B’OR HA’TORAH JOURNAL OF SCIENCE, LIFE AND ART IN THE LIGHT OF THE TORAH
A peer-reviewed journal on the interrelationship of Judaism, science and technology, psychology, the arts, and social issues, B’Or Ha’Torah illuminates a range of topics from the cosmology and ecology of Genesis; the creation ex nihilo vs. evolution and faith vs. reason debates; the views of halakhah (Jewish law) on stem cell research and genetic engineering; and the soul-mind-brain-memory-body connection. Rabbis and religious Jews with no science background as well as professionals in all fields with no Torah background can enjoy this inspiring publication in hardcopy and digital formats.
To receive a free PDF file of an individual article, send the author, title, and volume number to:
This offer is limited to three articles.
Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD
There is much debate today about the ethical repercussions of research on cells taken from the earliest stages of human development. I shall review the science behind the issues and explain why halakhah (Jewish law) clearly permits stem cell research for medical purposes.
Leah Poltorak, MS
A well-known passage in the Talmud states that parents can pray for the gender of their unborn child only during the first forty days of pregnancy. Another passage states that the female identity of an embryo takes eighty days to be formed. At first blush, this appears to be contradictory to the basic facts of reproductive biology. Isn’t the gender of the embryo determined at the moment of conception? A more careful analysis reveals that the chromosomal makeup of the fertilized egg: XX or XY is not the only factor determining the embryo’s gender. The successful expression of the SRY gene located on the short arm of the Y chromosome is another crucial factor.
In fact, it takes approximately forty days from the time of conception for male gender to become irreversibly determined and about eighty days for female gender to be determined.
One can only wonder at the prophetic insight of the Talmud Sages, who pinpointed the precise timeframe for the formation of gender—long before the science of genetics was developed.
Rabbi Gideon Weitzman
In most cases, male or female gender is a culmination of both genetics and external features. However, in rare cases, children are born with external reproductive organs different from their genetic type. For halakhah (Jewish law) these unfortunate individuals raise questions that go to the core of sex determination. For instance, does halakhah sanction surgery to give the child a clearer sexual identity?
Halakhah is based on the decisions of the Talmud Sages. Lacking the technology to check genetic identity, our Sages determined gender on the basis of external organs only.
I shall discuss the medical background of a few cases that are different from the classic androgynous case discussed in talmudic literature. I shall raise a number of halakhic questions and suggest that the gender of each rare case of ambiguous identity be determined by halakhic authorities by examining the individual genetic and physiological features of the particular child as early as possible.
Moshe Kuhr, MD, MPH, FAAP
Deuteronomy 28:9 commands us to walk in G-d’s ways, or in other words to emulate God. The closest emulation to G-d that a human can reach is when a woman gives birth, helping the Creator create new life.
The first created human emulated G-d by being both male and female (until s/he was split into Adam and Eve). The Zohar says that every new soul is created both male and female until it is split before descending into our world. When the two parts find each other, they unite in a holy union that reconstitutes the image of G-d.
How can the marriage union result in such a lofty spiritual attainment? The matter is discussed at length by Raavad’s treatise on the laws of family purity, Baaley Ha’Nefesh, in the section entitled “The Holy Gate,” and by the author of “The Holy Letter.” These two works agree that the mechanism for reaching holiness is the intent during the act. Raavad takes a halakhic attitude, while “The Holy Letter” takes a spiritually transcending attitude. Both of them differ from Maimonides’ Aristotelian attitude.
Professor Fred Rosner, MD, MACP
Jewish Medical Ethics is a vast subject of many topics and issues. The classic Jewish sources—the Torah, Talmud, Codes of Jewish laws, and the responsa literature of the last four hundred years—are full of material relating to the ethical dilemmas that medical students and physicians face today and provide the basis for case-by-case rabbinic adjudication. In particular, new technological developments in medicine pose new problems for rabbinic adjudicators to answer for the Torah observant student and practitioner.
Gilles-Avraham Morali, MD
The concepts of disease and healing appear in the Torah in relation to spiritual imperfection and prayer respectively. Indeed, recent biopsychosocial studies have demonstrated that religious involvement and spirituality have beneficial effects on health, such as prolonged life, with less cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and depression. I propose a model in which prevention of several disorders may be attained by appropriate speech, through hypnotherapy and prayer.
Several studies have shown the positive effect of remote, intercessory prayer on acute and chronic disorders, such as prevention of complications after acute myocardial infarction or sepsis. Hypnosis has proven to be effective in pain reduction or psychosomatic disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. Based on the sayings of the Jewish Sages, I have constructed a model in which primary and secondary prevention of many diseases is possible through implementation of positive thinking and elimination of negative habits.
Amiel Levin, MD
The science of medicine during the twentieth century focused on research, diagnoses and treatment of the biological etiology of illness. Only recently has medicine begun to understand the psychological, social and spiritual dimensions of illness.
Dr. George Engle’s Biopsychosocial Model (BPS) was a pioneer effort in recognizing that mental state and spiritual well being affect the biological body. This article gives the example of the relations of heart disease and psychological stress, social status, and spiritual feelings. To understand why this effect works, we turn to the letters and talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson, who maintained that a healthy soul is essential for the healing process of the body. The roles, responsibilities and duties of both patient and physician are explained.
Rabbi Mois Navon
The Talmud Sage Rav teaches that when tying tsitsit (ritual tassels) there is both an upper limit and a lower limit for the amount of braiding, as well as an ideal—“beautiful”—amount given in the form of a ratio of braided to unbraided sections. Embedded within these dry details lies the key to understanding the profound nature of aesthetics within Jewish thought. To what extent does Jewish law demand this ratio to be met and why? If the sole reason is simply “beauty,” of what concern is aesthetics to halakhic imperative?
By answering these questions, an appreciation of the depth of Rav’s teaching can be obtained—an appreciation that touches upon the very essence of the human quest to encounter the Divine. This excursion into aesthetics delves into the number phi, known as the Divine Proportion, as well as the positions of Immanuel Kant, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.
Rabbi Professor Yossef Zukin
In both science and business systems there is a trend towards increasing complexity, the need for flexibility, and compliance with multiple demands. On the other hand, however, the user wants increasingly simpler interfaces.
A complex adaptive system using fuzzy logic can face this challenge because it provides a formal basis for the manipulation and computation of complexity, imprecision, and vagueness. At the same time, it is presented in language that can be understood by non-specialist users. An automobile can be a complex machine for a mechanical engineer, while being a simple device for the user who drives it.
Torah can be considered the main reference point for a complex system being contracted and conveyed through a simple channel. Torah is the most complex system we have because it encompasses the entire universe. Nevertheless, there are simple ways to learn it. Torah also presents clear and simple objectives, even though its inherent complexity remains. Jewish law is based on six hundred and thirteen commandments summarized in the Torah, usually in just a few simple words, that are later discussed at length in the Talmud and halakhic literature. The considerations presented here are based on the international theoretical literature, a cognitive model using fuzzy logic, and my professional work and Torah knowledge. The conclusion is reached that science and corporate businesses are evolving toward the Torah method of handling complexity and simplicity.
Rabbi Carmi Wisemon, MSW
After the Industrial Revolution, governments and corporate businesses started encouraging the public to consume more. The Torah commandment not to place stumbling blocks before the morally blind is being violated when the objects of consumption harm the consumers and when the production, use, and disposal of the manufactured products destroy the environment. As Torah-observant Jews we should reverse this dangerous trend and reduce our levels of consumption.
Professor Vera Schwarcz
Both Jewish and Chinese traditions center on a truth-consciousness that presupposes an individual mind capable of examining and overcoming its own prejudice. In both cultures, there is great emphasis on the practical consequence of truth-consciousness, on how one redefines moral action and the authentic personality. In the Torah world view as well as in Confucianism, truth is something that is hard won, difficult to name and to attain.
Key differences between the concept of Jewish emet and of Chinese zhen will be explored. The Jewish view of “truth” for example, affects the totality of human consciousness, moving from alef through tav. It demands that a person consider truly all angles and then risk a further connection to God’s own perspective, where the “lip of truth” finds its ultimate guarantee. In the non-theological world view of Confucianism, which centers on concepts of nature and an organicist view of the dao, there is nonetheless a strong emphasis upon the moral prerequisites for genuine knowledge. The seeker for zhen has to examine the inner landscape of the mind along with the reality of the world beyond. Only where there is a harmonious, hard-won accord between these two realms does genuine truth prevail.
In both Jewish and Chinese culture there are extensive debates about the locus of truth consciousness: Is it innate? Acquired? Both? By looking at Jewish and Chinese views of embodied veracity, the aim is to illuminate both emet and zhen and show how they provide a much needed corrective to the corrosive relativism of our times.
Professor Dan Vogel
Whether Franz Kafka, who died in 1924, prophesied, predicted, or intuited the coming of the Holocaust has been discussed and disputed. I uphold that he did. As testimony to his foreboding of a coming catastrophe for European Jewry, this article will offer his insights into their bleak future as expressed in his non-fiction—diaries, letters, and remarks by contemporaries. This later metamorphosed into fiction as characters, scenes, and symbols of astonishing prescience of aspects of that monumental crime. We can see this in his literary use of misguided technology, dehumanization of victims, Führer-veneration, and sanctified injustice. “Metamorphosis,” “In the Penal Colony,” and The Trial, written in the period 1912-1915, are major works in which Kafka portrayed his foreboding, although there is nothing ostensibly Jewish in these stories. A deepening consciousness of his Jewish heritage was a concomitant manifestation of Kafka’s sensitivity to the “Jewish problem.” Kafka’s passionate study of Hebrew and Torah at the end of his short life gives a more positive prognosis for the future of the Jewish people.