By Zvi Erenyi
Collection Development and Reference Librarian
Mendel Gottesman Library
On Tuesday, Feb 9, 2021, the Yeshiva University Libraries presented the first of their spring 2021 book talks, featuring a discussion between Marcelo Broitman, adjunct professor of Spanish at Yeshiva College, and Dr. Ronnie Perelis, Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena Alcalay Associate Professor of Sephardic Studies, at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. The topic at hand was Prof. Broitman’s book, Francisco Sánchez y el redescubrimiento de la duda en el Renacimiento [Francisco Sánchez and the Rediscovery of Doubt in the Renaissance], which was reissued in 2020 in its second edition by the publishing house Pliegos, in Madrid (2020).
Prof. Broitman was born in Argentina and studied at universities both in Buenos Aires and New York, obtaining a Ph.D. at City University of New York. Responding to a series of probing questions from Dr. Perelis, he described the converso background of Sanchez’s family (meaning a Jew who converted to Catholicism in Spain or Portugal) as well as Sanchez’s childhood, education, travels, and his ultimate settlement in Toulouse, where he taught medicine and philosophy until his death in 1623.
Prof. Broitman pointed out that Sanchez’s main contribution to philosophy was his position of passionate skepticism, harkening back to the ancient Greek school of Pyrrho of Elis (4th and 3rd centuries B.C.), set in opposition to the medieval dominance of dogmas and “Aristotelian” logical scholasticism. Sánchez’s definition of “science” was “perfect knowledge of a thing,” but he argued that although perfect knowledge is unattainable, people should try to gain whatever knowledge they can through careful observation.
While Prof. Broitman was clear that there is no indication in Sánchez’s writings of any Jewish influence, it seems plausible to suppose that his family background set him apart and may have afforded him the intellectual distance to advocate for the changes in modes of thinking that marked the Renaissance. There seem to be aspects of his thought which prefigured René Descartes among other philosophers. Even though Sanchez did not influence Baruch Spinoza’s thought, both philosophers held some pantheistic views.