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.
Lee M. Spetner, PhD
Evolution should definitely be taught in the life-science courses in Jewish high schools. It should be taught critically rather than as indoctrination. The mechanism of mutations and natural selection should be explained together with the evidence for them. These concepts should be made sufficiently clear to enable students to understand why people accept the theory of evolution. The distinction between different uses of the term “evolution” should be explained, noting for what kind of “evolution” there is evidence and for what kind there is not. Evolutionism, which is a philosophy espousing that life originated and evolved through purely natural events can be described and explained, noting that it is held by many secularists but Jewish tradition rejects it, and pointing out that it is not science. Explaining the scientific fallacies on which evolutionism is built is appropriate for a science class. Its philosophical fallacies, on the other hand might be beyond the scope of a high-school science course. Several of the most important and most popular of the scientific fallacies of evolutionism will be described and explained in this paper.
Professor Eliezer Zeiger
The unifying power of Kabbalah is optimally suited for a unification of Torah and science. We learn from the Torah that the concept of evolution, understood as the unfolding of Creation, permeates the divine plan underlying the destiny of the universe. God created Adam Kadmon; the four Worlds of Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action; and the ten sfirot. God populated the universe with inanimate matter, plants, animals, and human beings. God created all living creatures via channels of energy called minim in Hebrew and named “species” by science.
The divine origin of species is the reason why scientists have not been able to find evidence of new species postulated by the scientific theory of evolution. On the other hand, the unfolding of the universe, described by science as an interplay between mutations and natural selection, is an integral part of the divine plan. In the Torah, natural selection is described as Divine Providence; and mutations, as free choice. After rectifying their koah ha’medameh (the power of imagination), scientists and religious scholars have a golden opportunity to unify their consciousness in a rectified theory of evolution and the universe.
This paper is based on the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh (www.inner.org).
Yaacov Hanoka, PhD
Paleontologists who deal with human origins operate with the tacit assumption that evolution is an established fact. This leads to the belief that humans are descended from less advanced creatures, the so-called “hominids.” This view is totally at variance with what the Torah says regarding our origin. What, in fact, is the evidence of hominid evolution? There are, basically, two forms of “evidence.” One is the assignment and identification of a particular fossil—a task that has been suffused with controversy throughout the past century. The second is the dating of these fossils.
We shall discuss the heated controversies regarding fossil identification and ask whether much of this constitutes real science. We shall also explore the problem contained within the fossil dates as they relate to geologic factors.
Yaacov Hanoka, PhD
Radioactive rock dating is used to derive that the Earth is some 4.5 billion years old. This is in contrast to what the Torah says—that the world is less than 6000 years old. An old Earth is needed for the theory of evolution. Attempts are made to date fossils, and such dates are then critical in establishing sequences in time and developing the scaffolding that underlies much of the theory of evolution. The study of human origins, also based on the fundamental beliefs stemming from the theory of evolution, relies heavily on the ability to date fossils.
This article will discuss some of the most widely used dating methods. They can be listed in the following order of decreasing accuracy: tree-ring dating; radioactive carbon (carbon 14) dating; and radioactive rock dating.
The uniformitarian assumptions behind the methods and their limitations will be discussed at length. It will be shown that there are serious questions regarding the application of all of them. A background to this discussion will focus on the revival of catastrophism in modern science.
Professor Nathan Aviezer
In recent years, it has become clear to many scientists that the universe appears to have been specifically designed for the existence and well-being of human life. This phenomenon, which has attracted considerable attention in the science community, is known as the “Anthropic Principle” (from the Greek work anthropos, meaning "man"). The Anthropic Principle expresses itself in two ways: (1) very slight changes in the laws of nature would have made it impossible for life to exist, and (2) human life would not have been possible if not for the occurrence in the past of a large number of highly improbably events. Whereas the secular scientist sees these occurrences as mere lucky accidents, the believing person sees in them the guiding hand of the Creator. I shall show that, in contrast to the views of the secular scientists, the believing person is indeed justified in seeing the Anthropic Principle as a confirmation of his or her belief in the Almighty.
Rabbi Professor Moshe Dovid Tendler
The disengagement of Torah scholars from secular amoral society has allowed for autonomy and “feel-good morality” to become the yardstick by which societal morality is evaluated. The absence of intense dialogue between rabbinic decisors and the leaders of the professions and the business world has left our co-religionists uninstructed on issues that impact Torah values. The rabbinic community has failed to influence those who set ethical and moral standards for our secular society.
During the battle in the United States court systems over whether biological evolution should be taught with or without a concurrent discussion of Intelligent Design, the Torah community was not heard. The counter attack that must be launched is clearly enunciated in our Torah, but no one is listening because we are silent.
Professor Miryam Z. Wahrman
The use of genetic technology, in particular, the analysis and comparison of specific DNA sequences, can shed light on family relationships and kinship. This type of research has also been successfully applied to studies on the migration and dispersal of larger groups, i.e., populations with common origins and ancestry. Members of Jewish communities dispersed throughout the world who share common origins and ancestry also carry common genetic markers. The markers that are associated with Israelite/Jewish populations, specific DNA sequences called haplotypes, have been identified and studied in Jewish and non-Jewish populations around the world. The study of those markers has made it possible to analyze and confirm patterns of migration and assimilation, some of which have been documented by historical evidence and others that were previously unknown.
This paper presents and analyzes data on Israelite/Jewish genetic haplotypes with regard to Israelite/Jewish migration, and in some cases assimilation, in Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America. Just as archeological methods confirm our biblical historical record, so can genetic studies illuminate the process of migration of the Israelite/Jewish people, the wandering Jews, over the millennia.
Alexander Poltorak, PhD
This informal paper is a continuation of a discussion I had with Dr. Tsvi (Victor) Saks, of blessed memory, about using Peano’s axiomatic approach in arithmetic as an analogy to illustrate the principle of yesh me’ayin, or the creation of something from nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Can we find at least a rough example or a coarse illustration of creatio ex nihilo in the worlds of mathematics and physics? The function of an empty set in set theory, the behavior of a quantum vacuum, and Big Bang Theory are explored as illustrations to—not parallels of—God’s creation of something (everything, actually) from literally absolutely nothing. In the examples given below, the starting point is of course never the absolute nothing that preceded the six days of Creation.
Tsvi Victor Saks, PhD
In its early stages, the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) had as its main goal the invention of computer programs having the general problem-solving abilities of humans. Since 1965, leading researchers have been predicting that, within twenty years, machines will be capable of doing any work a man can do, but that goal is as elusive as ever. Actually, whether or not this goal will ever be achieved is a subject of great disagreement among leading experts in the field.
AI has gone in directions quite different from the expectations of the original founders, who wanted to create programs that could prove mathematical theorems and play chess at an expert level. Those goals have been achieved, but it has proven to be vastly more difficult to create programs that exhibit common-sense, and have enough real-world knowledge to perform tasks such as reading the daily newspaper.
Along the way, there has been a major shift of emphasis from general-purpose programs toward performance programs or Expert Systems, with highly specialized competence and limited to particular areas of expertise.
I shall share two personal experiences, and then attempt to draw some general conclusions:
1) Learning a hasidic discourse gave me insight to design a program that automatically scheduled a Boeing helicopter factory.
2) By inserting a piece of knowledge into an automated scheduling program, the program used the knowledge more effectively that I would have.
Professor Isaac Elishakoff Elliot Pines, Ph.D.
The five parts of this paper discuss the seeming contradiction between scripture and mathematics concerning the value of π (pi), and offer possible resolutions. Alongside a review of the widely accepted opinions and some recent investigations, we humbly offer our own suggestions.
In Part One, we introduce the apparent conflict and its significance. In Part Two, Professor Elishakoff takes a direct approach, investigating some pertinent issues of Jewish law and offering an analysis in terms of engineering practice. In Part Three, Professor Elishakoff and Dr. Pines discuss evidence that the Sages of the Talmudic era had knowledge of π to a greater accuracy than that implied by the surface reading of the Scripture that defines the Jewish legal standard. A hint of knowledge of π of still greater accuracy is found in the Bible itself. In Part Four, Dr. Pines continues this train of thought into the esoteric, commencing with a supporting information-theory based analysis. Pines follows up his discussion with an exploration of possible kabbalistic meaning. An appendix with an interesting physics-based speculation further develops Part Four. Finally, in Part Five, the authors conclude that the contradiction implicit in a superficial understanding may be masking an underlying harmony on several levels that makes itself known only through careful examination, which scientific and popular texts should be providing.
David Medved, PhD
The first five verses of Psalm 19 depict “the music of the spheres”—the praise given by the heavens to the magnificence of God’s created universe. I attempt to answer here the apparent contradiction in line 4 of this psalm that “their sound is unheard.”
Our sages and commentators vary in their interpretation of these five verses. Rashi believed that the heavens do not speak but stimulate us to gaze in awe at the wonders of God’s creation. Maimonides, on the other hand, maintains that “the psalmist really means to describe…what the spheres actually do and not what man actually thinks of them.” Ibn Ezra says that one must be well versed in astronomy to understand the celestial magnificence of Psalm 19.
Five hundred years after King David, the Pythagoreans postulated that the planets emit musical sounds but at frequencies outside the range of human hearing. These concepts were given various forms of expression in Western culture through the following twenty-five centuries, culminating with modern science. Discoveries such as pulsars, gravitational waves, acoustic oscillations in the early universe, and solar ultrasound seem to confirm the secrets embedded in Scripture. If the calculated frequencies of gravitational waves were sound waves, they would be in the range of human audibility.
Oren Baruch Stier, PhD.
Does the Internet fill specifically Jewish needs? How real is virtual reality? Cyberspace defines a curious place in modern consciousness: neither here nor there, it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Judaism, in contrast, is almost always localized, generally requiring physical presence for its practices. Yet Jews, ever on the cutting edge of technology, have taken to the wonders of the web with relish. Perhaps this comes from a familiarity arising from the long history of Jewish Diaspora existence and homelessness. In the age of Jewish national homecoming, has the Internet provided a virtual, parallel version? I shall address these issues from both theoretical and research-based perspectives, the latter focusing on the particular case of Chabad Lubavitch in Cyberspace (CLIC).
Mikhail M. Agrest, PhD
Although he was only five feet tall, I will always remember my father Matest Agrest as a giant. Known as the “Soviet Rabbi,” he was a world-renowned scientist who lived proudly according to his principles, even at great risk, such as when he headed the mathematics department of a highly classified nuclear bomb research project.