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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Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar
The hard sciences have found that the human brain is wired to perform spiritual functions such as prayer and faith in God that are beyond its cognitive and nerve activity. Although spiritual behavior is manifested in the brain there is an inner, non-physical force that directs it.
Every human being is connected to a transcendent Being Who cannot be comprehended or apprehended within the temporal, spatial dimension of the brain. There is yediat ha’metsiut, the knowledge of God’s Being, and yediat ha’mahut, the knowledge of God’s essence. Though we know that a spiritual reality exists, we do not really know its essence.
Faith is real and arises from its potential to kinetic state at the moment of need. If it were not intrinsically there, it could not arise. Why suddenly think about God if you did not previously believe? At an experiential level, recognizing the neshama, the spiritual being in us, is real! When not activated by extreme events, a person must be open and willing to revitalize his or her soul. You must open the door to let spirituality in.
Yakir Kaufman, MD
The Torah gave the world an understanding of the reciprocal connections between body and soul. Until recently, many scientists rejected the concept that psychological factors and well-being can affect health and disease. In part, this may been caused by a lack of technological tools to prove these links. During the last decade, new methods and findings in neuroscience, neuroimaging, and molecular biology have discovered connections between emotions and disease, between the brain and the immune system, the mind and the body. Science and medicine are beginning to become aware of this interplay. The psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI) revolution uplifts science from a mechanistic, dualistic, reductionistic Descartian view of the human state to a more integrative perception of the complexity and beauty of human existence. PNI deals with the interactions among the mind, human behavior, the nervous system, the immune system, and the endocrine system. Understanding these complex interactions is essential for gaining a better understanding on how to maintain health and to prevent and treat disease. PNI guides science to the holistic view of body and soul interaction found in the Torah.
Professor Carlos Warter, MD
The human brain is wired to experience non-ordinary states of consciousness. We can reveal the mystical aspects of the self. Current research validates this assumption long maintained by spiritual and religious personalities and writings. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. As the receptors in our brain and consciousness begin to be uncovered, we can evidence this phenomenon with scientific data.
Initiation or activation of the determinate circuitry in our synaptic brain system allow for the subjective experience of God. Research in meditation and prayer has opened the door to the new field of Neurotheology. Study of this field promises a deeper understanding of the purpose of human existence, which the mystics and saintly individuals of many traditions have tried to explain to us for centuries.
Professor Miryam Z. Wahrman
Jews have traditionally been willing subjects in genetic research; however, now there is some concern that Jewish people have been stigmatized due to the discovery of a host of defective genes that are prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. In fact, many other distinct ethnic groups carry unique genetic legacies that include specific genetic disorders. Screening of the Jewish population through programs such as Dor Yeshorim has reduced the number of children born with genetic disorders. In addition, new technologies such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis provide a mechanism, within the parameters of halakhah, for Jewish couples to ensure the birth of healthy children. Gene therapy may provide another approach sanctioned by rabbinic sources to alleviate the suffering of, and perhaps even cure, children born with genetic disorders. Studies on unique groups, including specific Jewish populations, will continue to contribute invaluable data and lead to a more complete understanding of genetic mechanisms of disease and human development.
Lee M. Spetner, PhD
The consentient view of the mechanism of evolution has been that evolution proceeds by long series of small steps, in each of which the mutation is a single nucleotide substitution. Serious doubts, however, are now being expressed by molecular geneticists that long series of small, random, point mutations can be effective in evolution. Attention is instead being transferred to genetic rearrangements, which effect large genomic changes, and which do not appear to be random. These large mutations include insertions, inversions, and deletions, and they have been found in cases studied to be adaptive to the environment. How do they arise? There is as yet no satisfactory answer to this question. If these large changes are adaptive in a new environment, could they be triggered by that environment? Such an interpretation is being resisted, but it is a reasonable hypothesis. It would account for the observations. A theory to account for the evolution of life is now more elusive than it was in the past.
Rabbi Professor Moshe D. Tendler
This paper will address the current societal sentiment that science and technology are on a collision course with the truth of our Torah. Knowledge of science, however, is necessary to properly perform a number of Torah commandments. The fundamental truths of our Torah, such as: a) the utility of all that G-d created; and b) the infallibility of our Sages in matters of religion but not in secular science, have come under attack by our antagonists. On the other hand, the yeshiva world unfortunately is retreating from the natural world. We need to return to believing in the unity of Ha’Shem Elokim, the God of nature and Torah.
Science tells us that “it” comes from “bit”—that the world is based on information—and that information is based on contrast. We know that contrast attracts our attention, and we know further that what catches our attention also engages our awareness and self-awareness. Our awareness and our self-awareness enable us to decide how we shall act in response to what has attracted our attention. Thus, awareness and self-awareness are also driven by high contrast. The opening line of the Shma tells us that everything comes from the One Highest Contrast:God, Ha’Shem Elokim.
Professor Nathan Aviezer
The Torah speaks of people who lived for more than 900 years, culminating in Methusaleh, who died at the age of 969. These Genesis accounts seem to be completely impossible, in view of the centenarian life spans observed today with the availability of modern medical care. What happened in the past to account for the extreme ages recorded in Genesis? Why did such long life spans cease at the time of the Exodus from Egypt? What is required to reintroduce extreme longevity into the human experience?
We shall present recent discoveries that indicate that scientists are finally beginning to understand the process of biological aging, and the functioning of the “biological clock” that governs the life span of all living creatures. Reports in the recent scientific literature speak of the possibility of human beings living “for many hundreds of years, in good health.” This new scientific understanding of the aging process has shown that there is no barrier to human life spans of 1000 years. Thus, we find yet another instance of harmony between science and the Torah.
Rabbi Arthur Seltzer, PhD
The Jewish mystical tradition sees old age in a very positive light. Aging is not seen as a defect to be eliminated by medical science. Old age presents the opportunity for the divine soul to assert primacy over the animal soul. A Torah observant Jew who has consciously worked on his or her necessary tikkun (moral repair) through prayer and mitsvot (commandments) can reach the highest level of knowledge attainable only at old age. This highest level of being a zaken she bi’kdusha (an elderly in holiness) is connected to the crown of the kabbalistic spheres and to the patriarchs and radiates an increasing exaltation, uplifting other people also. Reb Nathan, the discipline of Rebbe Nahman of Breslov, wrote extensively on how we are transformed as we age.
The Jungian school of psychology and the Ayurvedic medical tradition also accept and respect old age as a necessary passage in the journey of life. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, reached such a pure state of knowledge at the end of his life that he was able to consciously and peacefully guide his followers to the sublime moment of his soul’s return to its Source.
Professor James E. Huchingson
The space-time continuum of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is universally pictured as a rubberized sheet, warped, and contorted into various shapes. This geometric image “spatializes” time, thereby robbing it of its basic character as true temporal process.
An alternative view may be found in the irreducible historical character of time based on the divine-human encounter found in Abrahamic religions. Here, the profound emphasis is on time as event, rather than duration; and space as place, rather than extension. Being, in turn, becomes process, rather than static existence. It is the “taking place” of unique transforming encounters.
The biblical journey is made by a chosen people through the wilderness to a homeland, a place of singular importance. In contrast to this, human flight into outer space is the impoverished experience of encapsulated entombment in a vessel as it endures passage through the homogeneous space-time continuum on its way to heaven knows where.
Ironically, the most transforming event of the space program has been the discovery of the fullness of the Earth viewed from afar on the way to somewhere else. For some time to come, our precious, fragile, and imperiled home planet, not the moon or Mars, will remain both the origin and destination of our celestial journeying, and the key to our understanding of time, space, and being.
Aryeh Gotfryd, PhD
Abraham may well have been the first systems analyst. His independent discovery of an absolute, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator and sustainer was inferred (if not deduced) from his observations of the heavenly bodies and life on earth.
He observed that for any object or system comprised of coordinated components, where each component has no control over the other, it is reasonable to surmise that there is a factor external to the components possessing information and power over the components to coordinate them systematically.
Since every object and system at every scale may be seen as conforming to this description, one may say about the universe as a whole that it is an integrated, functioning system having a controlling factor external to and more powerful than it. This all-powerful and controlling factor is normally referred to as "God."
The modern science of ecology is holistic in its recognition of ecosystems as integrated phenomena with each whole being more than the sum of its parts. Consequently, ecologists are significantly predisposed to adopt Abraham's conclusion that the ecosphere and cosmos testify to that grand Unifier we call “God.”
Akiva Wolff, PhD
The growing awareness of the negative effects of modern technological development has generated interest in “sustainability.” Sustainability can be defined as ensuring that human actions do not jeopardize the long-term availability and quality of environmental resources. Is there a uniquely Jewish perspective on the sustainability discourse? On the one hand, environmental protection is an important aspect—albeit sometimes overlooked—of Jewish observance. Jewish law helps create a sustainable society by balancing environmental considerations with the economic and social needs of society, both in the long and short terms. Development is encouraged, but regulated by Jewish law in a way that attempts to maximize protection of the environment and conserve resources. On the other hand, the principle of preserving the environment at all costs is at odds with Jewish belief, which does not view this world as being eternal, and which places supreme value on the immediate preservation of human life, even at the cost of what we call sustainability.
Mordechai (Marc) Olesky
Both Torah and science describe the primary forces that interact continuously to create the material world. The first ten lines of Genesis describe the creation of the four elemental forces—air, fire, water, and earth, the constituents of all inorganic and organic matter. These elements come into existence from the breath of God, through His Ten Utterances of Genesis, composed of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
According to the science of ecology, the primary forces of nature that determine the abundance and distribution of life are wind currents, the sun and the energy it provides, the hydrological cycle, and soil. These systems can be understood as the macrocosmic expressions of air, fire, water, and earth. Aspects of each of them interact in the carbon cycle, the dual processes of photosynthesis and respiration. The reactants of photosynthesis are carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, in the presence of chlorophyll. The total number of protons in a single molecule of water is ten and in carbon dioxide, twenty-two. These numbers correlate with the number of Utterances and the Hebrew letters that create and maintain the world. A further numerical correlation is in the number of basic units—the Torah has fifty-four weekly portions; the complete formula for photosynthesis has fifty-four atoms.
Manfred Gerstenfeld, PhD
The biblical narrative of manna and its interpretation throughout the centuries illustrate several environmental principles, such as the prevention of waste and pollution and the avoidance of over-consumption, as well as durability and cleanliness. Religious, moral, and spiritual motifs are frequently intertwined with environmental ones.
Jewish literature through the ages expresses diverse views on the nature of manna. It is viewed by some as material food given by God while by others as spiritual nourishment. The story of manna may be read as a biblical environmental text. The Jewish view of the environment differs, however, from that of modern environmental perception.
Manfred Gerstenfeld, PhD and Tsachi Golan
Nathaniel S. Lehrman, MD
This paper examines why the traditional Jewish ban on homosexuality is correct.
Historically, Judaism was the first faith to ban homosexuality, which the entire ancient world accepted. That ban, retained by its daughter religions, Christianity and Islam, channeled sexual activity into the marital bed, thus totally transforming family life. Sex became the spousal bond of faithful, passionate love underlying the stable families within which the products of that sexual love are best raised.
Religiously, the defiance and promiscuity characterizing the American homosexual political movement are the total opposites of the Jewish traditions of fidelity and lawfulness. While we may not always be able to control our sexual feelings, responsibility for our sexual behavior rests entirely upon us.
Sexual criminals—homosexuals, pederasts and rapists—represented the heart of the Nazi party, as was well recognized then. Indeed, German-Jewish historian Samuel Igra's 1945 book, Germany's National Vice, suggests that the key reason for Hitler's uniquely vicious anti-Semitism was Judaism's dedication to the Law, especially concerning sexuality. Through a little-recognized form of Holocaust revisionism, however, the American homosexual political movement has skillfully transformed the public perception of Nazi era homosexuals from vicious criminals to innocent victims.
Seymour Hoffman, PhD
A successful husband-wife and father-mother relationship of two opposite personalities that attract, complement, and help one another serves as the model for dialectical cotherapy. Both children and therapy clients benefit from receiving the contrasting behaviors of their parents and cotherapists. Since the demands, responsibilities, and challenges are great, choosing the right helpmate is vital. That is why the Torah says that before Eve, Adam was missing his ezer k’negdo, the help of the right oppositional force for him.
Seymour Hoffman, PhD
In regard to the highly sensitive issue of how to relate and react to a religious homosexual from a religious and psychological perspective, Joel B. Wolowelsky and Bernard L. Weinstein make the following cogent point: “Halacha focuses on the ability to withdraw from executing a natural impulse, not from feeling the impulse itself. A young man who has homosexual thoughts but…can control his actions is not ill. But a person who has an irresistible compulsion to act against his values does need psychological help irrespective of the nature of the compulsion. Thus even in cases where homosexual desire is long-standing and defines a deep and apparently unalterable aspect of the personality, Halacha calls us to the heroic act of renunciation.”