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Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism

Darwin’s theory of evolution transformed the life sciences and made profound claims about human origins and the human condition, topics often viewed as the prerogative of religion. As a result, evolution has provoked a wide variety of religious responses, ranging from angry rejection to enthusiastic acceptance. While Christian responses to evolution have been studied extensively, little scholarly attention has been paid to Jewish reactions. Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism is the first extended meditation on the Jewish engagement with this crucial and controversial theory.

The contributors to Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism—from several academic disciplines and two branches of the rabbinate—present case studies showing how Jewish discussions of evolution have been shaped by the intersections of faith, science, philosophy, and ideology in specific historical contexts. Furthermore, they examine how evolutionary theory has been deployed when characterizing Jews as a race, both by Zionists and by anti-Semites. Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism addresses historical and contemporary, as well as progressive and Orthodox, responses to evolution in America, Europe, and Israel, ultimately extending the history of Darwinism into new religious domains.

240 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Biological Sciences: Evolutionary Biology

History of Science

Jewish Studies

Religion: Judaism


"This collection of ten essays supplies an additional and valuable dimension to the literature on the complex relationship between the theory of evolution and religion....[The] book expands our understanding of the diversity of opinions on the relationship of scientific ideas to religious positions. The colection also provides an interesting exploration of how Judaism confronted modernity, as well as how various European writers used evolution to support their concepts of race, racism, and anti-Semitism."

Paul Lawrence Farber | Journal of the History of Biology

"How encounter a treatment of the challenge of Darwinism to the Jewish faith, in a new collection of essays edited by Geoffrey Cantor and Marc Swetlitz. . . . It will be a much welcomed result if this collection not only spurs further research into Jewish encounters with modern science and evolution, but also research into the encounters of other religions and systems of faith with modern science and evolution. As always, Darwinism can teach us much about the natural world; our own reactions to its powerful ideas can teach us no less about ourselves."

Oren Harman | Reports of the National Center for Science Education,

"I feel that this volume will provide fresh perspectives and new ideas to consider for scholars interested in the interaction of evolution and religion."

Daniel Stoebel | Quarterly Review of Biology

"[The book] will present the reader used to encountering the debates in an exclusively Christian context with an intersting counterpoint. Both the similarities and the unique aspects of Christian and Jewish responses to Darwinism are instructive."

Oren Harman | Reports of the National Center for Science Education

"These exceptional essays reveal both the depth of the theological issues raised by evolution and the breadth of Jewish responses, yielding a singularly important examination not only of Judaism but of the increasingly complex contemporary interaction of science and religion."


"The shelf of books about Christians and Darwinian evolution is vast. . . . About Jews and Darwinian evolution there is now one book. Happily, it is a very good one. . . . An excellent introduction to the subject, demonstrating its interest and importance with unfailing sophistication."

Noah Efron | Isis

Table of Contents

List of Contributors
Introduction to Part 1
1 Anglo-Jewish Responses to Evolution
  Geoffrey Cantor
2 Responses to Evolution by Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist   Rabbis in Twentieth-Century America
  Marc Swetlitz
3 “Practically, I Am a Fundamentalist”: Twentieth-Century Orthodox Jews   Contend with Evolution and Its Implications
  Ira Robinson
Introduction to Part 2
4 The Impact of Social Darwinism on Anti-Semitic Ideology in Germany and   Austria, 1860-1945
  Richard Weikart
5 The Evolution of Jewish Identity: Ignaz Zollschan between Jewish and   Aryan Race Theories, 1910-1945
  Paul Weindling
6 Zionism, Race, and Eugenics
  Raphael Falk
Introduction to Part 3
7 Crisis Management via Biblical Interpretation: Fundamentalism, Modern   Orthodoxy, and Genesis
  Shai Cherry
8 Torah and Madda? Evolution in the Jewish Educational Context
  Rena Selya
9 Modern Orthodoxy and Evolution: The Models of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik   and Rabbi A. I. Kook
  Carl Feit
10 The Order of Creation and the Emerging God: Evolution and Divine Action in the Natural World
  Lawrence Troster
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