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Is population growth a blessing or a curse? Daniel Hershkowitz—Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology, Technion professor of mathematics, and community rabbi—shows us that the balancing forces of nature controlling animal populations are mirrored in the human soul. ∞ Surveying the history of “doomsayer” and “cornucopian” views on human overpopulation, ecologist Akiva Wolff, PhD, suggests that a wise application of the Torah principle of bal tashhit can bridge the two positions. ∞ In an exclusive report to B’OR HA’TORAH, Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD, describes how and why he steered the public committees that drafted the halakhically compatible laws in the Knesset regarding Patient’s Rights, Stem Cell Research, the Dying Patient, and Brain Death. ∞ Another international authority on Jewish medical ethics, Professor Fred Rosner, MD, examines the types of emergency treatments that Jewish doctors and dentists are permitted to perform on Shabbat. ∞ The permissibility of using computers, microphones, and chemical cooking kits on Shabbat is explored by Bar-Ilan university graduate students in a new format for BHT—poster papers. ∞ Comfortably fitting into India’s caste system enabled the Jews in south-western India to retain a strong Jewish identity, yet the attitudes among different strata of Jews created a contradiction with halakhah. Professor Nathan Katz analyzes a brilliant and compassionate sixteenth-century responsum by the Radbaz to the Jews of Cochin concerning the acceptance of converts.

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:
bht@jct.ac.il
This offer is limited to three articles.

Rabbi Professor Daniel Hershkowitz

Stability of movement is achieved by stabilizing forces working in the reverse direction. One of the many examples of the use of this principle in technology is the small wings of a rocket. This principle is also widely used in economics. The mathematics of stabilizing forces was developed by Alfred J. Lotka and Vito Volterra, working independently of one another. Studying predator-prey systems in nature helped Lotka to develop his model.

Human nature has a stabilizing force implanted by God. Our rabbis teach us that the evil inclination of every person pushes him or her in the reverse direction, similar to stabilizing forces, demanding intuitive mathematics in order to find the right balance.

Akiva Wolff, PhD

Bal tashhit is the environmental Torah commandment that prohibits the needless destruction of anything useful to human life. It is derived from the prohibition in Deuteronomy 20:19–20 against destroying fruit trees during a wartime siege. “Cornucopians” (also called “anti-Malthusians”) is a name given to those who believe that through human innovation the world can provide a practically limitless abundance of natural resources. “Doomsayers” (also called “Malthusians”) is a name given to those who believe that all or some of humankind are doomed by human population growth and/or high consumption rates and their effects on the environment.

The principle of bal tashḥit can play a useful explanatory role in resolving the debate between these two opposing points of view. Only with the production and maintenance of the full spectrum of knowledge, moral-ethical behavior, and the necessary institutional infrastructure for maintaining them can there be sustainable human progress. I suggest that a Torah-true lifestyle, with an emphasis on the observance of bal tashḥit, is a method par excellence for promoting human progress with sustainability. This article is part of the author’s PhD thesis.

 

Professor Nathan Aviezer

The CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) accelerator in Geneva is the largest, most sophisticated, and most expensive scientific facility ever constructed. It is situated in a huge underground doughnut-shaped structure, eighteen miles long and fifty feet high, packed with complicated scientific apparatus, and it will cost almost ten billion dollars. An accelerator is an instrument for producing new particles. Particles are the building blocks of all matter in the universe. Why is it so important to produce new particles? What is the connection between this new accelerator and the Torah?

Some of the currently outstanding problems of physics are the elusive Higgs particle, dark matter, and string theory. This paper puts the Geneva venture in the context of a Torah perspective. I shall explain in simple language how the Geneva accelerator is expected to shed important light on these topics and perhaps on other fundamental questions of science, thus deepening our appreciation of God’s Creation.

David B. Medved, PhD

This posthumous paper develops comparisons and analogies between modern astrophysics and the Torah account of the first and second Days of Creation. The approach is similar to the well-known Day-Age model, which posits that each Day of the six days of Genesis corresponds to a specific epoch in the evolution of the Universe from t=0 to the present era. The manuscript was edited by Professor Joseph S. Bodenheimer.

Professor Nathan Katz

The Cochin Jews provide a particularly fine example of how a small religio-ethnic community can acculturate itself within a tolerant, larger society for at least a thousand years. By narrating an appropriate historical legend with motifs from both the origin and host religious cultures; by a periodic ritual enactment of the symbols representing the poles of power in the caste hierarchy of Kerala, and by even adapting the host culture’s caste structure within its own community, a secure place was achieved within India. The Cochin Jews developed Passover customs influenced by Brahmin asceticism and Simhat Torah royalty symbols influenced by the local nobility that fitted nicely into the framework of halakhah (Jewish law).

In the sixteenth century, a question regarding the discrimination practiced by a group of Jews of attestable Jewish origin against an indigenous group of observant Jews considered to be partially descended from slaves was brought in a responsum to the great adjudicator Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (the Radbaz) of Cairo and later to his student Rabbi Jacob Castro. Their replies are models of detailed halakhic analysis steeped in compassion. In the end, though, equal status was achieved by the struggle led by A.B. Salem, a few decades before most of this small community emigrated to Israel after 1948.

Professor Fred Rosner MD, FACP

It is axiomatic in Judaism that all but three biblical and rabbinic commandments are waived for pikuah nefesh (preserving and saving a human life). How do Jewish physicians, dentists, and other health professionals apply this principle when confronted with a medical or dental emergency or potential emergency on the Sabbath? What constitutes a medical emergency? How should serious but not life-threatening conditions be treated on Shabbat?

Professor Kenneth Collins, MD

Evidence-based medicine is the contemporary expression for the integration of the best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values, enabling the physician and the patient to form a diagnostic and therapeutic alliance optimizing clinical outcomes and the quality of life. The distinguished medieval Jewish sage, physician, and philosopher, Moses Maimonides (1138–1204, also known as Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon or Rambam), who practiced in the Sultan’s palace and in Fostat, Old Cairo, Egypt, in the twelfth century, after his early years in Spain and Morocco, left an extensive legacy of medical writings which indicate his understanding of patient values and the importance of the therapeutic alliance.

Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD

During the past fifty years, medical ethics has been challenged by hitherto unimaginable questions brought about by unprecedented advances in science. Dramatic developments in the practice of medicine, such as organ transplantation and ivf and pgd procedures, have taken place. Secular medical ethics today tries to solve the myriad of new questions by applying four absolute principles. In contrast, Jewish medical ethics is based on the more flexible case-by-case (casuistry approach) halakhah (Jewish law).

In the first four to five decades of the State of Israel, medical ethics laws were enacted by the Knesset through a process of political fighting between the religious and non-religious parties. The Autopsy Law and Abortion Law are examples of this unsuccessful way of legislating medical ethics issues.

For over a decade now, a new, more successful approach has been used by convening a public committee of experts to discuss the issues and draft a proposal that the Knesset then debates and votes on. The author discusses four such laws that he helped to formulate: the Patient’s Rights Act of 1996, the Genetic Intervention Act of 1999 (stem cell research law), the Dying Patient Act of 2005, and the Brain Death Respiratory Law of 2008. These laws are unique to Israel because they are based on careful halakhic analysis.

Professor Shimon Glick, MD Robert Finaly, MD

Robert Finaly, md comes from a large family in Hungary, dating back many generations. After World War II, the daughter of a surviving aunt returned to Hungary to explore family roots. The search turned up a small diary, published in 1873, by an ancestor physician, Dr. Sigismund Finaly (1808-1876). The following excerpt from that diary brings to life contemporary issues in medical education and medical ethics such as patient autonomy, cultural sensitivity, and mind-body interaction. Dr. Finaly’s colleague, Professor Shimon Glick, MD brought about the publication of this account of the extraordinary recovery of a “simple” rural Jew whose faith in God defied medical logic when he refused to have his tefillin arm amputated.