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 Sholom D. Lipskar
Biologically, the inability to recall memories or the distortion of memory is the result of faulty mechanisms that cannot successfully translate memory into communication. I suggest that successfully communicated memory is what our sages called “memory in the mouth” (that can be verbally shared). But there is also an everlasting source of memory in the soul that our sages called “memory in the heart.” When we interact with people whose brains malfunction, the memory of their hearts (their souls) is in full function and is reacting internally to our behavior with them.
The names of the people in the anecdotal account have been changed.
Rabbi Lipskar’s keynote lecture was the definitive presentation at the Ninth Miami International Conference, defining the levels of the human soul. It is a necessary introduction to the other articles in this volume discussing the soul, mind, and brain.
Rabbi Professor Moshe D. Tendler
This paper discusses the halakhic categorization of the stages of human life. As we age we can realize our full potential, if we integrate the knowledge we accumulate throughout a lifetime with our physical and biological existence (nefesh), guided always by halakhic imperatives.
Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD
Is there a biological interface between the brain and the soul? In order to address this question, I shall touch on three major issues:
There is no scientific explanation for higher cortical functions such as free will, morality, faith, and other metaphysical phenomena.
Dr. Kenneth M. Heilman
Religiosity can be defined as a specific system of doctrines, shared by a group of people with prescribed rules, value systems, dogma, and practices. In contrast, spirituality is a transcendental belief system or an experiential state, including the belief in the divine, as well as the beliefs that life has meaning and that there are forms of universal harmony and unity. The brain mechanisms that mediate spiritual experiences are not entirely known, and this paper proposes and discusses how spirituality may be related to several brain mechanisms, including left-hemisphere mediated agent detection; sensory isolation with imagery; hallucinations and activation of the default network; as well as the knowledge of our own mortality, the activation of limbic-cortical networks that mediate the fear-dread associated with this knowledge, and how faith may reduce this pain
Yakir Kaufman, MD
Stress is a risk factor for almost every disease. Research also shows that loss of meaning in life is a major risk factor. These factors are associated with brain impairment and Alzheimer's disease. Health is defined as the enhancement of well-being, including physical, social, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Thousands of studies have shown that spiritual well-being is associated with better health or longevity. Therefore lowering stress levels, by enhancing spiritual well-being and meaning in life, may prevent and help alleviate Alzheimer's disease. It has been found that Alzheimer's disease has a prominent vascular component. The Torah teaches us this in various ways, including in the account of the arch-villain Amalek. The name Amalek means "to behead," to disconnect the (warm) blood supply from the heart to the brain. The commandment to both remember and obliterate Amalek can be interpreted in hasidic terms as the need for us to dispel the coldness and doubt of the archetypal Amalek within ourselves, thus allowing an adequate warm flow of the blood supply from the heart to the brain and protecting us from possible brain impairment.
Rabbi Professor Daniel Hershkowitz
In many written testimonies given to Yad Vashem through the decades by Holocaust survivors, the memory of children who were killed is blocked because it is too terrible to bear. There are survivors who testified about their parents and other close and distant relatives but who could not testify about their children. It is almost impossible for the human mind to accept such unexpected and unacceptable painful losses. This anecdotal essay looks for the lesson in life that can we learn about accepting unexpected realities.
Professor Oren Baruch Stier
It is generally assumed that remembering the Holocaust is an ethical obligation incumbent upon every Jew, survivors and non-survivors alike. But what is the specific nature of that obligation? And how is it met as survivors age and pass away, as memories fail, or spokespeople grow tired? How does one confront the increased urgency of remembering the Shoah “before it is too late”? What, indeed, is the relationship between memory and forgetting, remembrance and oblivion? Is there a moral obligation to remember? To forget?
This article examines the notion of memorial responsibility against its presumed opposite, oblivion, in the context of a Torah perspective on memorialization in general. Utilizing material gleaned from literature, memoir, and philosophy, including the writings of Primo Levi, Avishai Margalit, and Elie Wiesel, it presents a snapshot of the present, as living memory passes into history and culture. My aim is to assess what is lost or gained in this process of memorial transformation with which society is currently engaged.
In our generation, some think that it has become more difficult for adult children to tend to their aging parents. With the increase in life expectancy, many elderly become ill and dependent for years. The wise and surprisingly “modern” teachings of the Jewish sages can be a source of guidance for distraught offspring trying to handle these problems.
One of the premier postulates of Judaism is that humans have been given the ability and responsibility to perpetually re-create themselves.This constant re-creation requires an efficient methodology. Such a system is magnificently delineated by the Mishnah Avot, known as Pirkei Avot or The Ethics of the Fathers. Specifics of this methodology are very much in line with recent discoveries in neuroscience that explain how the brain is re-created in harmony with changes in the self. We shall describe two processes: behavioral plasticity and theory of mind as examples of tools for self-brain renewal. We also introduce the topic of function-specific cellular assemblies and their relationship to changes in the self-brain unit.
Rabbi Natan Ophir (Offenbacher)
In February 1978, Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson (the Lubavitcher Rebbe) sent out a confidential memorandum asking for “doctors specializing in neurology and psychiatry” to develop a meditation program that could serve as an alternative for the popular meditative imports from the Far East such as Transcendental Meditation (TM). Dr. Yehuda Landes, a psychologist in Palo Alto, California, responded positively and soon launched a pilot project. Then in July 1979, the Rebbe issued a public announcement asking for more people to help in developing and disseminating a Jewishly acceptable form of meditation.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, together with a group of Jewish psychiatrists and psychologists, was exploring meditative techniques from kabbalistic and ħasidic sources. However, the Rebbe directed Landes not to utilize Aryeh Kaplan’s meditations but rather to develop a non-hasidic, scientifically based meditation.
In this article we examine the context of the Rebbe’s correspondence and analyze his request by comparing it to the scientific meditative techniques being developed in the 1970s. We conclude by noting the implications for modern Jewish meditation.
Professor Joseph S. Bodenheimer
The sages of the Talmud had an evidence-based approach to nature and a positive attitude to experimental observation. They derived information from any resource available to them, whether it was friendly or unfriendly, as long as it was reliable, and applied it to halakhic decisions, according to their knowledge and understanding of Torah.
Professor Benjamin Fain
My book, The Poverty of Secularism (Fain 2012), contains a clear and detailed response to the extreme physicalist worldview presented in Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion (Dawkins 2008). I could have simply made these comments in the body of that book. However, Dawkins’ book, in which he misleads readers by his mistaken assertion that there is a scientific rationale to his atheistic view, has become a bestseller. therefore, I have decided to respond to the principal claims presented in his book.
Professor Harvey Babich Ayelet R. Bersson Tehilla Brander
Within the past fifteen years, several studies have focused on the genetic relatedness amongst Jews, particularly of those geographically separated from each other. Analyses of DNA markers on mitochondrial DNA (for studies of maternal lineage), on the Y chromosome (for studies of paternal lineage), and on other nuclear chromosomal DNA (for studies of the entire genome) have indicated: (a) Jews are closer to each other genetically than to non-Jews from the same geographic region; (b) Jews share a common set of genetic markers of the larger Jewish population indicative of shared ancestry traced to the Middle East; and (c) Jews show admixture with non-Jewish populations. This last finding corroborates a talmudic passage (Psaħim 87b) that one of the opportunities of the Jewish nation in exile is to welcome and accept sincere converts. In addition, linkage amongst Jews was indicated by genetic diseases, some of which are specific for particular communities. Reference is made to Tay-Sachs disease, which may reflect an interesting aspect of heterozygote advantage. Lastly, as Jews eventually take on the outer appearances of the peoples of their host countries, there may be no distinctive Jewish phenotype. Reasons for this may include environmental selection, epigenetics, and admixture.
Idit Goldberg and Rachel Shandrovsky
One of the possibilities for performing genetic family programming is preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). PGD has been successfully applied to cure infertility and to eliminate fatal genetic diseases in the embryonic stage. Are we permitted by halakhah (Jewish law) to use PGD for gender selection? Let’s say a family has four boys and they want a girl. They don’t want to take another chance. By using PGD the family can select the gender of their choice. Is it halakhically permissible to select a certain gender for non-medical purposes?
Merav Yust Renanah Altman
According to halakhah (Jewish law) the activation of an electric circuit on Shabbat violates the Torah prohibition of boneh. Prima facie, however, passing in front of an infrared sensor does not constitute boneh.
Activating an infrared sensor that turns on an incandescent light is forbidden on account of the scriptural prohibition of havarah. However, if the sensor activates an LED (light-emitting diode) or a mercury-vapor lamp, then activating the sensor violates a rabbinic prohibition only (excluding the opinion of the Hazon Ish that creating an electric circuit violates the scriptural prohibition of boneh, which does not apply in this case.
When a person triggers an electronic system by entering the sensor’s field of view, the system is activated without the need of a mediating factor. According to the view of Rashi, this action therefore does not count as grama (indirect action).
Malla Carl comes from a family of Gur Hasidim from Poland who moved before the war to Switzerland, where she studied graphic arts. Living now in Jerusalem with her children and grandchildren, Malla enjoys an international reputation for her calligraphy and fine Judaica.
A native of Prague who was imprisoned in Terezin, Chava Pressburger now lives in Israel, in the northern Negev, and creates works of art from paper that she produces herself from wild plants growing near her home and in her garden.
New York-born Zev Rothkoff studied at Yeshivat Har Etsion and served in an IDF infantry unit. He lives in Efrat with his wife and five children, and practices implant dentistry in Efrat and Jerusalem. In November 2012 he won first prize in the Wikipedia heritage site photo contest, out of 6,000 applicants.
Aliza Auerbach was born in Israel and studied philosophy and Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her prize-winning photographs can be found in the Israel Museum, Tel-Aviv Museum, Ein Harod Museum, the Museum of Israeli Art, the Museum on the Seam, Tel Chai Photography, and in private collections throughout the world.