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When Judaism Meets Science

 

“a rare masterpiece”
– Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, HUC

“careful research, passionate analysis, and good sense”
– Rabbi David Teutsch, RRC

“clear, engaging”
– Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman, Sinai and Synapses

“a tremendous tome”
– Rabbi Wayne Dosick, SpiritTalk Live!

“an absolutely fascinating book”
– Rabbi Richard Address, Jewish Sacred Aging

“scholarly, judicious, and fair–minded . . . and very ‘readable’”
– Ronald W. Pies, MD

“a fresh way to explore Jewish topics . . . useful in teaching adults”
– Rabbi Gail Shuster–Bouskila

“A must read! . . . careful thought and such literary excellence”
– Rabbi Jack Riemer

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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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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Cong. Agudat Achim Explores “When Judaism Meets Science”

Monday, April 5, 2021 @ 02:04 PM
posted by Roger Price
Cong. Agudat Achim

Cong. Agudat Achim (“CAA”) is a full service, egalitarian, and participatory congregation based in Schenectady, New York. For over 120 years, it has identified with the Conservative movement.

In late March, 2021, as part of CAA’s series on Judaism and science, three members of the congregations, each of whom also happens to be a scientist, interviewed your blogmaster, Roger Price, about various aspects of the interplay of Judaism and science. The interviewers were Andrew Gavens, a materials engineer, Advisor at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, and past president of CAA, Jay Yablon, a theoretical physicist at Einstein Centre for Local–Realistic Physics, patent lawyer, and also a past president of CAA, and Susan Sharfstein, a biochemical engineer and professor of nanobioscience at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Steven Jarrett, a retired physician and former Medical Director for the Capital District Regional Office of the NYS-DOH, also submitted questions.

The principal topics covered over the course of about one hour and twenty–five minutes include the motivation for and the process regarding writing “When Judaism Meets Science,” ethical issues associated with CRISPR technology and gene and germline editing, Moses as an author or, alternatively, a scientist, what, if anything, science says about God and the writing of the Torah, the historical accuracy of the Passover and Exodus stories,  how, if at all, the Torah and science agree on the creation of the universe and humankind, and, finally, how Judaism and science inform each other regarding artificial intelligence, possible life on exoplanets, and exotheology.  The full discussion can be accessed on YouTube by clicking here. Introductions begin at the 2:28 mark. Enjoy.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz Explores “When Judaism Meets Science”

Wednesday, January 27, 2021 @ 05:01 PM
posted by Roger Price
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is a rabbi, educator, activist, and author. Not yet forty years old, Rabbi Yanklowitz has twice been named one of America’s Top Rabbis by Newsweek and has also been named by The Forward as one of the 50 most influential Jews and one of The Most Inspiring Rabbis in America. Rabbi Yanklowitz is the author of nineteen books on Jewish ethics and his writings have appeared in outlets as diverse as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the Atlantic among many other secular and religious publications.

In July 2013, Rabbi Yanklowitz became Executive Director, then later President and Dean, of Valley Beit Midrash, a center for Jewish learning, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. In January, 2021, as part of Valley Beit Midrash’s interest in the interface of Judaism and science, Rabbi Yanklowitz interviewed author Roger Price about his book When Judaism Meets Science. The interview, which runs about ten minutes, covers the unique nature of the book’s contents, the differences between the challenges modern science presents today to Judaism, and by extension the Jewish People, and previous challenges, one of the more serious consequences of the current challenge of modern science, and the topic that has elicited the most engaged conversation when the author meets with congregants around the country. That interview can now be seen and heard here:

Enjoy.

Rabbi Yanklowitz was ordained as a rabbi at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, received a second rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the chief rabbi of Efrat, and a third rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo of Jerusalem. He studied at the University of Texas as an undergraduate, received a master’s degree at Harvard University in Leadership and Psychology, and earned a Doctorate from Columbia University in Epistemology and Moral Development.

Rabbi Yanklowitz is also the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek (the Orthodox Social Justice movement), the Founder and CEO of Shamayim (Jewish animal advocacy), and the Founder and President of YATOM, (Jewish foster and adoption network). Rabbi Yanklowitz, his wife Shoshana, and their four children live in Scottsdale, Arizona. They are also foster parents.

When Judaism Meets Science can be purchased from various etailers, including Amazon, and also from the publisher, Wipf and Stock.

Rabbi Arnold Rachlis Explores “When Judaism Meets Science”

Sunday, September 6, 2020 @ 05:09 PM
posted by Roger Price
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis

Early in August, 2020, Rabbi Arnold Rachlis interviewed Roger Price regarding his book “When Judaism Meets Science.” Initially, the interview followed an Erev Shabbat service at Rabbi Rachlis’s congregation, University Synagogue, Irvine, California. Over the course of twenty–four minutes, Rabbi Rachlis’s questions and Price’s answers covered a number of issues discussed in Price’s book, including the challenges of contemporary science to Judaism, the rejection of science and facts, vaccinations, artificial intelligence and a Jewdroid, genetics and diseases, Jewish genetic markers, and neuroscience and freewill.

Rabbi Arnold Rachlis has served as the rabbi of University Synagogue since 1987, guiding it from a small havurah to a center that serves more than 600 families. Previously, he served as rabbi of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, Evanston, Illinois. Rabbi Rachlis was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1975, having previously earned a B.A. degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He also holds an M.A. degree from Temple University and a Doctor of Divinity degree from RRC.

Now the entire interview, by itself, can be seen and heard here: https://vimeo.com/445649383/7bcc001c52

Enjoy!

For nine years, Rabbi Rachlis hosted Of Cabbages and Kings on ABC-TV, as well as a syndicated cable television show on contemporary Jewish issues, Hayom. He has appeared as a guest on NPR, CBS, CNN, and PBS. He was profiled in the award-winning documentary film, The Legacy, and has served as a Judaica consultant for Compton’s Encyclopedia. He has also published scholarly articles, opinion pieces, and poetry in a variety of publications, including Judaism, Reconstructionist, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Jewish Journal, and A Psychology – Judaism Reader.

Rabbi Rachlis has served in Washington, D.C. as a White House Fellow, an honor annually accorded to only a dozen national leaders, and as a Senior Foreign Affairs advisor in the State Department. Chosen by the White House to give the invocation for President Obama’s Town Hall meeting, he was selected as one of the 25 most influential leaders in Orange County. Rabbi Rachlis has also served as Chair of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a coalition of over 1000 synagogues and Jewish organizations across the country.

When Judaism Meets Science can be purchased from various etailers, including Amazon, and also from the publisher, Wipf and Stock.

Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman Explores “When Judaism Meets Science”

Sunday, August 9, 2020 @ 04:08 PM
posted by Roger Price
Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman

RABBI GEOFFREY MITELMAN is the Founding Director of Sinai and Synapses. There he seeks to bridge “the religious and scientific worlds, offering people a worldview that is scientifically grounded and spiritually uplifting.” Believing that “we need both religion and science as sources of wisdom, as the spark for new questions, and as inspiration and motivation,” Sinai and Synapses provides “tools and language for learning and living to those who see science as their ally as they pursue personal growth and the repair of our world.” These tools include “classes, seminars, lectures, videos and writings, [which help] create a vision of religion that embraces critical thinking and scientific inquiry, and at the same time, gives meaning to people’s lives and helps them make a positive impact on society.”

Rabbi Mitelman’s interview of author Roger Price concerning the latter’s new book, When Judaism Meets Science, covers a wide range of topics, including COVID–19, public health, and fake news, vaccines and kashrut, and artificial intelligence and a Jewdroid. Running about twenty–five minutes, without commercial interruption, it can be seen and heard here: https://sinaiandsynapses.org/multimedia-archive/when-judaism-meets-science/

     When Judaism Meets Science can be purchased from various etailers, including Amazon, and also from the publisher, Wipf and Stock.

The Wise Ones of Covid Gubernia and the Wearing of Masks

Thursday, April 23, 2020 @ 11:04 AM
posted by Roger Price

Covid Gubernia was an area in the Old Country. Between the harsh winters, the poverty, and the poor nutrition, the people were quite pallid, so much so that where they lived was sometimes called the Pale. And, yet, despite all of their challenges, they were a good people, with the dignity that comes from working hard and trying to live a decent life. For that alone, they were worthy of honor, or koved  in their old language.  (Some even say the name of the area was based on the word koved.)

Perhaps as a result of their worthiness, the people were blessed on occasion with Wise Ones, for which they were exceptionally grateful. Other towns claimed to have wise ones as well, and maybe they did, but the Wise Ones of Covid Gubernia were the wisest of the wise.

One reason Covid Gubernia had so many Wise Ones was that it welcomed thoughtfulness from many sources. In some areas, it seems, people only followed the words that came from their main village and would not heed the words from the countryside. Even sillier, some listened only to male voices, as if female voices had no wisdom to share. Because they never knew who would speak wisely until the speakers spoke, the ears of the residents of Covid Gubernia were open to wisdom from all sources.

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“When Judaism Meets Science” at Beth Emet

Sunday, April 19, 2020 @ 11:04 AM
posted by Roger Price
Beth Emet – The Free Synagogue

Beth Emet – The Free Synagogue is a Reform congregation in Evanston, Illinois. In November, 2019, it hosted an interview of Roger Price, author of When Judaism Meets Science. The interview was conducted in front of a live audience by David Graham, then a litigator and partner with the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP. Previously, Graham was a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School and more recently, and repeatedly, was designated a “Best Lawyer” in commercial litigation. For several years, he also served as president of Beth Emet.

The program begins with a brief introduction by Marci Dickman, Beth Emet’s Director of Lifelong Learning. For the next forty–five minutes, Graham’s questions and Price’s responses cover a number of issues discussed in Price’s book, including the distinctive approaches of science and religion, the roles each plays today, the challenge of science to religion on matters such as the Passover story and genetically modified crops, the reaction of segments of the community to science’s challenges to religion, the problem with cognitive biases, and the need for critical thinking. Audience questions followed, and extended the discussion for another forty–five minutes. During this segment, comments were made concerning boundaries, abortion, the anthropic principle, the purpose of the Torah text, prayer as quotation and as affirmation, the need for humility, and the impact of writing a book. The entire session is available here, without editing or commercials: https://soundcloud.com/bethemet/roger-price

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Coronavirus, the Halakha, and the Council of Experts

Monday, March 30, 2020 @ 04:03 PM
posted by Roger Price
Credit: cdc.gov

Guest Essay by The Freehof Institute for Progressive Halakha

At this writing, the COVID-19 outbreak has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Tough measures are being taken around the world to deal with the disease, whether to contain or to mitigate its spread, and to attempt to cushion its economic impact. Travel restrictions and quarantines are in effect in North America and Israel; schools and universities have moved to online instruction; large public gatherings have been banned. This crisis is a test of our ability, as individuals and as communities, to come together to do what is necessary to preserve the public health and to calm the rising fear that many are feeling.

Is there a particularly halakhic insight that might be helpful to us at this time?

It is well known, of course, that one of the primary values in Jewish legal thought is pikuaḥ nefesh , the preservation of human life, which overrides almost every other religious duty.1 From this mitzvah to save life, it follows that we must heed the advice and counsel of physicians and all others who are particularly qualified to diagnose, evaluate, and remedy dangers to human health. We read in the Mishnah (Yoma 8:5): “a person who is ill on Yom Kippur is fed according to the instruction of experts.” In other words, the mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur, one of the most seriously-felt duties of the religious Jew, is suspended when the experts – Rambam, in his Commentary to the Mishnah, identifies them as “qualified physicians” – declare that the patient must eat to maintain his or her health. All this would seem obvious: if pikuaḥ nefesh is important enough to set aside even the most stringent prohibitions of the Torah, it’s reasonable that we ought to rely upon qualified experts to tell us just when life and health are endangered and what we need to do to alleviate that danger.

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Judeology Explores “When Judaism Meets Science”

Monday, March 2, 2020 @ 04:03 PM
posted by Roger Price

Judeology is a website dedicated to sparking Judaism “through science, technology, and the arts.” Recently it posted a podcast about what happens when Judaism meets science. One of the things that is unique about this podcast is that the host, Yaakov Schefres, is not a rabbi but an aerospace engineer. Over the course of just over a half hour, Yaakov and I engage in a wide ranging discussion about the different approaches and techniques of religion and science with respect to the big questions of the day. We talk about faith in religion and confidence in science, as well as about the evolution of Judaism and self–correction in science. We also explore descriptions of the Biblical text as history, science, an ethical guide, and a community bond. Finally, we address some contemporary issues, including abortion, assisted fertility techniques, and artificial intelligence.


I hope you enjoy this discussion. Of course, if you want to learn more, the book “When Judaism Meets Science” is available at your local etailer.


For now, listen here: https://www.yaakovschefres.com/judeology/