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Book Review The Jewish Alchemists. A. History and Source Book. By R. Patai

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Fascinating Alchemical History-A
Nucleophilic Aromatic Substitution of
Hydrogen. By 0. N . Chupakliin, V. N .
Cliarid~itia n d H . C. van clrr Plus.
Academic Press, San Diego, 1994.
367 pp.. hardcover $95.00.--ISBN
0-12-1 74640-2
The chemistry of aromatic compounds
i s presently not in the mainstream of or-
ganic chemistry research. although a substantial proportion of the products of the
fine chemicals iiidustry contain aromatic
moieties. and there are still many challenging and important questions concerning reactions of aromatic compounds.
Therefore the monograph Nucleophilic
Aronirilic, Sirh.~/i/u/ionof Hydrogen by
0. N . Chupukhin. V. N. Charushin. and
H . C. vaii der Plas is a very welcome and
needed contribution.
The book is divided into four chapters:
1. Introduction (16 pp.), 2. Nucleophilic
Substitution of Hydrogen in Arenes
(70 pp.). 3. Nucleophilic Substitution of
Hydrogen in Heteroaromatics ( 1 52 pp.),
und 4. Reactivity of Arenes and Heteroareiies and Mechanisms of the SE Reactions (40 pp.). The length of the third
chapter. which forms more than half of
the book, rctlects the personal interest of
the authors who are very active in the
chemistry of‘ mines. In the first chapter
the authors formulate the theme of the
book. present basic concepts o f the reactions between nucleophilic agents and
electrophilic arenes. and briefly discuss
possible w a q s in which the 0’’ adducts of
nucleophilic agents to electrophilic arenes
can be converted into products. In the second chapter these possibilities are discussed iii detail for the reactions of nucleophiles with carbocyclic nitroarenes
and complexes of arenes with transition
Thir wc11o11cotit:iins hook review? .ind a list of
iit‘i+hiioA\ i-ccel\ed by theeditor. Book revie\&sarc
i w i t ten hy I n i I 1‘1 ti on from the editor. Suggestions
I b r honk\ I O lhc reviened and for hook reviewers
i i i c \\elconic Puhli\hcrs should send brochures or
(hcrtcr) hook\ 10 Dr Kalf Baumann. Kedaktion
Angcv.:iiidIc C l i ~ n i i e .Poalkich 1 0 1 161. D-69451
Wetnhcnn. i edcriil Kcpublic ofGerm;inq The edit o i - r c s c r b e tlic right of selecting which books uill
he ievic\vcd Ilninvited hooks iiot chosen for
re\ic\\ UIII not he rektrned.
Labor of Love
metals. The third and longest chapter describes analogous reactions with electrophilic heteroarenes. This is mostly
devoted to the various possibilities of
nucleophilic amination, mainly the
Chichibabin reaction- particularly its oxidative variant. The fourth chapter deals
with mechanistic aspects of the nucleophilic substitution of hydrogen, foi-mation of the oHadducts, and their conversion to the final products.
The book is well written and also contains examples of experimental procedures. It will be of great value to chemists
working in research laboratories in
academia and industry who need to be
acquainted with possibilities o f introducing substituents into aromatic rings via
this process. The experimental procedures
enable the reader to evaluate the practical
usefulness of a variety of reactions without the necessity to consult the original
literature. An additional advantage of this
book. written partly by Russian chemists,
is that it contains many references to the
Russian literature. often not available in
Western libraries and therefore somewhat
I also have some critical remarks about
this book. First of all, in promoting the
usefulness of nucleophilic substitution of
hydrogen the authors should stress in a
more unambiguous way that where there
is competition from the S,Ar reaction of
halogen this is just a secondary process.
Also it seems that sigmatropic rearrangement reactions such as the Hauser-Sommelet rearrangement or the Gassmann
reaction, which are included in the book.
are close analogs of the Claisen aryl-ally1
ethers rearrangement and should not be
considered as the nucleophilic substitution of hydrogen. Also nucleophilic aromatic substitutions via arynes can hardly
be considered as examples of nucleophilic
substitution of hydrogen. The titles of the
chapters are somewhat inconsistent because the general term “arenes” also embraces “heteroarenes”. In the list of contents the title of Chapter 4 should be
”Heteroarenes”. not “Hetarenes”. The
mechanistic discussions in Chapter 4 are
sometimes superficial. There are some
rather questionable opinions: for example. orientation effects in nucleophilic
addition to derivatives of nitrothiophene,
nitrofuran. etc. (p. 256) should be explained as due to efficient conjugation,
not as an anomeric effect. Also the preceding discussion concerning site selectivity (p. 255) appears doubtful. There is only
a subject index, which is not sufficiently
comprehensive. These minor flaws do not
spoil my general positive impression of
the book, which due to its great value
should find a place not only in libraries
but also in individual collections.
M i c c ~,.slu
II’ M$
Institute of Orpanic Chemistry
Polish Academy of Sciences
Warsaw (Poland)
The Jewish Alchemists. A History and
Source Book. By R. Piitai. Princeton
University Press, Princeton. NJ, 1994.
XVI, 617 pp., hardcover $35.00.ISBN 0-691-03290-4
When I taught Sunday School at
Fresno’s Temple Beth Israel during the
late 1950s and early 1960s. the consensus
was that mysticism had never occupied
more than a minor position in Judaism.
This denigration of the Zohar and the
Kabbalah was probably due to the earlier
influence of the Jewish Enlightenment
(Haskalah) and its attempt to distance Judaism from “unenlightened” superstition.
Similarly, as Professor Raphael Patai, the
eminent Hungarian-born octogenarian
Jewish anthropologist. folklorist, Biblical
scholar, and prolific author. points out,
contemporary Jewish scholars have asserted that the participation of Jews in
alchemy was likewise insignificant. Although there exists n o inventory of alchemical manuscripts written by Jews,
nor even a study o f references to alchemy
found in books written by Jews, and although the number of Jewish alchemists
was small in comparison to the number o f
non-Jewish alchemists i n the countries of
the Jewish Diaspora. Jewish alchemists
exerted an important influence on the
origin, development. transmission, and
spread of alchemy.
In fact, as Professor Patai’s book effectively demonstrates. throughout much of
the history of alchemy, in order to provide
a legitimation and respectable family tree
for the “Great Art.” there was a persistent
tendency to attribute a Jewish or even biblical origin to alchemy as a whole, and
numerous biblical figures, from Adam
through the prophets (with Moses considered its greatest master), were regarded by
later alchemists as adepts or recipients of
its secrets by divine revelation. Alchemical
efficacy was attributed to Hebrew divine,
angelic, and demonic names, to Hebrew
words, and even to the 22 letters of the
Hebrew alphabet; and Hebrew was more
important for the alchemist than was
Latin for the physician. This overvaluation by gentiles of the Jewish role in the
origin and development of alchemy survived the European Enlightenment and
continued through the 18th and 19th centuries.
In order to counteract the negative attitude of Jewish scholars toward Jewish
contributions to alchemy, Professor Patai
has written this meticulously documented
book, which is clearly a labor of love. In it
he opens up a previously unexplored field
in cultural history by tracing Jewish
alchemy from Hellenistic times through
the 19th century. Despite the book’s
length, broad scope, and the number of
years spent and the number of archives
consulted in writing it. the author modestly states: “it should not be considered
more than a prolegomenon to the history
of the Jewish work in alchemy and the role
of Jews in contributing to its theory and
practice.” Patai cites two reasons for this
limitation. First, he admits that he was
unable to consult all existing Jewish alchemical writings, especially those still in
manuscript and scattered throughout the
world’s libraries and archives. Many of
these are probably in various languages,
and the impression obtained from the vast
amount ofmaterial in this book, viz., that
Jews wrote most of their alchemical works
in Hebrew characters. is probably incorrect. Second, Patai was able to refer only
occasionally to the personal relationships
between Jewish and non-Jewish alchemists and the literary influences between Jewish alchemical writings and the
more numerous writings produced in the
Moslem and Christian worlds.
The book. which is graced by 35 illustrations, consists of 40 chapters (ranging
in length from 2; to 30 pages), arranged in
10 sections (ranging from 31 to 88 pages).
each prefaced by a summarizing introduction. The material is arranged chronologically, which is sometimes problematic because authorship of manuscripts is
often pseudepigraphic. e.g.. Pseudo-Maimonides. Patai begins his first section
(Prelude) with a careful explication of the
multifaceted aspects of alchemy, both exoteric and esoteric, proceeds to show that
the major biblical figures were considered
as alchemists for centuries, and presents
the very few occurrences of alchemical
topics in the Bible and Talmud. In his second section (The Hellenistic Age) he
devotes two chapters to Maria the Jewess
(sometimes identified with Miriam, the
sister of Moses). one of the earliest nonfictional alchemists of the Western world,
who constructed and described various
ovens and alchemical apparatus (her
name is preserved in the Latin, French.
and German terms for the water bath^
balneum Mariae. bain Marie. and
Marienbad, respectively). Zosimus the
Panopolitan, the first Greek alchemical
author whose writings have survived and
who was the greatest authority among the
Hellenistic alchemists, considered Maria
the greatest authority among all the alchemists who preceded him. After a section on the early Arab world, and one on
the 11th to 13th centuries (the golden age
of Arab culture in general and Arab
alchemy in particular), the remaining six
sections consider individually the 24th to
19th centuries. The 14th century saw a
marked increase in the number of alchemists as a shortage of precious metals
for coinage produced a greater demand
for alchemical gold and silver. Most Jewish alchemists were Sephardim (those who
lived in the Mediterranean area), while
Ashkenazim (the Jews of Northern Europe) did not participate in the art until
the 18th century.
Patai presents exegetic translations of
original Hebrew and Arabic documents
and includes biographies not only of Jewish alchemists but of non-Jews who
learned their secret art from Jewish masters. e.g., Nicholas Flame1 from “Abraham the Jew” and Solomon Trismosin
from an unnamed “Jew who knew German.” Some Jewish alchemists combined
alchemy with magic or kabbalistic practices, while others became forerunners of
modern chemistry. Patai’s book contains
many facts and anecdotes of which I was
unaware. Although I had written an article on the Comte de Saint-Germain with
a student from my alchemy course, I did
not know of the count’s Jewish origins,
for which Patai cogently argues. The book
concludes with an 18-page alchemical vocabulary (Hebrew, Arabic, and Italian).
the most valuable part of a manuscript
from the Tunisian island of Jerba (Djerba)
discussed in Chapter 39, followed by
45 pages of detailed notes and references
and a 29-page (2 columns per cage) index,
which adds to the utility of the volume.
According to Patai, Jewish alchemy
possessed a number of specific characteristics. Because almost all the adepts were
religiously observant, they considered
their art closely interwoven with religious
practice. They were scrupulously honest.
for to be otherwise would be a religious
transgression. Their search for the
philosophers’ stone was more associated
with the humanitarian purpose of healing
the sick than was the case among nonJewish alchemists. Based on extant
sources, Jewish alchemists were more concerned with practice than with theory and
made few contributions to the latter.
Their technical directions were precise
and detailed. Also, the Kabbalah and its
concomitant gematria (calculations based
on the numerical values of Hebrew letters)
helped transform medieval alchemy into
the more mystically and religiously orientated discipline of the Renaissance.
This highly recommended book is a rich
storehouse of information on a grossly
neglected field of alchemical history. It
demonstrates that from its earliest origins
alchemy was a Jewish occupational specialization, comparable to the better
known Jewish work on medicine. It shows
that Jewish alchemists introduced new apparatus. techniques, and procedures, were
employed as court alchemists, and
achieved a high reputation in the Muslim
and Christian worlds in which alchemy
was practiced. Let us hope that it fulfills
the author’s hope that it “will stimulate
younger scholars to devote their attention
to this subject. and to carry on this fascinating task that time no longer permits me
to undertake.”
Grorgr B. Kcruffinan
Department of Chemistry
California State University
Fresno, C A (USA)
Dynamics of Environmental Bioprocesses. Modelling
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Waste Treatment and Disposal. Issues in Environmental
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Fluorine-containing Amino Acids. Synthesis and Properties. Edited by V. P. Kukhar', V. A. Soloshonok.
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Gnidelines for Achieving Quality in Trace Analysis,
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Organische Chemie 11. Spezielle Verbindungsklassen,
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Coordination Chemistry. Structure and Bonding,
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Supramolecular Chemistry 11. Host Design and Molecular Recognition. Edited by E.Weher. Springer, Berlin,
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Xenohiotics and Inflammation. Edited by L. B. Schook,
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Modeling the Hydrogen Bond. (Symposium Series 569).
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Fluid Catalytic Cracking 111: Materials and Processes.
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Inorganic and Organometallic Polymers 11: Advanced
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Carbohydrate Modifications in Antisense Research.
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Computer-Aided Molecular Design: Applications in
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Introduction to Biocatalysis Using Enzymes and MicroOrganisms. By S. M. Roberts, N. J. Turner, A. J. Willetts, M. K. Turner. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995. 195 p ~ . ,hardcover, d: 11.95.--ISBN
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Organosulfur Chemistry. Synthetic Aspects. Edited by
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Lehrhuch der Pharmazeutischen Chemie. 13., new edition. By H. Auterhoff, J. Knahe nnd H.-D. Holtje. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgemeinschaft, Stuttgart, 1994.
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Allgemeine Chemie: Theorie nnd Praxis. By G. Baars,
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Re, Organorhenium Compounds, Part 5. Edited by A.
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Industry's Future: Changisg Patterns of Industrial Research. By H. L Fusfeld. American Chemical Society,
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Ge, Organogermaninm Compounds, Part 4. Compounds with Germanium-Hydrogen Bonds, Edited by
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Techniques and Practice of Chromatography. (Chromatographic Science Series, 70). By R. P. W. Scott.
Marcel Dekker, New York, 1995.400 pp.. hardcover, $
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Enzymatic Conversion of Biomass for Fuels Production.
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Coordination Chemistry: A Century of Progress. Symposium Series 565. Edited by G. B. Kauffman. American Chemical Society, Washington, 1994. 480 pp.,
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Chemistry of the Amazon: Biodiversity, Natural Products, and Environmental Issues. (ACS Symposium Series No. 588). Edited by P. R. Seidl, 0. R. Gottlieh, IM.
A. Coelho Kaplan. American Chemical Society,
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Angew. Chem.Int. Ed, Engl. 1995. 34,No. 2i
(c) VCH Verlugsgrsrllschuft mbH,0-6945i Weinheim,1995
Au, Supplement Vol. B2. Compounds with Br, I, the
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