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When Judaism Meets Science

 

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– Ronald W. Pies, MD

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– Rabbi Gail Shuster–Bouskila

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Welcome!

Welcome to a discussion about Judaism and science, about fact, fiction, and faith. Now in its eighth year, this site has already explored a wide range of issues, from archeology to zygotes and from adam (mankind) to t’filah (prayer). And we have done so unsponsored and unencumbered by any particular denomination.

Along the way, we have encountered some interesting ideas, met some fascinating people and even gained some new perspectives. And our journey has really just begun. All who are interested in a thoughtful, respectful and constructive dialogue are invited to participate.

When Jews Argue in the Supreme Court About Abortion

Monday, November 29, 2021 @ 02:11 PM
posted by Roger Price
United States Supreme Court
(Credit: supremecourt.gov)

That Jews have disparate viewpoints on abortion is not news, but the argument has mostly been maintained and contained within the tribe. Every once in a while, though, it erupts into the public square, and the current consideration by the Supreme Court of the United States of the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Health, known as the Mississippi abortion case, is one of those times. What are Jews saying, and why?

The Context.

The extent to which abortion – the termination of the life of an embryo or fetus – occurs is not documented precisely in the United States. Since 1969, however, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has collected data on legally induced abortions from most, but not all, states. Its findings for 2018 disclose that 619,591 legally induced abortions were reported to it. Of these, 92.2% were performed during or before the 13th week of gestation. Another 6.9% were reported between weeks 14 and 20. Less than 1% were reported in or after week 21.

The Case.

The case before the United States Supreme Court arises from the enactment by the State of Mississippi in 2018 of the state’s Gestational Age Act (the “Act”) which prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for, and only for, medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. Because the ban prohibits abortions prior to the normal time for fetal viability (at about 22-24 weeks of pregnancy), the Act runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s previous holdings in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 883 (1992). As Mississippi acknowledges, the very purpose of the Act is to challenge Roe, Casey, and their progeny. To understand the legal issues in the case, then, we need to look first at the primary precedents.

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When Judaism Meets Global Warming (Part 4/4)

Thursday, July 22, 2021 @ 08:07 PM
posted by Roger Price
Earth, from Space
Image Credit: NASA

PART IV ––WHAT JUDAISM CAN AND CANNOT SAY CREDIBLY AND PRODUCTIVELY ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING.

     Global warming, which could lead to climate change, is a complex phenomenon, as we discovered in the first three parts of this essay, previously published here. It is also a ubiquitous subject today, so it is easy to forget that it did not emerge into public consciousness as a matter to be treated seriously until the 1970s. The Jewish community was quick to understand the potential gravity of the issue, and, over the last forty years or so, through familiar denominational outlets and more recently by way of independent entities, the community has not hesitated to speak out. It has met global warming with concern and conferences. Whether the resultant rhetoric has accomplished anything or even addressed sufficiently the difficult challenge global warming presents to Judaism is another matter.

     The classic approach.

     The classic Jewish approach to seeking wisdom is to look first to Judaism’s foundational text, the Torah, understood literally as a book (or as books) of instruction. Long ago, and speaking of the Torah, Ben Bag Bag, an early rabbinic sage, described the premise: Turn it and turn it again, he reportedly said, for all is in it. (See Sayings of the Fathers 5:22.) But neither the Torah nor Judaism’s other foundational text, the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, is a science book, much less a technology book, and its authors lacked the knowledge, the tools, and the perspective to understand something as complex as global warming.

To be sure, by the time the ancient Israelites and Judahites began to record their legends and laws, they, like others, were well aware of the seasonal patterns that then prevailed. But there is no evidence that they knew, for example, that the Earth orbited the Sun in an elliptical path, nor did they likely know that the Earth tilted in its axis. And, surely, they did not know about how the Earth’s atmosphere allowed solar energy to hit the planet’s surface or to trap some of that energy that might otherwise radiate away. Had they any inkling that adding carbon to the atmosphere could potentially and adversely alter temperatures on land, in the seas, and in the sky, would they have insisted on three national pilgrimage festivals and more conventional rituals that called for the sacrificial burning of animals? (See, e.g., Ex. 23:14–17, 34:18-23.) We can speculate, but the truth seems to be that at least early on they conceived of an anthropomorphic god who took pleasure in the aroma of the animal sacrifice (Num. 15:3), and mitigating carbon infusion into the atmosphere was not an issue. 

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When Judaism Meets Global Warming (Parts 1-3/4)

Monday, July 12, 2021 @ 11:07 AM
posted by Roger Price
Image Credit: NASA Glenn Research Center

PART I — CLIMATE SCIENCE IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. IT IS MUCH HARDER.

Science is a process. At its best, it observes, inquires, hypothesizes, predicts, tests, measures, evaluates, and explains the reality in which we appear to live. But science is uneven. It deals with some phenomena better than others.

For instance, with exceptional accuracy, physics can determine the daily rotation of our home planet, the Earth, and its yearly orbit around our host star, the Sun. It can tell us when constellations will appear in the sky each year and when and where less frequent eclipses, both solar and lunar, will become visible and then fade from view.

Through chemistry we understand the natural elements that make up our world and the reaction of one element with one or more other elements under defined pressures and temperatures. Through chemistry we can make the steel and concrete that help us build structures for housing, education, and entertainment, and for manufacturing, distribution, and acquisition, that is, the structures that enable and define modern life.  

The world of biology is more challenging in that life forms do not operate with the regularity of planetary rotations or orbits or the interaction of chemicals under specified conditions. We can trace the past evolution of species, but we cannot predict with any certainty how they will develop in the future. We can test newly developed drugs in controlled double blind experiments involving humans in order to determine the general safety and efficacy of those drugs, but we cannot predict with certitude what, if any, adverse reactions will affect a particular individual or when.  

Compared to physics, chemistry, and biology, climate science is a relatively new science. Even at its most basic level, it deals with complex phenomena such as temperatures on Earth, both on land and in the oceans, but also in the various gaseous layers above the planetary surface to outer space itself. In contrast to a focus on short terms weather activities, climate scientists define their subject matter –– the climate –– as the average of weather over time, typically a period of thirty years. (Steven Koonin, Unsettled, 27.)

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2 Responses to “When Judaism Meets Global Warming (Parts 1-3/4)”

  1. Bob Magrisso says:

    Great review of the background and fundamentals of climate science and he knowns and unknows that it faces:  so many variables interacting in nonlinear ways and not too much in the way of controlled experiments.  I have faith that models have and will get better over time but time seems be going against us if we are to have any significant effect on the climate.  It seems that we are in a situation where actions are necessary but coordinated actions by large groups of humans cooperating seems beyond our reach.  I look forward to the next chapter!  I expect nothing less than Talmudic wisdom.  

     

  2. Jonathan H Spinner says:

    I appreciate your hard work in explaining some of the science behind climate change, but scientists as far back as von Humboldt have warned that human activities could result in climate change (he used just this term in his book "Kosmos," published in 1800), so it is not a new concern. I will be interested in your injection of Jewish thought into climate change — like CO2, Jewish thought raises the temperature!

     


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