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April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘science’

UK Jewish Girls School Erased Evolution Questions from Test

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Yesoday HaTorah Senior Girls School in Hackney, England has been redacting evolution related questions out of their standardized science tests, according to a report on the BBC website.

The school removed evolution related questions from 52 tests.

The testing body said that in the future they will allow the school to officially remove evolution related questions.

The British Department of Education wants to ensure that the girls are learning the entire curriculum.

The Almighty’s Supreme Call to Man

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

It is the most famous, majestic and influential opening of any book in literature: “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” What is surpassingly strange is the way Rashi – most beloved of all Jewish commentators – begins his commentary:

Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah should have begun with the verse (Exodus 12:1), “This month shall be to you the first of the months,” which was the first commandment given to Israel.

Can we really take this at face value? Did Rabbi Isaac, or for that matter Rashi, seriously suggest that the Book of books might have begun in the middle – a third of the way into Exodus? That it might have passed by in silence the creation of the universe – which is, after all, one of the fundamentals of Jewish faith?

Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children? Could we have understood those narratives without knowing what preceded them: G-d’s repeated disappointment with Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of the Flood, and the builders of the Tower of Babel?

The 50 chapters of Genesis, together with the opening of Exodus, are the source book of biblical faith. They are as near as we get to an exposition of the philosophy of Judaism. What then did Rabbi Isaac mean?

He meant something profound, which we often forget. To understand a book, we need to know to what genre it belongs. Is it history or legend, chronicle or myth? To what question is it an answer? A history book answers the question: what happened? A book of cosmology – be it science or myth – answers the question: how did it happen?

What Rabbi Isaac is telling us is that if we seek to understand the Torah, we must read it as Torah, which is to say: law, instruction, teaching, and guidance. Torah is an answer to the question: how shall we live? That is why he raises the question as to why it does not begin with the first command given to Israel.

Torah is not a book of history, even though it includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the 19th-century sociologist Max Weber pointed out – is the necessary prelude to science, because it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will – and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. It is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only commandments but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction.

Jewish ethics is not confined to law. It includes virtues of character, general principles and role models. It is conveyed not only by commandments but also by narratives, telling us how particular individuals responded to specific situations.

It moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on these questions: What shall I do? How shall I live? What kind of person should I strive to become? It begins, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?”

Pico della Mirandola’s 15th century Oration on the Dignity of Man was one of the turning points of Western civilization, the “manifesto” of the Italian Renaissance. In it he attributed the following declaration to G-d, addressing the first man:

 

We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.

 

Homo sapiens, that unique synthesis of “dust of the earth” and breath of G-d, is unique among created beings in having no fixed essence – in being free to be what he or she chooses. Mirandola’s Oration was a break with the two dominant traditions of the Middle Ages: the Christian doctrine that human beings are irretrievably corrupt, tainted by original sin, and the Platonic idea that humanity is bounded by fixed forms.

It is also a strikingly Jewish account – almost identical with the one given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in Halakhic Man: “The most fundamental principle of all is that man must create himself. It is this idea that Judaism introduced into the world.” It is therefore with a frisson of recognition that we discover that Mirandola had a Jewish teacher, Rabbi Elijah ben Moses Delmedigo (1460-1497).

Born in Crete, Delmedigo was a Talmudic prodigy, appointed at a young age to be head of the yeshiva in Padua. At the same time he studied philosophy, in particular the work of Aristotle, Maimonides and Averroes. At 23, he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Padua. It was through this that he came to know Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who became both his student and his patron. Eventually, however, Delmedigo’s philosophical writings – especially his work Bechinat ha-Dat – became controversial. Other rabbis accused him of heresy. He had to leave Italy and return to Crete. He was much admired by Jews and Christians alike and, when he died young, many Christians as well as Jews attended his funeral.

This emphasis on choice, freedom and responsibility is one of the most distinctive features of Jewish thought. It is proclaimed in the first chapter of Genesis in the most subtle way. We are all familiar with its statement that G-d created man “in His image, after His likeness.” Seldom do we pause to reflect on the paradox. If there is one thing emphasized time and again in the Torah, it is that G-d has no image. “I will be what I will be,” He says to Moses when he asks Him His name.

Since G-d transcends nature – the fundamental point of Genesis 1 – then He is free, unbounded by nature’s laws. By creating human beings in His image, He gave us a similar freedom, thus creating the one being capable itself of being creative. The unprecedented account of G-d in the Torah’s opening chapter leads to an equally unprecedented view of the human person and our capacity for self-transformation.

The Renaissance, one of the high points of European civilization, eventually collapsed. A series of corrupt rulers and popes led to the Reformation, and to the quite different views of Luther and Calvin. It is fascinating to speculate what might have happened had it continued along the lines signalled by Mirandola. His late 15th century humanism was not secular but deeply religious.

As it is, the great truth of Genesis 1 remains. As the rabbis put it (Bereishit Rabbah 8:1; Sanhedrin 38a): “Why was man created last? In order to say, if he is worthy, all creation was made for you; but if he is unworthy, he is told, even a gnat preceded you.” The Torah remains G-d’s supreme call to humankind to freedom and creativity on the one hand and, on the other, to responsibility and restraint – becoming G-d’s partner in the work of creation.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

Jewish Scientists: Block Memory of Alcohol Use and Cure the Habit?

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Research teams headed by a Hebrew University graduate and Tel Aviv University researchers have suggested that an experiment on rats showed that blocking their memory of alcohol use helped them break the habit.

Memories of addiction often cause drinkers to return to their habit when they are aroused by the smell of alcohol, creating pattern difficult to break.

Dorit Ron, a neuroscientist at the University of California at San Francisco and a graduate of Hebrew University, led her team’s research that disrupted memories of rats that had been exposed to alcohol.

The scientists, along with a team from Tel Aviv University, identified a potential molecular target in the brains of rats that might be able to be used to help cure alcoholics.

Their study, published this week in Nature Neuroscience4, explained that rats became problem drinkers after spending seven weeks exposed to a choice of water or a mixture of water and 20% alcohol.

Ron said, “It’s pretty amazing. Over time, you can see they develop a strong preference for alcohol.”

The researchers then took the alcohol away from the rodents, but then gave them a drop a day of a liquid that had a slight taste and odor of alcohol. The rats that also received a drug to inhibit memory showed a lesser tendency to go back to the booze.

Sight unto the Nations: Technion Works to Let the Blind See

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Technion University researchers have announced they are developing a new process that might be able to restore vision to the blind by using a special projector that works around the damaged retina.

In an article in Nature Communications this week, the researchers explained they have developed a light-sensitive protein that is injected into the eyes of the cell and that images are then placed back on a special projector, based on a new science called Optogenetics.

The research team, headed by Prof. Shai Shoham, emphasized that there still is a long way to go before the process can b e perfected and marketed, but added it is a first step towards restoring sight for eyes damaged by some diseases.

Artificial stimulation of surviving nerve cells offers a potential strategy for overcoming situations when photoreception is disrupted, as in outer-retinal degenerative diseases,” according to the team.

“We provide the first demonstration of holographic photo-stimulation strategies for bionic vision restoration,” they wrote.

Prof. Shoham explained that the protein allows the absorption of sight into the cells in the eye and is inserted into the cells to make them sensitive to light.

Technically, the blind cannot see with their eyes but can view images through a projector, just like a computer can be made to function even though a mouse or keyboard is inoperative.

Outreach, Inreach and Insularity

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

One of the most difficult problems facing Judaism today is its own perpetuation. This is not to say that it will not exist into the future. It will. And in fact observant Jewry is growing by leaps and bounds. One need not look any further than the explosion in the numbers of observant Jews in America and Israel since the Holocaust to see that. We were once so tiny a percentage of the whole that it was predicted we would one day be relegated to the ash bin of history. Now Orthodoxy the fastest growing segment (denomination) of all Jewry. But we should not be triumphalist. We have not yet triumphed.

As encouraging as these numbers are, there are far greater numbers of Jews that are not observant. Intermarriage is at an all time high. The Reform movement has had to redefine ‘who is a Jew’ just to keep their numbers up. And the Conservative Movement is struggling to keep attrition to a minimum. Both of those denominations have looked at the successes of Orthodoxy and have tried to take lessons from it.

While we might want to celebrate the triumphs of an educational system that has done so much to add to our growth both in numbers and spiritually – the fact is that we are still a very small percentage of the whole. The vast majority of Jews in the world are not observant… and most don’t care to be.

The sad truth for non Orthodox establishments – is their numbers will probably keep dwindling. The only thing that can help retain the large majority of Jews who are assimilating out of Judaism is outreach. That has to be done by teaching non observant Jews with little or no background or education – the beauty of observant Judaism.

The thesis of an article by Rabbi Ilan Feldman in the most recent issue of Klal Perspectives speaks to this issue and laments its current decline in effectiveness. The once great numbers of Jews who were inspired to become observant has dwindled. He proposes that if we want to reverse the trend back to previous levels of success, we need to change the paradigm. From one where we focus on how to better observe Halacha in virtual isolation from our brethren – to one where we become role models for a life of Torah and commitment to observance. We should practice the precept of Kol Yisroel Areivim Zeh LaZeh – every Jew is responsible for every other Jew. We cannot just look inward. We must look outward and act in ways that are a Kiddush HaShem if we are ever to influence our non observant brothers and sisters of the beauty of Torah.

I agree. This is a theme I constantly harp on. And why I scream so loudly when some self-absorbed Jews commit a Chilul HaShem.

Rabbi Feldman had an epiphany as a young man about non observant Jews that I firmly believe to be true and have said so many times. There are a great number of non observant Jews that are in fact ‘religious’. They are proud of their Judaism and want to live a more Jewishly committed lifestyle. Not knowing how to do it is perhaps their biggest obstacle. Opening up our hearts and homes in non-judgmental ways and leading our lives as role models of behavior can have a great impact on many of these people. They most certainly should not be written off, while we pat ourselves on the back about our successes.

Unfortunately the current trend especially among the right is to become ever more insular. Kiruv when it does happen in that community is an ‘out of sight out of mind’ occurrence. There is hardly any cross fertilization between the Kiruv professionals and the rest of the community. Which I think is in part the reasons so many Baalei Teshuva are so disappointed when they try to integrate with the mainstream. It is a fact of life, but a travesty nevertheless when newcomers are often kept at arm’s length instead of being honored for what they have achieved.

But it isn’t only about outreach. It is about in-reach. Like trying to deal with those among us who are at risk. Based on all the ink spilled on the subject even by the right wing, I have to assume that the numbers are quite large, and growing. These kids drop out for various reasons, including dysfunctional families, or having been sexually (or otherwise) abused. Or simply falling through the cracks of an educational system that is too narrowly focused on only one aspect of it (e.g. Gemarah or academics) and does not practice the proverbial advice of “Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko.”

And then there are those who simply ask the “wrong’ questions” about matters of belief or contradictions between science and Torah. These can and often do steer people away from observance and belief.

Rabbi Michael Broyde says in response to Rabbi Feldman’s article that this last item is a problem in outreach that he did not address. When trying to persuade college educated youth to consider a Torah lifestyle, demonstrating the beauty of it may very well not be enough. Their exposure to the scientific knowledge of the day and the contradiction they perceive it to be to the Torah is a huge impediment to them in accepting Orthodoxy. Especially in light of the Slifkin affair. When the right rejects books that try in all sincerity to reconcile Torah and science by calling it heresy, very few college educated youth will be able to buy into that… and in fact will be completely turned off by such talk.

That said, I agree with Rabbi Feldman’s suggestion that we need to change the paradigm from one tending toward insularity to one of connecting to our fellow Jews outside of our own Daled Amos.

There are many ways to do it. Nothing works better than inspiration. When young people are inspired by the way observant Jews behave, they can become inspired to see what Observant Judaism is all about. But that alone will not work. Certainly not in every case. It has to be accompanied by a rational approach to answering difficult questions about science and Torah that will appeal to the educated mind.

I witnessed outreach at work in an amazing way over this past Shabbos. I saw public high school students become inspired over Shabbos – culminating with the classic NCSY Havdalah ceremony which includes stories of sacrifice by their peers standing up for their Judaism.

NCSY International Director, Rabbi Micah Greenland was at his best, infusing his own passion into the stories he told while soulful music was being played in the background. After the Havdalah was completed those kids danced excitedly to Jewish music with breathtaking intensity. Many of those kids were not observant at all. Except for their dress, one would never know they were not Frum. It was a sight to behold.

Inspiring the unaffiliated can be done through inspirational stories or through our own behavior as role models. We should always be thinking about how we look to others whenever we are in public. Or even in private for that matter. On the other hand when a Chilul HaShem is made by observant Jews, it will surely have the opposite effect

Nor can we afford to dismiss Rabbi Broyde’s comments… even at the high school level. As inspired as those kids I saw last weekend, many of them will eventually go off to college and be exposed to questions that may not have anyone at the ready to answer them at that time. There needs to be a paradigm change at both the interactive level as well as the educational level. Insularity must end. And so must ignorance.

I realize of course that the vast majority of non-observant Jews will probably still remain non-observant. And that assimilation and intermarriage will still be rampant. We will never reach everyone. But as our sages have told us, it is not for us to finish the job. But neither are we free to refrain from it (Avos 2:21). We can go a long way towards changing the world by changing course. Much further than we are now.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Is Making Money on the Net Passe? (Podcast)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Making money on the internet is not just a science fiction fantasy. On the second part of this week’s Goldstein on Gelt show, Ryan McKenzie, director of Infobarrel.com, returns to give more interesting tips on how to make money by crowd sourcing and using your creative talents. So is writing articles on the internet for you? Find out by listening to part 2 of this week’s Goldstein on Gelt show.

99 Year Old Man Becomes Bar Mitzva

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

At age 99, Isaac Volinsky was given the opportunity to put on tefillin for the first time in his life, the Australian J-Wire reported. He did it at the “120 Club” for elderly expatriate Soviets in Sydney.

With more than 50 club members looking on, Lubavitch Rabbi Eli Schlanger helped Volinsky put on the tefillin.

Rabbi Schlanger told J-Wire: “It was an amazing scene. The first time a Jewish boy puts on tefillin is regarded as his Bar Mitzvah and all the club members treated it as a simcha. They were all standing and singing Siman tov u’mazal tov. Isaac told me he remembered his father and grandfather putting on their talit and teffilin in his native Odessa.”

Volinsky, who studied science and technology, was a colonel in the Russian army before moving to Australia. His wife passed away a few years ago. He has two children, one in Sydney and the other in Odessa.

His 100th birthday celebrations are just six months away.

Mazal tov!

Computer Giant to Invest $5 Million in Israeli Education

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Computer giant Intel has announced that it will invest five million dollars (NIS 20 million) into Israeli high schools over the next four years, to provide advanced science, technology, engineering and math education to students in the “startup nation”.

The investment will initially be applied in 25 schools in southern Israel along with a budgeted NIS 50 million from the Ministry of Education to more than double the number of students graduating with science and technology diplomas.

During the six years between middle school and the completion of their high school educations, 4,000 students will receive guidance from representatives of Intel, who will encourage them to develop their skills in social media, gaming, video, and other areas of high-tech.

The program is expected to eventually include 200 schools.

Intel is Israel’s largest private employer.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/computer-giant-to-invest-5-million-in-israeli-education/2012/11/05/

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