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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One of the most exciting recent scientific discoveries was the discovery of gravitational waves at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories (LIGO) in Louisiana and Washington. This multimillion-dollar project, with a collaboration of over 1,000 multinational researchers, finally registered its first detection of a gravitational wave, confirming the actual existence of gravitational waves, which had been speculated since Einstein’s paper just over 100 years ago. The importance of this discovery was immediately recognized by the scientific community at large, quickly earning three of the observatory’s conceptualizers and designers the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. This article outlines the importance of this discovery and suggests how to view it from a Jewish, faith-based perspective.
See the three images including artists’ conceptions of gravitational waves on the inside front cover of this volume.
Professor Yaakov Friedman
How should an observant Jewish scientist view astronomy? I do not think that he should spend time on what has happened at the time of creation and speculate how things happened based on the assumption (used in astronomy) that the universe owas created according to the laws of nature. Rather, remembering that God does not do anything without a purpose, he should use his scientific knowledge and intellect to unravel the mysteries and reveal the hints of the heavenly lab. Such activity helps to discover and test new laws of nature which could improve our life and strengthen our belief in God. I present my personal experiences in using astronomical observations to construct and verify an extension of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This theory has the potential to explain microscopic behavior as well and has applications to quantum computing.
Our fundamental understanding of matter has been revolutionized in the past century. This revolution reached a climax in 2012 with the discovery of the Higgs boson — the proof of the mechanism that generates particle masses. The conclusion, with regard to our understanding of matter, is that there is no such thing as “matter.” The first section of this article is devoted to explaining the scientific theory, while the second section delves into the theological meaning of this new paradigm. The science content below was published in a previous article in Hebrew by Daniel Turgeman, "Light, Matter, and the Higgs Boson." 2016. Galileo Journal for Science and Thought, vol.210, March, pp. 20–27.
Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD
Are we allowed to assist infertile couples to have children? There is a host of options available and more new techniques that will become available in the future. I am going to discuss the issue of the female factor of infertility that requires an egg donation and/or a surrogate mother. I shall also refer to Mitochondria Replacement Therapy. In every case, the question will be asked, “According to halakhah, who is the mother of the child?”
Rabbi Professor Moshe Dovid Tendler
The decision by the medical profession in England to permit MRT-mitochondrial replacement therapy crossed the “red line” of gene therapy, allowing alterations of the germ plasm of a human. Previously, only somatic cells were subjected to genetic modification, and in this framework any deleterious re-combinations would not impact on all future generations.
MRT can impact on the 12,000 women in the US who have defective mitochondria causing heart, liver, and respiratory disease. MRT replaces the defective mitochondria with healthy donor mitochondria, without impacting on the genetic traits that are controlled by nuclear genes. MRT thus allows these women to bear genetically related children free of mitochondrial disease without resorting to donor ova.
Clinical trials are now underway for the maturation of MRT as a viable cure. If it could be concluded from animal studies that any risk to volunteers is minimal, halakhah would encourage participation in FDA-sponsored studies. A powerful genome-editing technology, CRISPR/Cas 9, has made it easy to insert, remove, or edit genes in sperm, ova, and embryos, potentially curing genetic diseases or enhancing desirable traits.
Leading molecular biologists have protested gene editing of humans since any errors will persist for all time in the human genome. In addition, they are concerned that this technique will be used for genetic enhancement or “designer babies,” rather than for medical cures. Despite these concerns, halakhah would favor continued research with its potential to cure genetic diseases, even if a modicum of risk exists. Other new discoveries in immunotherapy will be discussed.
Dr. Michael Szycher
What is the Jewish position on organ transplants in general and on heart transplants from deceased donors, artificial hearts, and artificial heart-part implants in particular? Most of the possible answers lack consensus because they deal with multifaceted and interrelated religious, medical, ethical, societal, and philosophical approaches, such as the definition of the moment of death. The very definition of the heart itself is also a subject for discussion.
While working on the development of an artificial heart, my team and I encountered a complexity totally unexpected from a medical standpoint. At the beginning of the 1980s the medical community widely believed that developing an artificial heart would be a simple affair, since the heart was considered only as a “pump.”
We were forced to rewrite the books on hematology, hemodynamics, cardiovascular technology, implantable electronics, cardiac telemetry, the role of coagulation in bacterial infection, and so on. This led to the inference that life is too complex to be explained by random chance, as proposed by evolutionary theory.
As a result, 45 percent of my scientific team and I, who had proudly professed to be secular at the start of the program, became instilled with a belief in God. We found that science alone cannot explain the totality of the world.
Professor Joseph S. Bodenheimer
This paper explores various expressions of Divine dialogue as they relate to humans, essentially differentiating us from all other created beings. The highest form of communication is with the Almighty, but the unique gift of the human mind enables dialogue with other humans too. Meaningful human communication constitutes a powerful manifestation of our divine spirit, and must be recognized as such. But it also gives us the moral responsibility for what we choose to communicate, and how we communicate with each other. Often communication does not achieve the result desired by the communicator, not only because of misunderstanding but also by intent. The Torah warns us against the negative potential of misused social communication. There is no fundamental reason why not to use modern communications devices for sacred dialogue, on condition that the technology does not distort the spiritual significance of meaningful communication.
Professor Nathan Aviezer
We learn about the creation of the world in two chapters of Genesis. The first chapter narrative (“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth…”) is followed by a very different second-chapter narrative (“These are the generations of the heaven and the earth when they were created…”). Biblical critics claim that these two narratives were written by two different authors and later joined by an anonymous editor to form the book of Genesis. Biblical critics also point to the different expressions for God in the two narratives. They claim that the two different names of God further support their thesis of two different authors.
Various explanations have been proposed for the two creation narratives by those who remain faithful to a single Divine Author. We here propose a new explanation which answers the following questions.
Daniel A. Drubach
The existence and role of meditation in the practice of Judaism, as well as its relationship to prayer, is an area of much debate. Part of this stems from a lack of agreement about the meaning, practice, and purpose of meditation, and specifically meditation within a Jewish context. Adding to the confusion is the tendency to consider prayer and meditation as the same process. This paper proposes that Mishnah Brakhot 5:1 and Talmud Brakhot 32b present convincing evidence for a vital role of meditation in the practice of Judaism and support the opinion that meditation and prayer are different (albeit harmonious) processes. Furthermore, a neuroscience approach demonstrates that meditation and prayer are distinct cognitive processes, the former nonverbal while the latter a highly verbal task. Finally, we discuss recently discovered brain functional networks (including the default and salience networks) which play a fundamental but distinct role in both meditation and prayer.
In the Mishneh Torah the great physician, philosopher, codifier, and commentator Maimonides guarantees that a person who follows his guidelines for healthy eating and other behaviors will never need a doctor. I suggest that the reason why Maimonides could make such a guarantee in the Mishneh Torah while being much more cautious in his medical writings is that he is concerned not only about what and how we eat but why we eat, for what purpose. Maimonides introduces the Mishneh Torah with the statement that the purpose of all life is to know God. Following Maimonides’ practical guidelines in the context of striving to know God in our every action will enrich and lengthen our lives. But how can finite humans know the infinite God? Correlating Maimonides’ characterization of God as “the Knower, the Knowledge, and the Known” with three levels of daat and three stages of hasidic meditation during prayer helps us solve these questions.
Rus Devorah Wallen
In private communications as well as public addresses, Rabbi Menaħem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, discussed an array of holistic health issues At times he recommended very specific therapies or techniques that predated current medical treatments. One example is value-free therapeutic meditation to relieve stress and bring peace of mind (see Ophir 2012–2013 and Landes 2014–2015).
As an observant therapist inspired by the Rebbe’s call for new therapies, I developed rabbinically approved meditations for my patients. Today, research on the benefits of meditation abounds, and medical professionals around the world use many formats of meditation to alleviate anxiety, stress, and other ailments.
However, despite their proven benefit, many of the available methods contain subtle Eastern religious elements. Lack of access to the value-free meditation methods the Rebbe recommended exposed thousands to practices violating Torah law.
Although there are many positive uses of the internet, there are also many toxic effects of internet addiction that unfortunately plague the Torah-observant community. The damage that is done by this type of activity can be antithetical to Jewish values. Exposure to pornography can lead to inappropriate sexual activity, child abuse, and marriage dysfunction. The problem must be recognized and solved by proper parental supervision, guidance in school, use of filters and safeguards, and seeking spiritual and professional help for healing and recovery.
Professor Menachem Feuer
Jewish Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada
Biographies of great individuals are always the subject of debate. What is remembered, how is it remembered, and does the account have veracity? There is potentially always a kind of suspicion or cynicism that surrounds a biography because writing has a life of its own and words can always be interpreted in different ways. The fact that writing (graphos) clashes with living memory presents a challenge which can undermine any biographical project and the message of a life (bios). Even archived memory is subject to radical doubt (see Derrida 1989, pp. 37–38)
Based upon a presentation at the Eleventh Miami International Conference on Torah and Science at The Shul of Bal Harbour,Surfside, Florida, December 14, 2015
Emmy Leah Stark Zitter
The most significant “test” recounted in the Torah is the story of God’s testing of Abraham, called in Hebrew ạkeidat Yitshak (the Binding of Isaac). Told in sparing detail, this story is perhaps too deep and puzzling to be completely comprehended by human thought or explained in human language. Viewing the story through the lens of contemporary pedagogical theories of assessment, however, suggests new interpretations and meanings in the archetypal tale. I begin with an overview describing today’s assessment theories, defining terms such as formative and summative assessment, washback, and assessment as learning. I then apply these ideas to the story of Abraham’s test, working with and relating to the stance of classic commentators on the subject. Finally, I use my conclusions about the meaning of Abraham’s test to discuss the relationship between ideas of our times and their connection to the timeless text of the Torah. I conclude that applying secular thought in the ideas of the Torah, while a delicate and complex process, can be a useful and even necessary way to understand the relevance of a timeless text to a humanity bound in time.