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Featuring Jewish Epigenetics ∞ Genesis, Hawking, and Dawkins ∞ Benjamin Franklin and Mussar ∞ Hemophilia and Halakhah ∞ The Enigma of the Eighth-Month Baby

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.

Professor Marvin Gold

Specific segments of dna can be activated or silenced by an external epigene. Can epigenetic changes be passed on to the next generation? Can repentance and kindness that bring about true changes in behavior be considered a type of epigene?

Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar

Torah action is the epigene that G-d gave the Jewish People. Genetically, Jews are like all other peoples. Generations of performing Torah commandments have helped create a unique behavior pattern that functions beyond the genetic structure but impacts on it. We have to keep on renewing the positive behavior, though, for the epigene to continue working. Our collective and personal will — expressed in the hayyah level of our souls — must keep on driving us to be different for our own good and for that of all humankind.

Based on a presentation at the Tenth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, December 13–16, 2013

Professor Joseph S. Bodenheimer

In an approach differing from those of Professors Nathan Aviezer, Gerald Schroeder, the late Benjamin Fain, and others who have written about Genesis from a scientist’s perspective, we propose an interpretation of the Creation chapters that follows the Torah text very closely and finds within it a dialogue between G-d and nature, as suggested by the commentary of Nahmanides. Three acts of creation were performed ex nihilo, where natural substance could not develop into a higher form. These acts of creation, yesh me’ayin, occurred on Day One, Day Five, and Day Six: the first appearance of the universe itself, the first appearance of living creatures, and the appearance of Adam and Eve in the image of G-d.

Presented at the Tenth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, December 13–16, 2013

Professor Nathan Aviezer

There are philosophers and scientists who claim that nothing exists except the physical universe. They assert that what cannot be observed does not exist. This idea appears in the 1774 treatise Ethics by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, as well as in the 1796 treatise Exposition of the System of the World by mathematician-astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace. This idea has again been proclaimed by cosmologist Stephen Hawking in his recent book, The Grand Design, which presents his new theory for the spontaneous beginning of the universe. He generalizes Big Bang cosmology to include String Theory, Inflationary Cosmology, and Quantum Theory. Hawking concludes that “G-d is unnecessary because the creation of the universe follows directly from the laws of physics.”

Hawking’s new book became an instant best seller, to the delight of the atheists. Richard Dawkins gloats, “Darwin kicked G-d out of biology, and now Hawking has administered the coup de grace.”

I shall point out the error in the claims of Dawkins and Hawking, and show that there is harmony between the new discoveries and traditional Torah concepts.

Presented at the Tenth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, December 13–16, 2013

Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD

I compiled this prayer from prayers composed by physicians who preceded me and adapted it to our times to serve as an ethical code from a Torah and halakhic perspective. As a segulah (spiritual remedy), this edited English translation of the longer Hebrew prayer is recommended to be recited once a week to help physicians know their place and responsibilities toward the A-lmighty, their patients, and their colleagues. Both the short and long prayers in Hebrew appear in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics, second Hebrew edition, 2006, vol. I, mavo A:29-36.

The full text of previous prayers by and for physicians can be found in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics, pp. 16-29.

Estie Neff

Clashes between science and religion have existed for centuries and still exist today, particularly affecting many aspects of health care, from birth control to blood transfusions. Halakhah, the laws extrapolated from the Torah that govern the daily life of a Jew, can sometimes be in conflict with science as well. A prime example is the Talmudic prohibition on caring for an infant born in the eighth month of gestation. The Talmud forbids a mother from holding or feeding her newborn eighth-month baby on Shabbat, even if this may cause premature death. This halakhah is based on the widely held belief that eighth-month infants are not viable, while seventh- and ninth-month infants are. Yet, today we know from medical science that a baby born in its eighth month is more viable than a baby born in its seventh month. Furthermore, advances in medical science make it possible today for premature babies to survive at a much higher rate than when the Talmud was compiled. Since the facts upon which this halakhah is based are simply not relevant anymore, several halakhic authorities have responded to this challenge. Eventually, modern-day halakhic authorities permitted care for eighth-month babies on Shabbat. The origin of this halakhah and its eventual adaptation to new physical realities are fascinating topics that ultimately strengthen the connection between Torah and the Jewish people.

Samuel Reisman

Over the past century, the congruency between the modern description of hemophilia and a hereditary coagulation disorder described in the Talmud has been widely noted. Examination of the Talmudic text suggests that:

  1. The disease described there closely resembles the modern characterization of classic hemophilia.
  2. The hereditary pattern described is consistent with the distinctive inheritance pattern of chromosome-x lined recessive genetic disorders. An empirical basis for the observation of this disorder, as well as its inheritance patterns, was plausibly supplied by the Jewish practice of ritual circumcision, which facilitated a universal hematological evaluation of all males.

A corresponding pre-modern report of hemophilia from a Muslim surgeon

is harmonious with this description.

The Talmudic description of hemophilia in subsequent rabbinic writings, notably the description of hemophilia as possibly paternally inherited, are coherent in light of the etiology and progression of factor xi deficiency, which is uniquely prevalent among Jewish populations and is associated with chromosome 4, an autosome. Hemorrhage following circumcision can also result from non-genetic diseases caused by spontaneous mutations arising during gametogenesis. These scenarios help to clarify the rationale behind the Talmudic requirement of multiple presentations to affirm a hereditary danger. 

Professor N.S. Kopeika

Presented at the Moshiach and Science Conference of the RYAL Institute in Beersheva, 14 Iyar 5773.

Manfred Gerstenfeld, PhD

Manfred Gerstenfeld, PhD

Presented at the Moshiach and Science Conference of the RYAL Institute in Beersheva, 14 Iyar 5773.

Rabbi Joel Padowitz, MBA, CFA

Rabbis from Talmudic times until today have stressed the importance of regular heshbon ha’nefesh (self-examination). To the extent that there is a uniform method employed in the Jewish world today, it is the one described in the nineteenth century work Sefer Heshbon Ha’Nefesh. In this paper, I shall explore the surprising origins of the technique presented in Sefer Heshbon Ha’Nefesh. Then, applying a contemporary school of psychological thought known as Constructive-Developmental Theory (CDT), I shall clarify why the “classic” method is inadequate in addressing certain self-development goals.  I shall describe a technique known as the Immunity to Change Map (ITCM) and explain why a hybrid approach that combines the technique described in Sefer Heshbon Ha’Nefesh with the ITCM is not only more effective for achieving lasting change, but also more consistent with traditional Jewish thought. I hope that my suggested hybrid approach will encourage and inspire readers to attempt this enhanced form of heshbon ha’nefesh.

Kenneth Collins, MBCHB, MPhil, PhD, FRCGP

Although a celebrated Hebrew poet whose output covered many genres, and a successful physician, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi (1075-1141 CE) suffered extreme sorrow over the persecution of the Jewish People by both Christians and Muslims and their exile from the Land of Israel. His poetry conveys his longing for Israel and his distress at the Jewish condition in the lands of their dispersal. Taking great risks, he finally traveled to the Holy Land to seek G-d’s Presence there, but legend has it that he was killed at the gates of Jerusalem.

An early version of this paper was presented in July 2011 at a conference on Poetry and Melancholy at the University of Stirling, Scotland.

Esther Cameron, PhD

This article addresses the question how art, especially poetry, should be regarded and practiced in a Jewish milieu. In the Western tradition, which has also influenced modern Hebrew poetry, art has been associated with quasi-idolatrous and amoral tendencies, and as a result is often regarded as “unsanctified.” On the other hand, art, especially poetry, has also served to keep people in touch with their inwardness, and the declining readership of poetry is one of the symptoms of modern man’s self-alienation. The ambiguous role of poetry is rooted in the dual nature of poetic inspiration, which corresponds to the duality of the divine and the animal soul as described in the Tanya. But tshuvah (repentance) subordinates the animal soul to the Divine soul, and a poetry of tshuvah was envisioned by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as part of the Jewish national revival.

Professor Vera Schwarcz

At fifteen, I set my heart on learning…

At seventy I followed what my heart desired without transgressing the line.

                                Confucius, “The Analects”

At fifteen the study of Talmud…

At seventy, fullness of years…

                                Mishnah Avot 5:22

 

Thinking comparatively about the beginning and the end of life can enrich our understanding of both cultural and biological paradigms for optimal survival. This paper draws upon key themes in Confucian and Jewish tradition to illustrate different strategies for mapping a person’s journey from life to death. In the process, we shall find radically different definitions of “learning,” “wisdom,” “accomplishment,” and “failure.”

To suggest, as the Zohar and the Tanya do, that the ending is embedded in the beginning will be shown to be a key insight for Confucian thought as well. The journey from life to death is not one of devolution but an act of radical return that gives meaning and depth to each stage traversed by the individual—and the human community as a whole. Neither Judaism nor Confucianism limited its definitions of “life” and “death” to its culture alone. Each offers distinctive angles of vision upon a broadly human predicament that knows no temporal or geographical bounds.

In both cultural traditions the successful completion of the human journey depends upon discovering and accepting the limitations that ethics imposes upon individual behavior. Knowing and staying “within the bounds” will be shown to be key to genuine transcendence.

Presented at the Tenth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, December 13–16, 2013

Professor Fred Rosner, MD, MACP

Did the Talmud Sages restrict the conditions for raising only dangerous dogs, or do the restrictions apply also to tame pets? Most halakhic adjudicators rule that the restrictions are on all dogs, while other authorities maintain that the restrictions are only on dangerous, frightening dogs. Jewish law infers from the Torah that animals in our possession should be fed before we ourselves sit down to eat. Although normally we are not allowed to handle a dog on Shabbat, blind people are allowed to use a Seeing Eye dog, even on Shabbat and even in the synagogue.

Rabbi Yehoshua Landes

In the 1970s when Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, saw that Transcendental Meditation helped relieve stress for many people, he called for Jewish medical professionals to develop a scientific form of meditation free of idolatrous influence. The Rebbe’s aim was to help Jews suffering from anxiety and depression. He believed that healthy Jews should actively reach out to the world through observing the Torah and not retreat into the seclusion of meditation, which could make even mentally healthy people ill. Therefore the Rebbe wanted a new type of meditation that would be a limited medical treatment. He did not want this therapy to be a form of Jewish religious, Hasidic, or mystical outreach. Dr. Yehuda Landes, a psychologist in Palo Alto, was one of the few to respond to the Rebbe’s call; his son, Rabbi Yehoshua Landes, using the complete correspondence between his father and the Rebbe, recounts here how Jewish Meditation was founded. Rabbi Landes makes a call of his own for mumhim, rabbinic experts, to study and adjudicate the many forms of meditation and yoga with Jewish orientation that abound today.