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.
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Avi Rabinowitz, PhD
This article is an excerpt from the author’s book The Instant Universe, which points out that both the scientific and traditional origin accounts follow from their respective implicit fundamental assumptions. As the assumptions of one system are not provable within the realm of the other, the validity of one of these accounts should not be considered as negating the validity of the other. Not only is there no logical dissonance in accepting the validity of both, but the scientific origin theory could be considered as one of the ways of describing God’s creation of the universe and therefore as one of the traditional 70 facets of the Creation account.
The following excerpt shows how central elements of the traditional understanding of the origins of existence can be seen to follow from its conception of the purposive creation of a universe containing a free-willed moral consciousness. Among other things, this approach shows why the differing conclusions of science and tradition on when the universe began are to be expected.
Alexander Poltorak, PhD
According to the traditional Jewish calendar based on the Talmud, the universe is less than six thousand years old. The cosmological models of the universe, supported by abundant empirical data, place the age of the universe at twelve to fifteen billion years. In Part One, critical examination of both views is presented. In Part Two, we consider the quantum-mechanical state of matter before and after the introduction of a conscious observer. The role of the observer’s free will is examined. The definitions of physical and proto-physical states of matter are proposed. It is suggested that creation of the first conscious being with free will lead to the collapse of the global quantum wave function, thereby bringing the world from a proto-physical to a physical state. We propose that the total cosmological age of the universe is comprised of two periods: (1) proto-physical on the order of twelve to fifteen billion years; (2) physical, which is no longer than the period of time during which there has been a conscious human observer. This thesis is used to reconcile the biblical and scientific views on the age of the universe. It is also used to reconcile a long- standing controversy between the pre- and post-Lurianic schools of Kabbala regarding sabbatical cycles.
Professor Ruvin Ferber Professor Herman Branover
Is our picture of the physical world dependent on the condition of our observation—or, more specifically, on our choice of a particular system of reference used to describe the physical world? This question will be discussed from the points of view of (1) traditional Jewish opinions based on the Torah and (2) contemporary trends in physics. Although Einstein’s General Relativity Theory is based on the postulate that all physical laws in all systems of reference are equal, the problem of choosing the reference system that gives the ”truest” picture of the universe still remains.
There are two different ways to choose a system of reference. According to the first approach, the system of coordinates in which a phenomenon is described by simpler mathematical expressions gives its “real” (or even the “correct”) expression. For example, the equations describing the motion of the Earth are simplest when the system of reference is attached to the sun. This easier calculation may incline one to think that the heliocentric picture is the ultimately true picture of reality. Indeed, in contradiction to the Torah view, Newtonian science considers the sun the center of the universe.
The second approach consists of choosing a reference system connected with an observer. This approach plays an exclusive role in the interpretation of quantum mechanics, one of the most important and successful theories of the twentieth century. Key quantum physicists such as John von Neumann and Eugene Wigner uphold that the conscious observer has a central role in sustaining physical reality. Their concept that our conscious selves are the most important things in the universe, moreover, is in full agreement with the opinions expressed in the Torah and the literature based on the Torah.
Professor Juris Zakis
Is it reasonable to speak about something that we are not able to observe? When I jump, may I say that I am pushing the Earth away if all the observers who see me jumping do not feel the Earth moving away with them?
We are always ready to argue that our actions cause something to move relative to the firm supporting point of the ever-resting Earth. The Earth is the base not only for mechanical actions (as illustrated above) but also for all our life activity. It is our home, our motherland, our nurse, and keeper. It was created by the Lord and is our sole material base.
Professor Norbert Samuelson
It seems to me that the critical questions that science and natural philosophy raise for Jewish theology are the following: Does God evolve? Does the universe have or even need an interpretation, specifically with reference to the fact that most of the universe most of the time is uninhabitable, and there may be many more than one universe? Does the universe need a beginning? What is distinctive about human consciousness, intelligence, and ethics in the light of evidence for evolution from all of the life sciences? Finally, will both life and the universe end?
These questions are not only modern. They contain all the primary issues that have dominated rabbinic thought. That agenda can be summarized in six topics: How should we model what we believe about (1) God, (2) the world, and (3) the human being; and how should we understand the relations between them, viz., between (4) G-d and the world (or, Creation), (5) God and the human (or, revelation), and (6) the human and the world (or, redemption). In this paper I shall focus only on the fourth issue, Creation. My answer is presented in detail in my Judaism and the Doctrine of Creation (Cambridge University Press, 1994). Here I shall summarize my conclusions concerning science, Jewish texts, and the correlation between them.
Russell Jay Hendel, PhD
This paper defends a novel interpretation of Genesis 1 that facilitates resolution of the apparent contradiction between science, which holds that the universe is 20 billion years old, and the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1, which posits that the world is 6000 years old. The primary contribution of this paper is the introduction of a comprehensive methodology of symbolic interpretation that allows objective evaluation of whether a text is symbolic. Using these symbolic methods, we defend the position that Genesis 1 does not describe the creation of the physical world, but rather describes the creation of prophecy—in other words, the primary intent of Genesis 1-3 is to inform us that 6000 years ago the first communication from God to a human happened to a person named Adam.
Yaacov Hanoka, PhD
The leading paradigm in modern geology is continental drift and plate tectonics. The surface of the Earth is viewed as being a series of plates that move relative to one another. At one time all connected together, the continents are now separated and still slightly moving as part of this plate movement. Paleontologists today widely accept the Alvarez Theory of a massive asteroid impact to explain the sudden demise of dinosaurs as well as numerous other fauna and flora. The mass of such an asteroid has been estimated as up to 1013 kilograms. There is now strong evidence that the location of the impact crater is the Yucatan Peninsula.
Investigation of Torah commentary on the Flood leads to some remarkable conclusions and predictions regarding these recent findings in geology and paleontology. A midrash in Genesis Rabba clearly states that the continents were connected prior to Noah’s Flood, and later commentaries assert that the seasons of the year began only after the Flood. The Talmud in tractate Rosh Hashana elaborates on extraterrestrial causes (i.e., possible asteroids) of the Flood.
Taking these Torah sources along with the conclusions of some of these scientific findings, it is possible to construct a broad qualitative model that potentially could explain a wide diversity of phenomena. For example, the model explains why the Yucatan Peninsula is the location of the impact crater and how the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to the plane of the ecliptic may have come about. Also, the model can explain the major distributions of microtektites throughout the world. If verified by some of its predictions, this model could clearly have very significant implications for the Torah/science interplay. Given the validity of the model, the issue of reconciling radioactive rock dating with the chronology of the Torah needs to be addressed, and some approaches to this will be presented.
Professor Nathan Aviezer
A surprisingly large number of books dealing with science have been published in recent years. Aimed at the educated layman, some of these books have proven so popular that they have even become bestsellers. One would think that professional scientists would applaud this development, but popularity is not always the most desired goal. Unfortunately, many of these best-selling books have their science seriously in error. Nowhere is this problem more acutely felt than in the field of evolutionary biology, as will be seen in this paper on Richard Dawkins’s approach to Darwinism.
Professor Edward Simon
Tsvi Victor Saks, PhD
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson writes1 that the Zohar predicted that from 1840 there would be great advances in the secular sciences and Jewish mystical knowledge, in order to ready the world for the messianic era. The Rebbe states that the deepest level of positive interaction between secular knowledge (science and mathematics) and Torah occurs when secular knowledge is used to explain and illuminate deep concepts in Jewish mysticism. In this paper, we will use mathematical infinity to clarify the concept of infinity as discussed in Torah.
The concept of infinity is used in Torah in two fundamentally different ways. First, G-d is referred to as Ain Sof, literally, Without End, or Infinite. On the other hand, the Torah has revealed the fact that the creation is infinite (Talmud Hagiga, many references in Hasidism and Kabbala). For example, God created infinitely many spiritual worlds, and infinitely many troops of hosts that serve Him. Now surely the concept of infinity as it relates to and describes the creation is vastly inferior to the concept of Infinity as it applies to God Himself. In fact, all of God’s infinitely many troops are considered as absolutely nothing before Him. How can infinity be limited?
The modern theory of mathematical infinity, first introduced by G. Cantor in the 1870’s, provides a useful framework to describe both a concept of infinity that actually exists and is limited (the created universe), and a qualitatively higher concept of Infinity which is unlimited. The mechanisms which mathematics uses to distinguish between different levels of infinity will be discussed, and a fundamental theorem is proven.
Mathematical infinity is a powerful example of science clarifying a deep concept in Torah, and of science supporting a controversial Torah statement about the creation.
Professor Shimon Silman
Classically, natural phenomena are described by a 2-valued logic. In the writings of Hasidism and Kabbala we find that the phenomena of the messianic era are characterized by a paradoxical combined natural-and-miraculous world order. 2-valued logic is inadequate to describe such phenomena. Thus it is suggested that a 3-valued logic be used as a model for these messianic phenomena. First introduced in the 1920's, 3-valued logics are now in common use in some computer languages and have been suggested as models for the paradoxical phenomena of quantum mechanics. This paper is based on research done at the Rabbi Yisroel Aryeh Leib Research Institute on Moshiach and the Sciences, of which the author is director. It is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Yisroel Aryeh Leib ben Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, whose fiftieth yartseit will be observed on 13 Iyyar this year.
Professor Yossef Marcio Zukin
Scientists increasingly perceive how imprecision is inherent in all physical systems. Through fuzzy logic, which uses artificial intelligence, it is possible to simulate human intelligence and model the ways in which human beings organize information and reason with it, even when it is vague. Encompassing the one eternal truth, the Torah knows that human life is not “black” or “white.” The Torah recognizes human imprecision and different degrees of understanding and observing vast precepts.
This paper endeavors to show how the new viewpoint of science in dealing with imprecise information is moving toward that of the infinite intelligence of the Torah. In normal set theory, an object is either a member of a set or not. There are only two states: “0” or “1,” “yes” or “no,” and so on. In fuzzy set theory, an object can be a member of a set to a certain degree. Science is accepting its own imprecision and dependence on the observer, who not only reasons with opposites, but uses different gradations, to define concepts, such as “almost good.” The Code of Jewish Law gives clear halakhic guidelines for every situation, including eating, praying, and conducting business. Yet, the Torah commandment “to be holy,” implies a set of imprecise ways of observing all the other laws with different membership degrees to this set. There is “right” and “wrong,” but many other levels between them also exist, since “right” can be divided into many different and qualitative degrees.
Ari Belenkiy, PhD
Investigating the imaginative potential of classical medieval midrashim (hermeneutic literature), we show how models and language from the comparatively new mathematical disciplines of Algebraic Topology and Riemannian geometry can provide a natural language for the discussion of various philosophical questions raised in midrashim.
Professor Menachem Kovacs
This paper selects key terms and concepts from the study of the sociology of religion to show how this science can reveal some basic and useful concepts in spirituality.
Deena R. Zimmerman, MD
Lactational amenorrhea, or the lack of menstruation during the time a woman is breastfeeding, has important implications in Jewish law. The Talmudic sources and laws based on them describe a non-menstruating time period of two years. This seems to contradict current common experience of much shorter periods of lack of menses during breastfeeding. The goal of this paper is to analyze the Jewish sources in light of modern knowledge of lactation.
Seymour Hoffman, PhD Rabbi Yehoshua Hacarmi
Jewish sages had profound psychological wisdom and insight into human behavior and pathology and how to affect and modify them. This essay gives a cognitive-behavioral interpretation of the insights several Jewish biblical commentators had of psychology. The attitude of the rabbis toward the use of manipulation in effecting change in people who are in distress is also discussed, with the aid of rabbinical “clinical single session therapy” vignettes.
Professor Isaac Elishakoff
Counting the letters of the Torah and finding specific patterns in the Torah text is part of the Jewish tradition. The use of computers has enabled more elaborate searches to find patterns or ‘codes,’ especially by equidistant letter skips and the performance of quantitative checks. The promulgators of the ‘hidden codes’ employ quantitative analysis to claim how miniscule the probabilities are of the ‘codes’ appearing by chance. They conclude that the 'codes' could only been implanted by the Divine Author. Opponents to these conclusions have found similar patterns in other literary texts. One can argue that all texts are written by Divine inspiration. On the other hand, as Professor A.M. Hasofer stresses, one ought “not forget that bitter experience has taught us that misinterpretations of our Holy Torah have often resulted in the past in disaster and catastrophe for our people.”
My paper has a humble objective. I question the very use of probabilistic methods to analyze the significance of equidistant letter sequence Torah ‘codes’ by both their proponents and opponents. The reason is that in order to apply probabilistic methods the existence of multiple “Torahs” would have to be assumed—inadvertently or deliberately. Can one randomize Torah, as the supporters of the Torah ‘codes’ in effect suggest, and to which the opponents to the Torah ‘codes’ seemingly do not object?
This article describes a dream inspired by the verse: “If thou lend money to My people, even to the poor with thee, thou shalt not be to him as a creditor; neither shall ye lay upon him interest” (Exodus 22:24).
Yael Levine Katz, PhD
The following prayers were written by Yael Levine Katz as part of a larger work in Hebrew entitled Tehinnat Ha’Nashim Le’Vinyan Ha’Mikdash, published by the Eked Publishing House in Tel Aviv, 1996. Written in the style of aggadic midrash, this creative work offers the supplications of great Jewish women from biblical times through the end of the Second Temple to G-d to rebuild the Temple. Drawn from biblical, talmudic, midrashic, and aggadic literature, the poems show the deep connection between Jewish women and the Temple through the generations. For a discussion of the work see Yael Levine Katz, “Tehinnat Ha’Nashim Le’Vinyan Ha’Mikdash” in Margalit Shiloh, ed., Lehiyot Isha Yehudiya (Jerusalem: 2001) pp. 230-243, 344-348. Further information may be obtained from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org