No longer able to resist the
influence of the Enlightenment, the Jews of Europe began in the late eighteenth
century to debate the appropriate role of science in their religion and
society. Although the Hasidim maintained the stance that classical science was
heresy and that classical scientific texts should not be translated into Hebrew,
a strong opposition, led by Rabbi
Hagaon from Vilna, steadily gained influence. Rabbi Hagaon urged one of his
disciples, Baruch from Schklow, to choose the most effective book on general
science, but one that would not be too controversial, and translate it into
Hebrew. Euclid's Elements, arguably the most widely read and influential
classical scientific work, was the natural choice.
Some of the most interesting
features of the work include the apologies at the beginning which attempt to
justify the translation of a forbidden book into the holy language, and the
language that had to be specially created, or adopted from the Bible, to
accommodate the mathematical terminology.