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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Albert Einstein’

Echoes Of The Big Bang

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

“Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun,” Dennis Overbye recently informed us in The New York Times. A few years ago, scientists suggested that the Big Bang must have passed a series of phases throughout its development into its present size. The most dramatic phase, the cosmological theory asserts, was the Inflation period, which, immediately after the Big Bang, caused the universe “to swell faster than the speed of light for a prodigiously violent instant.”

This inflationary phase, scientists surmised, must have generated gravitational waves, which should be detectable in the universe, same as the cosmic background radiation detected by Penzias and Wilson in 1978. Last month, scientists were able to identify those gravitational waves. The Big Bang was confirmed, again.

In my book, Awesome Creation, I present a Jewish perspective on the Big Bang (combined with a skeptical view on our cognitive abilities to search cosmogony) based primarily on Maimonides’s world of ideas.

In the first chapter, I explain that for decades the Big Bang theory was considered by the scientific community – and criticized for being – a religious theory. The Big Bang theory was the first time the scientific community entertained the notion that the universe had a beginning.

For centuries the notion of “beginning” was taboo for science; scientists were more comfortable maintaining the Aristotelian model of an eternal universe that kept God out of the picture. In the words of science author Simon Singh: “An eternal universe seemed to strike a chord with the scientific community…. If the universe has existed for eternity, then there was no need to explain how it was created, when it was created, why it was created and Who created it. Scientists were particularly proud that they had developed a theory of the universe that no longer relied on invoking God.”

Since 1930, when the expansion of the universe was discovered by Edwin Hubble and the beginning of the universe seemed more and more evident, secular scientists like Fred Hoyle, Arthur Eddington, and Albert Einstein were frustrated. Reflecting on this sentiment Robert Jastrow wrote: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

In his book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking summarized in one sentence the reason naturalistic scientists resisted a scientific theory that posited a beginning for the universe: “So long as the universe had a beginning we could suppose it had a creator.”

These scientists rejected the Big Bang theory and tried finding an alternative cosmological model that would circumvent the idea of beginning and still be compatible with the proven expansion of the universe. Contemporary theories include the multiverses theory (our universe is just one universe among a multitude universes, which spontaneously begin from time to time); the Big-Crunch or the Oscillating universe (our universe had a beginning in time, but it will eventually shrink, crush and start again, so there was never really an absolute beginning) or Hawking’s no-boundary universe (the universe is like the North Pole, which does not have an end or a beginning).

These theories, with no factual evidence to support them, were formulated with one main goal in mind: avoiding the uncomfortable question posed by the problematic idea of beginning, i.e., Creation.

In light of the increasing soundness of the Big Bang theory, especially after 1978, scientists like Hawking appealed to the “time-factor,” conveying the perception that the Big Bang model is a God-excluding theory because it postulates that the universe is 13.5 billion years old, not 5,774 as biblical religions believe. His argument was very effective. Many religious people today believe the Big Bang opposes religion because of the pivotal differences regarding time since Creation, overlooking the unlikely correspondence between the first word of the Hebrew Bible, bereishit (in the beginning), and the main novelty of the Big Bang theory – namely, that there was indeed a beginning.

WoW, Charedim, and Learning from History

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

 Once again we are going to witness an event this Sunday that may become violent. Innocent people may be hurt. And the negative press for religious Jews could not be much worse.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same experiment twice and expecting different results.

I am not going to accuse anyone of being insane. But I have to wonder how rabbis who many consider to be the greatest leaders of our generation can ask their adherents to protest the next appearance at the Kotel by the Women of the Wall (WoW) and not expect it to turn violent. Even if the chances are low – is it worth the chance?

Nor can I understand the stridency by which WoW insists on making their point. Two stubborn groups at odds with each other in matters of religion is a sure prescription for confrontation. The history from which we are supposed to learn will be ignored.

As most people who have been following these events know, WoW shows up at the Kotel every Rosh Chodesh to pray by using male modalities such as wearing a Talis and Teffillin; and bringing a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) to read from. Although last month they avoided reading from the Torah in acquiescence to a request by Religious Services Minister, Naftali Bennett – they plan to resume doing so this Sunday.

As much as I believe that many members of WoW are sincere in their desire to pray at the Kotel in this manner, I don’t think there can be any doubt that this is more about asserting feminist rights than it is about prayer (especially by WoW leaders like Anat Hoffman).  They have found a clever way of doing this by technically not violating Halacha.

But I am hard pressed to believe WoW’s leaders did not think this would upset the sensibilities of the vast majority of Jews who do come there to pray in traditional ways. If they were truly sincere only about prayer and did not want to be provocative they would have respected tradition and found an area of the Kotel that was out of the way and not as disruptive.

It is indeed provocative for WoW to act in this manner in any traditional environment. This is certainly true at the Kotel, which is so near to the place where the holy of holies existed in the Temple era.  Does their right to wear a Talis and Teffilin override  the almost certain violence it will bring to this holy place? Do they really need this ‘Mexican standoff’? Is it worth it? Do they think their stridency is what God desires of them?

I understand that some women need to do more than simply pray. They need to wrap themselves in something tangible – like a Talis and Teffilin  to boost their sense of holiness. But in the end – using a male modality to generate that feeling is not what God intends for women… or He would have mandated those artifacts for them too.

How sadly lacking are these women in their Jewish education if they cannot generate the proper feelings for prayer that millions of women over the millennia have had without those artifacts.

I can’t predict the future. But my guess is that this type of thing is so out of the mainstream that it will not stand the test of time and eventually go the way of the Dodo Bird. I have to ask, how many religious women of any denomination would opt for this method of prayer?

Which is why I have been saying that we should just ignore them. Yes they are somewhat disruptive and annoying in their once a month appearance. But it is my true belief that this monthly occurrence will not last in perpetuity. It will fizzle out.

If the Charedi world will let it.

But they apparently refuse to let it happen. They have instead declared war on these women… and insist on making a public spectacle out of it. They are going to once again show up in massive numbers at the Kotel this Sunday to pray. The claim is that they just want to show how many people do not approve of WoW’s behavior and also to physically crowd them out. The JerusalemPost quotes the Yated Ne’eman who put it this way:

“A mass prayer service will be conducted at the Western Wall in order to express the outcry of faithful Judaism against the severe injury to the holiest and most beloved place of all of the Jewish people, and in so doing to declare… that the Jewish world will not be quiet and will not be reconciled to the humiliating conspiracy to turn the remnant of our holy sanctuary into a Reform temple and a media spectacle, God forbid,”

And then they said the following:

“(Worshipers) are requested not to be dragged along after the provocations whose only purpose is to harm the community of worshipers, and to behave according to the path of the holy Torah and to sanctify God’s name.

First they approve of theYated making a provocative statement  like calling WoW’s actions a ‘humiliating conspiracy’ and then they expect protesters not to get violent. They have even asked that only married Yeshiva students should come in order to minimize the potential for physical conflict.

Sure… That’ll work! The same way it did last time they called for peaceful prayer. Which was last month.  Need I remind anyone how well that turned out for them?
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that this will turn out to be as peaceful as the organizers hope it will be. Perhaps there will even be members of WoW that will be inspired by such a massive turnout for prayer and join them. Perhaps there will be no violence or shouting names at the Women of the Wall. But I am not going to hold my breath. I tend to look at history and learn from it.

Secret Posthumous Mormon Baptism of Holocaust Victims, Jewish Leaders

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

The secret posthumous baptism of key Jewish figures by the Mormon church has caused outrage in the Jewish community and led to an apology by Mormon leaders.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the Mormon church for performing baptismal rites on the parents of Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Wiesenthal’s parents, Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal, according to the Associated Press. The baptisms took place in late January at temples in Arizona and Utah.

The proxy ceremonies are believed by Mormons to allow the deceased into the afterlife by giving them the Gospel.  Names are submitted by Mormon Church members, and are then given baptisms without their presence, or the presence or even notification of their families.

After Jewish groups protested the practice of baptizing members of their faith without their consent or the consent of the families of the deceased, the Mormon Church issued a promise in 1995 not to continue the practice.

Yet records indicate Wiesenthal’s parents, Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal, were baptized in proxy ceremonies performed by Mormon church members at temples in Arizona and Utah in late January.

The Mormon Church has baptized many figures involved in the Holocaust – and not just Jewish victims, such as Anne Frank.  Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun were also baptized by the Church in separate ceremonies decades apart, with Hitler being “bound” to his parents in a ceremony in 1993.

Other Jewish figures, such as the great Jewish sage and scholar Mamonides (Rambam), Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein, and author Elie Wiesel have also been baptized, as well as hundreds of Holocaust victims.

“We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon temples,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement by the Associated Press.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints replied with an apology in a statement issued Monday.  “We sincerely regret that the actions of an individual member of the church led to the inappropriate submission of these names [of Wiesenthal’s parents],” Micharel Purdy, spokesman for the Church said.  “We consider this a serious breach of our protocol and we have suspended indefinitely this person’s ability to access our genealogy records.’’

The discovery of many posthumous baptisms has been conducted by Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who has dedicated herself to uncovering this practice and the specific individuals who have been baptized.  She also found that the family members of several US political figures – the mother of President Barack Obama and the atheist father of presidential candidate Mitt Romeny – had undergone the ritual.

The Positive Side of Autism: An Interview with Dr. Temple Grandin

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

            For many years, autism was considered to be a rare, mysterious and severely disabling condition. But in recent years, due at least in part to a broadening of its medical definition, the incidence of the diagnosis of autism and related disorders has risen to about 1 in every 150 babies born in this country.

 

            Today, classic childhood or infantile autism is grouped with at least four other conditions known as pervasive developmental disorders, (PDD), which are now referred to as autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s). People suffering from ASD’s typically have difficulties with social interactions and communication, a severely restricted range of interests, and a tendency to engage in repetitive patterns of behavior.

 

            Severely autistic children cannot communicate at all verbally. They seem to be absorbed in a world of their own, and are unresponsive to most external stimuli.

 

            But ASD’s also includes higher functioning children who, with early intervention and intensive help from teachers, parents and therapists, may ultimately lead near-normal lives.

 

            Some of those diagnosed with the ASD known as Asperger’s Syndrome actually exhibit superior intelligence, and their autistic tendency to screen out external stimuli enhances their ability to concentrate all of their mental faculties on a particular task or problem. It has even been seriously suggested that some of the greatest giants in the history of science and the arts closely fit the current profile of those with autism spectrum disorders.

 

            Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein both exhibited conduct which is now associated with Asperger’s syndrome. For example, Einstein was a loner as a child, and a late speaker. As an adult, he would become so obsessed with physics problems that he acted as if he was totally oblivious to his surroundings and his own physical appearance. In fact, during his later years at Princeton, Einstein defined the stereotype for the “absent-minded professor.”

 

            Behavior patterns consistent with autism spectrum disorders have also been identified with authors James Joyce, George Orwell and Lewis Carroll, philosophers Spinoza and Kant, composers Beethoven and Mozart, concert pianist Glenn Gould, and the author of the US Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

 

            But through most of the 20th century, the potentially positive intellectual side effects of autism went largely unrecognized. Little hope was held out for young children like Temple Grandin who were diagnosed with autism. Born in Boston in 1947, Grandin did not begin to speak until she was three and a half years old. Thanks to the devoted efforts of her mother and teachers, young Temple received the understanding, guidance and attention she needed to compensate for her autistic deficits, and find expression for her native intelligence and creativity. Encouraged to follow her natural affinity for animals, and exploit her heightened autistic sensitivities, Grandin won renown for devising more humane and efficient equipment for handling livestock on farms and in slaughterhouses.

 

            Today, Dr. Grandin is a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She is a consultant for fast food chains Burger King and McDonald’s, and the livestock equipment that she has designed handles half of the cattle in the United States.

 

            Her unique insights into the feelings and reactions of animals, combined with a self-taught understanding of the basic concepts of shechita, have enabled her to develop a new way to position and restrain animals while being shechted, which has been widely adopted by kosher slaughterhouses in the US and Israel. Grandin innovations have helped to speed up the shechita process and reduce various halachic complications, while at the same time making the experience less painful and traumatic for the animal. She is widely recognized as an expert in the practices and technology of kosher slaughter, and a staunch defender of its humane character.

 

            Grandin is not Jewish, but her work with animals has deepened her faith in G-d and given her an enhanced sensitivity for Jewish traditions and beliefs. When she designed a new type of ramp to lead cattle into the slaughter pen, she named it, “The Stairway to Heaven.”

 

            Grandin attributes much of her success to the positive side of her autism. Her autobiographical book, “Emergence: Labeled Autistic,” published in 1986, helped to explode the myth that all autistic people live in a world of their own, shrink from human contact, and are unintelligent. It tells how she was able to grope her way “from the far side of darkness” to become living proof that “the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled.” In her 1995 book, “Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism,” Grandin explained that words are just a second language for her, and that she tends to think in “full color movies, complete with sound, which run in my head.”

 

            These books, as well as her numerous speeches and articles on the subject, have turned Grandin into one of the leading advocates for adults and children with autism spectrum disorders.

 

            In a telephone interview with Grandin, I asked her what she would say to parents of young children diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder. Her first recommendation was not to give in to despair. “Autism is a wide continuum, ranging from children who will never be able to talk all the way to geniuses like Albert Einstein,” she said.

 

            She also encourages parents of autistic children to begin aggressive remedial education as soon as possible. “Even if your child is just 2 or 3 years old, don’t let them sit in a corner. Doing nothing is the worst thing you can do for an autistic child. Get your child a really good educational program, of about 20-30 hours a week with a good teacher and a lot of 1 to 1 interaction.”

 

            Recalling her own strict upbringing in the 50′s, Grandin said, “autistic children do well in a highly structured environment.” She explained that children with autism do not instinctively, “understand social rules in the abstract. They must be taught all the rules of proper social behavior, one at a time, on a case-by-case basis. For example, they must be taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ When playing with others, they must learn how to take turns. When standing in line, they must learn not to push the child ahead of them. They must not eat with their hands, etc. These rules must be taught even to high- functioning autistic children, because they do not have natural instincts to guide their behavior in common social situations.”

 

            Grandin notes that autistic children are also often overly sensitive to sensory stimuli. “Some of them can’t stand noise. Others are distracted by too much starch in their clothes,” she said. She recalled meeting one autistic Jewish boy who was distracted because his yarmulka was too stiff, His behavior improved as soon as he was given a more comfortable yarmulka to wear on his head.

 

            Grandin also urges parents to encourage their autistic children to follow their natural interests. “Don’t focus on their deficits. Rather, enable them to make the most of whatever skills and interests they have, be they mathematics, music or computers. In my own case, as a young girl I loved riding horses and electronics lab, and I was ultimately able to pursue a profession which combined them both,” Grandin said.

 

            She even held out hope for the future of autistic children who remain non-verbal. “For example, if such a child has artistic ability, even without the ability to speak, he could still become a sofer [scribe],” Grandin said.

 

            Grandin believes that many of our leading scientists, mathematicians and computer “geeks,” with their “nerdy” lack of social skills, are actually high functioning people with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, whose success in their fields is at least partially due to their autism-enhanced ability to concentrate.

 

            Grandin’s life story carries a message of hope for the parents of every autistic child. It serves as an example of the kind of meaningful contributions that such children can achieve in their lives, if given the support, instruction, encouragement and understanding they need to take full advantage of the unique gifts that the Creator has given them.

Are the Jews Good for Andy Warhol?

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?

Written and performed by Josh Kornbluth

Directed by David Dower

http://www.theaterj.org

 

 

Andy Warhol: 10 Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century in Retrospect

Through May 2

Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery

http://washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/gallery/

 

The joke about “old and tribal” Jews, who are always pathologically wondering if everything is good for the Jews, goes that when they see a new lint filter on the dryer, they want to know if the new mechanism is good for the Jews. So says Josh Kornbluth in his one-man performance “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?”

 

Although one understands the absurdity that Kornbluth is mocking, there is actually something a little inspiring about a worldview in which every seemingly ordinary object can carry vast spiritual implications. Whether the dryer – through some religious chaos theory – holds the Jewish fate in its lint filter, Kornbluth devotes his performance to the question of whether Warhol is good for the Jews, a question of which he is initially quite skeptical.

 

The Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco commissioned Kornbluth to create a monologue about Warhol’s 1980 series, “Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century,” which depicts Sarah Bernhardt, Louis Brandeis, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, George Gershwin, Franz Kafka, the Marx Brothers, Golda Meir and Gertrude Stein. Though he says he felt he should be the target audience for an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum – “I’m Jewish and I live now, it should be just for me!” – Kornbluth, who was not a practicing Jew at the time, grew frustrated with and offended by the banner announcing the CJM show: “Warhol’s Jews.”

 

Andy Warhol. “Albert Einstein” from Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, 1980. Screen Print on Lenox Museum Board, 40 x 32 inches. Photo courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York / feldmangallery.com and

Title: Modern Physics And Ancient Faith

Wednesday, April 14th, 2004

Title: Modern Physics And Ancient Faith
Author: Stephen M. Barr
Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN

 

 

Although he lived his life devoid of traditional religious observance, Albert Einstein very famously stated: “I shall never believe that G-d plays dice with the world.”

So it is with many scientists and philosophers for whom study and research into the intricacies of the universe develops into admiration and understanding that there actually appears to be meaning in the universe.

Stephen Barr is professor of physics at the University of Delaware, and this tome expresses his unique ability to explain very complex scientific theories in a very enlightening manner that has value even for those not immersed in the religion-versus-science debate. Barr’s clarity and logic is invaluable in his description of physical processes and scientific theories to help us all get from point “A” to point “B”.

Is it true that quantum theory, or now string theory, is at the bottom of all reality? Must one truly understand complex mathematics and philosophical theories to envision a 10-dimensional world, or a universe in which our free will results in many “almost” duplicate parallel universes as a result of the myriad choices we make in our lives every day?

Using the insights of modern physics, Barr reveals that recent scientific discoveries and religious faith are actually deeply consonant. Written in a style that laypeople will understand, the rigorous and concise text explains modern physics without oversimplification.

The book uses five of the 20th-century’s revolutionary discoveries - the Big Bang theory, the Unified Field theories, Anthropic Coincidences, Gödel’s Theorem in mathematics, and
Quantum Theory - to cast serious doubt on the materialistic view of the universe and to provide greater credence to theistic claims about G-d and the universe.

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith is published by the university press of a noted Christian university. It provides both philosophical and scientific evidence that challenge the notion that G-d does not exist – a concept the devout usually have no need for. It could also been published by one of many Judaic publishing houses, and is additional evidence that fences are
coming down and that valuable intellectual exchanges are happening on the American publishing scene.

Barr and other thoughtful scientific thinkers don’t believe the universe lacks cause of purpose, or that the human race is an accidental by-product of blind material forces. He insists that
the great discoveries of modern physics are more compatible with the central teachings of the monotheistic religions about G-d, the cosmos and the human soul than with the atheistic
viewpoint of scientific materialism.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/title-modern-physics-and-ancient-faith/2004/04/14/

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