetto Castelli, Frederico Cesi and Maffeo Cardinal Barberini, who became Pope Urban VIII; under his depiction I will also introduce his nephew, Francesco Barberini. There were many others:

  • Carlo Cardinal Conti
  • Roberto Cardinal Bellarmino
  • Grand Duke Ferdinando, both the Ist and, even more importantly, the IInd, as well as various other members of the all-important Medici family
  • The Dominican Father Niccolò Riccardi from Genoa who became the group’s inside man in the Holy Office (it was he who added the publication blurb that went beyond validating The Assayer as not contrary to established doctrine but praised its subtle and solid speculations about nature)
  • The jurist Giovanni Ciampoli who had been a student and proponent of Galileo’s ideas and joined the Academy of Lynceans in 1615 and who would become Pope Urban VIII’s “secret adviser and the guiding spirit in the new Curia” (Redondi 71) as well as Pope Urban VIII’s foremost and most successful diplomat
  • Giovanni Rondinelli, his personal physician as well as friend
  • Ascanio Picolomini, Archbishop of Siena who was such an important benefactor of Galileo in his final years
  • Most importantly for how Galileo’s memory has been preserved, his last student, Vincenzio Viviani.

Friends were important to Galileo. They were also critical to helping him survive the oppression of The Inquisition. Father Benedetto Castelli was a pupil of Galileo. In a letter to Castelli on 21 December 1613, Galileo insisted that profound religiosity required both “necessary demonstrations” and “sense experience,” That is how the bible of nature is revealed by unveiling the laws that govern that nature. Thus, the controversy with the Inquisition was not simply over the Copernican view of the universe, but also Galileo’s contentions that the divine can be understood through the study of nature and, further, that biblical hermeneutics can be enhanced by science in contrast to simply accepting the inherited interpretation by the Holy Fathers.

Castelli, for example, in 1612 took it upon himself to argue with the Pisan professor, Giorgio Corsio. Castelli favoured Galileo’s form of atomism versus the anti-atomistic nominalism of the Aristotelians. He would join with Father Cavalieri and Giovanni Ciampoli to expand upon and spread the new message of Galileo. In the controversies over applying scientific method to the Eucharist beginning in 1626, though the controversy dated back to the publication of The Assayer earlier, Castelli took on the role of both critically reviewing Galileo’s arguments and offering defences of his own. Further, Castelli was also the teacher of Evangelista Torricelli who became part of the second generation of Galileans, though tragically, both teacher and student died in the same year in1647.

Frederic Cesi provided the most important intellectual and academic home for Galileo in the Accademia dei Lincei, the Academy of Lynceans (deliberately set up in opposition to the Collegio Romano) which Cesi founded and to which Galileo was nominated in 1612. It was one of the first modern networked research institutes as well as a professional home for academics working scientifically and an intellectual home for the anti-scholastics. The initial members were mostly jurists and literary men.

Prince Cesi’s home, at least his country home near Urbino, served as an intellectual retreat where the advocates of the new science could share their thoughts and writing and even develop defense strategies as well as intellectual attacks (Operation Sarsi in 1623 when The Assayer is finally printed), ensuring prudential and diplomatic editing of works that could avoid unnecessary confrontation with the religious authorities, and putting forth other publications to advance the positions of the new scientists.   

However, it was the advancement in science that could be said to have been its most important function. Because of the printing press, books were now more widely available, but they were still relatively expensive. Prince Cesi created a magnificent library at his country home that expressed the great outpouring of support for humanist and theological culture as an alternative to the largest library at the time, the Collegio Romano Jesuit Library. Cesi’s library offered freedom of access, but not formally freedom of acquisition, for all books were still subject to the suppression laws of the Inquisition, though part of the new creativity was finding ways around those limitations even though the Inquisitorial Court had dubbed the new positions as contrary and injurious to faith, as propagating atheism, moral pessimism, materialism, naturalism and libertinism. Nevertheless, as in all totalitarian systems, a thriving trade in samizdat literature emerged. The fulcrum of a broad collection covering many topics that could be consulted was critical.

Federico Cesi was Galileo’s publisher in Rome. His home there was also a museum for an accumulation of fossils as well as another location for his extensive collection of books. Cesi’s most ambitious project was an encyclopedia of nature in all its aspects, the Theatrum naturale which, nevertheless still excluded mathematics, mechanics and astronomy as still too risky. Besides, Cesi was not a mathematician. He was a humanist. And even then, he was only able to publish the volumes on botany and zoology; physics, chemistry and geology waited later publishers.

Possibly the most important of Galileo’s friends was Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, a brilliant and politically ambitious prelate. In 1612, he supported Galileo. The key events took place between 1616 when Galileo was first accused of heresy and 1632 when he was charged and there was an actual court case run by the Inquisition. On 6 August 1623, Maffeo Barberini was elected Pope Urban VIII. A refined intellect now had control of the highest office and it was widely known that he was friendly with Galileo. The counter-reformation was underway as countries such as Hungary and Bohemia reverted almost as one to Catholicism and the Jesuits gained control of monasteries allegedly in the hands of corrupt religious orders. Usually in league with Spain, the Jesuits were very suspicious of the new pontiff, who had served in Paris, and his outreach to Richelieu. The Lynceans saw their opening with their old rivals, the Collegio Romano.

The other Barberini, Francesco, a nephew of the new pope, was appointed by Cesi to the Academy of Lyceans and, a few days later, Pope Urban VIII, in the same year he became pope, bestowed on his nephew the robes of a cardinal. Francesco was only 26 years old. He had also been Galileo’s student. The publication of Galileo’s The Assayer quickly followed; it was dedicated to the new pope. In authoritarian regimes, it is very helpful to have friends in high places.

However, The Assayer was a satire, more specifically a satire of the Aristotelians who populated the Collegio Romano and their cult of tradition. If Galileo had enemies before, they were now determined on revenge for both their loss of power and their humiliation. Three years later, in 1626, they found an opening. As we will see, Galileo’s friends were important simply as friends, but also as developers and exponents of his views and as defenders in the face of the power of The Inquisition.

I will examine how that power was exercised in a subsequent blog that will take up the trial of Galileo in which Pope Urban VIII, Cardinal Matteo Barberini, played such a crucial role.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642): Science and Religion – Part Ib: Why the Jews?

Pope Alexander VI offered sanctuary to Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, from Portugal in 1497 and from Provence in 1498. Jews were given protection by King Ferdinand I of Naples. They were also offered protection in Tuscany. Except for the Jews in Sicily, then under the thumb of the Spanish monarchy, the Jews otherwise thrived until two Jewish apostates denounced the Talmud in the sixteenth century and on Yom Kippur of 1553, all copies of the Talmud in the Italian Papal States were burned. Pius IV and Paul IV persecuted the Jews of the Papal States from which they were eventually expelled. However, under Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590), the position of the Jews in Italy improved greatly. They were permitted to live in any part of the Papal States and to offer medical treatment to gentiles.

The situation of the Jews in the Papal States was soon reversed. Gregory XIV succeeded Pope Sixtus in 1592, but died almost immediately. He was replaced by Clement VIII who renewed the anti-Jewish bulls of Pius IV and Paul IV. Jews fled and were received and welcomed by Duke Ferdinand del Medici of Tuscany.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, there were then many Jews in Tuscany and Vienna with whom Galileo could have had interchanges rather than a Jewish doctor far away in Hamburg. However, though many Jews were physicians and some were scientists and mathematicians, Jews in general in the seventeenth century were not particularly notable for their scientific achievements, in stark contrast with the twentieth and twenty-first centuries where they form a very disproportionate role in those activities and an even greater disproportion of winners of Nobel prizes.

Jews then had the same genes, perhaps even a greater drive, than contemporary Jews in North America, but their religious beliefs at the time, no less than that of Roman Catholics, meant they were more wedded to the Aristotelian beliefs of Maimonides just as the RCs were to Saint Thomas Aquinas. Further, even in comparison to the Medieval Period, Jewish intellectual life was “relatively isolated and inner-directed” (Ruderman, ch. 2), largely disconnected from the then current thinking and literary tastes of the outside world in the seventeenth century – with the exception of the intellectual, professional and mercantilist elite.

On the other hand, discord with Jews was least in the universities in the city-states of Italy. The University of Padua was a case in point. It was critical to developing the medical and, to some degree, scientific and mathematical communities of Italy. Galileo claimed that his time in Padua, with its fellowship and tolerance, was the happiest period of his life. After a short stint at the University of Pisa, Galileo celebrated his academic appointment in 1592 to Padua, the institution where he had first enrolled as a student in 1581. Soon after his appointment, he invented the thermometer.

Nathan, the son of the famous Solomon of Udine who had achieved great status as the Turkish ambassador to Venice, was one of the first Jewish students at the University of Padua in the latter part of the sixteenth century. The University of Padua subsequently became the mecca for Jews with the means and fortitude to travel from the other side of the Alps to attend this centre of higher learning renowned for its amazing intellectual stimulation – it was the Princeton of its time. There was no quota limiting Jews and they flocked there, particularly to the Faculty of Medicine.

The Padua synagogue with its majestic bimah and Torah Ark on the opposite wall was built in 1584 in the historic ghetto. It survived the fascists because they destroyed the modern synagogue that replaced this restored one that had been abandoned. Today, there are still 45,000 Jews living in Padua. A few families hidden by Italians trace their roots in Italy back two millennia.

In Padua, Galileo hobnobbed with the elite and with the creative, religious and intellectual leaders of his time. But Padua lacked an elite wealthy Jewish mercantilist class. Galileo served the Christian elite, initially as a consultant on navigation and ship-building based on his knowledge of mathematics and physics. It was at Padua that he won the patent for his irrigation device based on his own theories of gravitation. He also happened to be an electrifying lecturer. But it was also in Padua that he, along with two friends who died, contracted probably what we now call legionnaire’s disease; Galileo suffered for the rest of his life from the after-effects. It was also in Padua that his mistress gave birth to his first “illegitimate” daughter in 1600, the very same year that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake.

I have no knowledge of Galileo meeting Rabbi Judah Assael del Bene who was also a renowned scientist in Padua, but who was very much younger than Galileo. Nor even earlier of any meeting with Joseph Hamiz, who had graduated in medicine from the University of Padua in 1624. Like Bruno, Hamiz became fascinated with Kabbalah and eventually endorsed Shabbatai Zevi as the messiah. Undoubtedly, both del Bene and Hamiz knew of Galileo. Yet as eminent as all these Jews were, they did not fully embrace the new science. While also rebelling against the rationalism of Aristotle, they did so often by reverting to older religious-philosophical beliefs rooted in Plato and Jewish mysticism that would give birth to Hasidism.

This was my main reason for beginning with Galileo. For as a, if not the, leading figure of the new science, there was no indication that he dealt with Jews as anything other than equal humans. As his brilliant and sensitive daughter, Maria Celeste (as I wrote above, born in 1600, the same year that Gordano Bruno was burned at the stake) echoed his views in a 1623 letter: “we are all of us here on Earth like strangers and wayfarers, who soon will be bound for our new homeland in Heaven, where there is perfect happiness.” But while in graduate school, I had been taught that there was a reason for why Galileo could be tried by the inquisition and renounce his beliefs; those beliefs would stand as the truth in spite of such a renunciation. In contrast, Bruno had to die for his truth and could not renounce his beliefs, for his truth was ultimately subjective and depended on his commitment to it to establish the validity of his convictions.

However, this is a false story. Galileo never retracted his beliefs. (This is a controversial statement which I will defend in much greater detail in my concluding blog.) Given his significant improvements of the telescope that had just been invented and the proofs he offered, both mathematical, experimental and visual, Galileo continued to support the Copernican sun-centred system of the world. However, he edited what he claimed about them and agreed to define them as hypotheses rather than ultimate truth after his first 1616 trial by the Inquisitional Court, but he never withdrew his claims for the veracity of the theory. The contrast between Bruno and Galileo that I was taught as a student was offered to radically differentiate science and religion, to define science as concerned with objectivity while religion was concerned with faith and subjective conviction. The problem is that Galileo did not share this dichotomous division.

Galileo was a religious Roman Catholic. He commented on biblical texts and tried to show the text was compatible with the new science. He clashed with those in power who claimed one, and only one, divinely authorized interpretation, namely the one prescribed by institutionalized power. Religious belief and belief in the nature of the cosmos were both subject to objective analysis. Therefore, I chose Galileo to begin with, not so much, in fact, not at all, because he had an opinion of Jews per se. He had none. They were simply other humans with different practices. Galileo was not only a pioneer in the new science, but a pioneer in the new approach to religion as well. This and his scientific and mathematical achievements provided a model for Jews who wanted to retain their Judaism but also live in the modern world.

One final note. Lest readers be left with the impression that all Jews at that time were caught up in a romanticized throwback version of science, many Jews, many illustrious Jews, were not. But they tended to follow the illustrious non-Jewish mathematicians of the first half of the seventeenth century. For example, the renowned Venetian mathematician and scientist, Simone Luzzatto (1583-1663), was himself a famous rabbi in the Venetian ghetto. He believed in human reason. He concurred with Galileo’s conclusions. But he also believed that reason could not attain its ultimate goal without divine assistance. (Socrat) Reason in the study of nature and religion served complementary rather than disjunctive functions.

In another area, he was ahead of Galileo. In 1638, four years before Galileo died, Luzzatto wrote a Discourse addressed to the leaders of the Venetian Republic as a radical break from the traditional fawning petitioning, that Galileo himself always used. In Luzzatto’s petition, he presumed equal rights as a citizen to other non-Jewish residents of Venice. It had important consequences on the development of the idea of separation of religion from politics so that a century-and-a-half later, in the founding of the American republic, religious liberty, and not just tolerance, became a founding ideal. (See the Letters between Moses Seixas and President George Washington.)  

To be continued.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642): Science and Religion – Part Ia: Why the Jews?

The Renaissance, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, the Scientific Revolution and the communication revolution as a result of the invention of moveable type, that all began or took place in the sixteenth century, altered the view of the world and impacted the lives of both Jews and Christians in Europe in the seventeenth century. In the spring, I gave a series of lectures on some greats in the sixteenth century transitional period between the medieval and the modern period and the relationship between these important figures and Jews and Judaism. How did the many different dimensions of those interactions play out in the seventeenth century?

As autumn comes to an end, I plan to give three more lectures (and write corresponding blogs) on great figures of the seventeenth century and their relationship to Jews. They include Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, Hugo Grotius, Blaise Pascal, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Lurking in the background throughout this survey will be Baruch Spinoza, a Jew ex-communicated from his congregation in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century.  

I begin with Galileo Galilei. Why Galileo?

Personal Identification

It could be personal. Galileo’s daughter, a cloistered nun in San Matteo, on 18 October 1630, when her father was on the verge of publishing his most famous book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World, wrote her father a letter. In her pattern of self-renunciation and humility, combined with her enormous respect and love for her father, she asked rhetorically, “If you could teach me the secret you yourself employ, Sire, for getting by on so little sleep, I would be most grateful.” (Sobel 199) I identify with Galileo. He slept little. So do I.

Further, like myself he went to medical school for two years before he shifted to mathematics and physics; I went on to study philosophy after two years of medical school. Perhaps my choice of Galileo was because I identified with him, not only for the few hours of sleep he enjoyed each night, but because I have always been overwhelmed by his scientific achievements. In addition, I identified with him because he disdained academic dress and manners. When I first taught at Trinity College at the University of Toronto, I was required to wear an academic gown. I did as I was required, but I used my gown to erase the chalk marks I made on the blackboard. Galileo also “deemed official doctoral dress a pretentious nuisance.” (Sobel 19)

Finally, it could be because some of his enemies spread rumours that Galileo was a Jew, a man from the Galil. The rumour was patently false and had no merit whatsoever, but we are well acquainted with “fake news” these days and false allegations that it was the Ukrainians, not the Russians, who interfered in the American 2016 elections.

Galileo’s Interactions with Jews

Galileo had some interaction with Jews. However, those contacts were infrequent and exceptional. For example, he did write a letter to the 17th century Jewish mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and physician, Jacob Rosales of Hamburg, one of the three Hanseatic cities. (The others were Danzig and Lűbeck.) Galileo had presumably met Rosales when the latter lived in Rome. They had much in common, but also a number of fundamental differences, both on science and religion. Rosales, for example,nseatic cities that included Danzig and Lbeck as well,Hanseatic cities also happened to be a Sebastianist, an exponent of political messianism.

A bit more on Rosales. Christened Imanuel Bocarro Francês in 1593 in Lisbon, Rosales became an ex-Marrano who returned to Judaism after his escape to Hamburg (1631-1652). Subsequently, he was denounced by the spy on the Sephardic Jewish community throughout Europe, Semuel Aboab, alias Francisco Domingo de Guzmán, but this informer to the inquisition operated between 1661-2, well after Galileo’s death. When Galileo was in touch with Rosales, it was over a dispute between modern science and Rosales’ commitment to traditional science and astrology. Galileo admired Rosales for his proficiency in astrology, but was never persuaded of its scientific bona fides.

Galileo himself dabbled in astrology. Any physician trained in Europe at the time had to be an accomplished astrologer, since doctors were then required to cast horoscopes in order to see what the stars adumbrated of the patient’s life. Astrology was intended to assist in diagnosis, in prescribing remedies and even in understanding the causes of specific diseases. However, Galileo never took astrology seriously. He engaged in it at the request of a patron, such as that of Madama Christina when Grand Duke Ferdinando was ill, but he joked that astrologers really only saw things in retrospect.

A plethora of Jewish physicians lived in Hamburg and Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, many of them mentored by the very illustrious Rodrigo de Castro, another Marrano who reverted back to Judaism. In de Castro’s theory of plagues, those epidemics were the result of the spread of extremely small organisms, a theory clearly in advance of his time and the germ theory of disease established two centuries later when it was determined that the plague resulted from microbes living in and on rats; the fleas living on those rats spread the disease when a rat died and the fleas migrated to another host.

At the time, although the accumulation of dead rats adumbrated the arrival once again of the plague – never as horrific as the fourteenth century when one-third of the population of Europe died – the widespread belief was that the disease resulted from “swamp air,” or, more often, a full moon in conjunction with specific positions of the planets. Famine supposedly played a part. But it was the stellar conjunctions that were used to trace the course of the disease and its treatment.

That was the supposedly scientific side. On the irrational populist side, beggars and Jews were accused of being responsible for the spread of the plague. Further, Galileo’s daughter pronounced to her father that the plague resulted from insufficient prayer and piety. Galileo himself, though he had observed microbes through his telescope, never recognized even de Castro’s and Rosales’ early version of germ theory.

Rosales was more enamoured with astrology as a guide to medical practice than any subscription to a proto-germ theory. In fact, as Isaac Cordoso wrote on the death of Rosales’ only son at 17 years of age, “when his only son fell sick, the stars told him he would be healthy and enjoy long life. But his son died at the age of 17, because his father trusted more in the stars than in the mortal signs of danger and in [the healing power of] medicines.” Christian physicians in Hamburg, though also proficient in astrology, were more inclined to rely on bleeding and medicines than astrology.

Galileo’s contact with Rosales predated his move to Hamburg. Rosales had fled first fled from Lisbon to Rome after he had been denounced as a heretic. He lived there until at least 1629 and possibly until 1632 when Galileo’s most famous book was published. In Rome, Rosales published the fourth part of his banned book, Anacefaleoses (the contemporary meaning is related to the congenital absence of part of the brain) and his separately published notes in his volume Luz Pequena Lunar.

Rosales’ book envisioned the heavenly monarch as eternal, divine and perfect; it was related to the sun, equally perfect according to Aristotelian and Ptolemaic cosmology. Earthly monarchies, in contrast, were imperfect, lacked in effect part of a brain, particularly the Portugese monarchy. Earthly monarchies were linked with lunar light and linked with its deficiencies. What would Rosales have thought of the moon, and, by extension, earthly monarchies, if he had learned that the moon had no light of its own but merely reflected the light of the sun?

Rosales was also renowned for his poetry “in Spanish, Portuguese and Neo-Latin to expound his theories about the human and divine knowledge.” He also wrote encomia in praise of his friends and colleagues. Unequivocally, he had great admiration for Galileo as a mathematician, a scientist and an astrologer, but seemed unaware of Galileo’s scepticism of the latter subject.

What comes across is Galileo’s total indifference to whether Rosales was a Christian, a Marrano or a believing Jew which he became. Mathematics and science were the new universal language. In contrast, in spite of the apparent greater tolerance for Jews in Hamburg, Christian physicians were rivals of Jewish physicians because of the so-called Jewish medical practices. But there was also a great jealousy of the Jews from Portugal, for the mercantilist elite of Hamburg engaged in banking and international trade, primarily with Brazil, lived in incredible luxury and in huge mansions.

To be continued.

Impeachment Hearings, Antisemitism and Apocalyptic Disaster

I do not tweet, but I sent out the following series of short messages in separate emails to a few colleagues which I decided to share with a wider audience.

The first note was in response to a fear of emerging antisemitism in the impeachment hearings given the large number of Jews involved.

  1. Antisemitism and the Impeachment Hearings
  1. Re Jews and antisemitism and the fact that “Shifty Schiff” as Trump dubbed Adam Schiff, and Daniel Goldman whom Trump is expected to insult next, the alleged Jewish conspiracy net will grow wider and deeper as the impeachment proceedings continue. After all, Lt. Col. Alex Vindman and Gordon Sondland, whom the Trumpers are preparing to throw under the bus, are both Jewish. Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish. When the Supreme Court intervenes, it will be pointed out that one-third of the Supreme Court justices are Jewish – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. (Kagan was the first female to have a Bat Mitzvah in her modern orthodox synagogue.)
  2. Since her parents fled communism and Nazi Germany, I have been told that rumours abound that Marie Yovanovitch is Jewish (Yanovitch is a common Ukrainian Jewish name), though I have no evidence that Marie Yovanovittch is. 
  3. Further, the two indicted crooks working with Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. are both Jewish; one of them has already agreed to turn on Giuliani.   
  4. When you marry antisemitism to misogyny – Trump referred to Yovanovitch as “that woman – you have a toxic mix for conspiracy theorists and believers in “the deep state.” Trump will find worse names for all the ones mentioned in the email that I received and those I have added. Further, after all, like Vindman, many have what Sean Duffy called, “an affinity for Ukraine.”  
  5. This is far worse than the Nixon impeachment, given Trump’s crimes and the depth of his support among evangelicals who are currently mostly pro-Zionist and supporters of two routes to redemption.
  6. It is even worse than the McCarthy period and the association of Jews with communism. We have to be prepared for much greater calumnies and the increase in the rise of right wing as well as left wing antisemitism. 

All the best.

  • Looming Economic Disaster and Rising Antisemitism.

I forgot to mention how the coming economic dire straits we are entering as a result of trade wars and economic geo-politics, but even more profoundly the emerging currency war as China seeks to create an alternative government-backed digital currency to escape the dominance of the U.S. dollar and the U.S. efforts under Trump to use the dollar for political coercion  – the much bigger story behind the Trump bribery attempt on Zelensky. There is more to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckenberg’s warnings about non-U.S.-regulated digital currencies than just the technology of payments. We are entering an era in which the 2008 crash of Lehman Brothers will look like small potatoes  – and we can expect Jews and Israel to become ready targets and branded as the economic cosmopolitan and internationalist czars that brought about the great economic crash.

  • Climate Change and Israel

One last item:

If I have not offered enough apocalyptic warnings re Jews and Israel, there is the greatest danger of all, climate change. For the first time ever, the report prepared by the Israel Climate Change Information Center provides details the effects of rising sea levels on Israel and which regions are at-risk of flooding, including exactly which streets will be inundated. These include those in Tel Aviv, Acre, Haifa, and Bat Yam. In total, 2.5 million people are in danger from rising sea levels. Flooding of rivers can endanger another 2.8 million. Beyond this, there is the spread of disease, water-born mosquitoes that multiply during floods, heat strokes, contamination of Israeli aquifers and damage to desalination plants. 

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  • Alex Vindman

A final, final note as the White House prepares to smear Vindman – you can see how much I am bothered by what I see as coming. 

In the impeachment hearings on Friday, the Republicans tabled the transcript of Trump’s April 21 phone call with Zelensky in which the two engaged in a repetitive session of mutual admiration, adoration and congratulations. However, the transcript contradicted the White House publicly released readout at the time that said that the conversation indicated “the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and Trump’s support for Zelensky’s “reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity and root out corruption.”

But there is no mention of either topic in the transcript. The White House then blamed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for the discrepancy between the official readout in April and the transcript of the phone call tabled at the impeachment hearings on Friday. As the explanation for the discrepancies released later said, “It is standard operating procedure for the National Security Council to provide readouts of the president’s phone calls with foreign leaders.” This one was allegedly prepared by the NSC’s Ukraine expert, Alex Vindman. However, the official readout was based on talking points that the president did not follow. After the call, the White House staff did not update the readout to reflect what Trump actually said — and what he left out.

Yet Vindman will be painted as the treasonous fall guy.

Horror of horrors and a taste of what is coming.

  • Gordon Sondland

A final, final, final note re throwing another Jew, Gordon Sondland, besides Michael Cohen, under the bus.

Sondland, a Trump sycophant and financial supporter, first tried to cover up for Trump in insisting that foreign aid was never linked to Trump’s demand that Zelensky launch investigations into the Bidens, and then his revision that there was a linkage for which he was responsible by perhaps presuming too much. It was he who had communicated a “quid pro quo,” not Trump. In light of other witness testimonies, Sondland now remembered those conversations as his memory was refreshed. But wait for the third revision this week in light of the Holmes testimony. Senator Lindsey O. Graham has already signalled the attack on Sondland of whom Trump said of this megadonor that, “I hardly knew the gentleman.” Graham has already declared that Sondland’s testimony is “full of crap.” “Why did [Sondland] change his testimony? Was there a connection between [Sondland] and Democratic operatives on the committee?”This is even before the second career civil servant in the embassy who also overheard Trump’s conversation with Sondland testifies. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) echoed Senator Graham. Sondland didn’t mention this call in his initial testimony so he cannot be trusted. 

Does anyone think Trump or his sycophantic supporters can be trusted in anyway?


I will next turn to more interesting if far more distant and less relevant topics in parallel with my forthcoming five-part seminar series on Gentile Views of Jews in the Seventeenth Century. The first seminar on 20 November 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at Holy Blossom Temple will be on Galileo.