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July 29, 2015 / 13 Av, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘science’

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.

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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.

Rav Elyashiv, Torah and Science

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

One of the biggest issues that has arisen as a result of the Slifkin controversy is the question of whether Chazal, the sages of the Talmud knew the actuality of nature. There are those who say that they did. They say that every statement recorded in the Gemarah with respect to science is an accurate reflection of nature itself. The science redacted in the Talmud is as valid as the Halacha – both being Mesorah.

There are others who say that Chazal did not know the actuality of nature but knew it only via the best science of their era. Among them are Rishonim like R’ Avraham ben HaRambam.

For many of us who have studied both the Talmud and nature via science at even a minor level the second opinion seems a lot more plausible. There are too many scientifically based statements on nature in the Gemarah that are clearly not accurate.

One of the more famous ones is the idea that lice do not sexually reproduce. This fact impacts on Halacha. One of the 39 forbidden Melachos on Shabbos is Netilas Neshama – killing an animal. The Gemarah explains that it is only forbidden to kill an animal that reproduces sexually. One is however permitted to kill an animal that reproduces asexually . This is the opinion of the Rabbanim (as apposed to R’ Elazar) and this is the Halacha today.

Lice, says the Gemarah, do not reproduce sexually and therefore one is permitted to kill them.

Rav Yitzchok Lamproti (Pachad Yitzchok) was around during the time the microscope was invented. He said that now that we know that lice do sexually reproduce, it is therefore forbidden to kill them on Shabbos. All Achronim argue with him and say that since the Gemarah says it is permitted, it stays permitted in spite of our new knowledge.

What is left unsaid in all of that discussion is the apparent assumption Chazal were mistaken about the actual science. The only question is whether this new information is relevant.

Now it should be said that there are still ways to allow for Chazal to not be mistaken about this. One way is to say that the lice that the Gemarah refers to is not the lice we know of today and that in fact it is that lice which is permitted to kill. The lice that we know of that does sexually reproduce is forbidden to kill.

Another way to look at it is that only lice that one can see with the naked eye sexually reproducing is forbidden. If one needs a microscope to see it, then for Halachic purposes it is still considered asexual reproduction.

But it seems to me that the most logical explanation is to say that they did not know then what we know today simply because they did not have the means to know it. Microscopes had not been invented yet.

There was a relatively recent Halacha Sefer published called Orchos Shabbos that discusses this Halacha (14:30) and mentions the position of Rav Elyashiv (note 47). Rav Elyashiv says that one should be Machmir and not kill lice on Shabbos as a general rule. But he also says that according to the strict letter of the law, one may kill lice on Shabbos.

Why be Machmir? It’s possible that the lice of the Gemarah are not our lice and therefore killing our lice may actually be forbidden. But the fact that he says that according to the strict letter of the law one may indeed kill lice on Shabbos, that means that he believes the lice of the Gemarah are indeed our lice. And yet we now know that they sexually reproduce.

Why then did Chazal say that they don’t? I think there is really only one way to interpret it. Chazal simply didn’t know that because they had no way of knowing it in their day. Rav Elyashiv may feels as Rav Eliyahu Dessler did – that even though Chazal were wrong in their explanation, the Halacha was indeed transmitted masoretically and remains in effect.

We may kill lice but for reasons other than those stated in the Gemarah. The point for our purposes being that since Chazal did not have the means to know they made a mistake about the reality of nature in this case. One can conclude that even R’ Elyashiv concedes that microscopes have increased our knowledge of nature beyond that of Chazal. Is there any other way to interpret that? Even if we say that Halacha follows only what we can see with the naked eye, the fact is that what they saw with the naked eye did not reflect reality.

State Department Creationism

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Is this discriminatory?

Women in Science Hall of Fame 2013 Program
Deadline for Applications:  October 10, 2012

Description:
The American Consulate General in Jerusalem is seeking outstanding female Palestinian scientists to honor in the 2013 Women in Science Hall of Fame program.

The U.S. Department of State created the annual Arab Women in Science Hall of Fame program in 2010 to honor accomplished scientists in disparate disciplines ranging from marine science to nuclear physics. For the last two years, U.S. Embassies and Consulates in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have identified and honored outstanding Arab women involved in medicine, science, engineering, technology, math, and other fields. These role models have served to inspire girls across the region to study science and pursue scientific careers.

The selected honoree will have her biography and photo posted along with other MENA region scientists on the web sites of U.S. Embassies and Consulates in the MENA region, including the web page of the American Consulate General in Jerusalem.  She will also be featured in a 2013 calendar and have opportunities to promote the program in the media, mentor other Palestinian women and girls, and participate in a trip to the United States to network with other MENA scientists and learn about the contribution of American women  to scientific innovation,
education, leadership, and public policy formation.

Eligibility Requirements:
This program is open to Palestinian women working in any scientific, medical, technological, engineering, or mathematical disciplines.

Candidates must:
 Be fluent in English, but not hold U.S. citizenship or be a U.S. legal permanent resident.
 Be willing to participate in exchange programs and welcome opportunities to mentor
women and girls.
 Be a citizen and resident of West Bank, Gaza, or Jerusalem at the time of application and while participating in the program.

Why? Because it is only for women? Of course not. Because of English language fluency? Actually, why must English fluency be a requirement? Is it because one cannot be an American citizen or legal permanent resident?

I don’t think so, although can you be an illegal resident of the US?

Because it disallows the “Palestinian diaspora”?  Naw.

But what really puzzles me is how can one be a “Palestinian citizen“? A citizen usually is understood to be a member of a state. Is the United States State Department creating, again, a Palestinian state, when there is none existing?

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Torah and Science – The Controversy Remains

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

It seems that two very prominent rabbinic figures have come on board with Rabbi Slifkin’s views with respect to reconciling science and the Torah. According to a post on Hirhurim by Rabbi Gil Student, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, and a man of great intellect whom I respect and admire greatly is one of them. The other is Rabbi Yaakov Ariel – one of the chief Poskim of Religious Zionists in Israel. These two people are not just your average rabbis. They are both highly respected not only by me but by Jews all over the world.

I am always glad to see that reasonable approaches to reconciling Torah and science – like those of Rabbi Slifkin – are increasingly being re-accepted by mainstream rabbis of stature. Especially since in the case of Lord Sacks – he had his new book on the subject vetted by the London Beth Din. Which as R’ Gil points out means that we can “deduce that the London Beth Din feels this book does not rise to the level of deserving condemnation.”

But that has not removed the problem created by the ban of these views by the right. They have clearly stated that anything other than a view than that the universe is 5773 years old is Apikursus. And to believe that Chazal only knew and utilized the best science of their era is Apikursus as well.

The only acceptable view on this issue is that anything which is included in the Talmud – whether it is Halacha or science is Emes… if there are current knowledge of science contradicts those views, we either don’t understand Chazal or we do not fully understand the science.

Many people would just say, “Who cares what the right wing says about these things?!”

Sorry, wrong answer.

We cannot ignore the right wing just because we disagree with them. They are far too big and far too important. They are probably the largest segment of Orthodoxy and are certainly the fastest growing. They are clearly the wave of the future – at least in moderate form.

In the world of the right, when a gadol like Rav Elyashiv sets policy, it is considered near blasphemy to contradict or disregard it. Rav Elyashiv famously declared the views espoused by Rabbi Slifkin – and now Lord Sacks and Rav Ariel to be Apikursus. Until the day he died he never backed down form that. (Although interestingly he never declared Rabbi Slifkin himself to be an Apikores since the views he espoused were in fact espoused by Rishonim. One cannot declare someone an Apikores because he believes in the views of Rishonim even if those views are no longer accepted.)

It was Ner Israel Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, originally a backer of Rabbi Slifkin’s views who explained why he now rejected them; explaining why we are no longer permitted to believe in those views. In essence he said it is because Rav Elyashiv said so. And we cannot disagree with the Psak of the Gadol HaDor in these matters.

Interestingly he must have been quite incredulous about initial reports about Rav Elyashiv’s rejection of views which up to that point he held to be legitimate. Upon hearing about it, he immediately flew to Israel to find out first hand if it was true. And came back saying that indeed it was.

The right wing view on this subject is therefore are unbreakable. In numerous statements over the years since this controversy began, various members of the Agudah Moetzes and other rabbinic leaders were adamant in support for the views of a man who they saw as the Gadol HaDor. And in the process Rabbi Slifkin was – and still is being hammered by them.

Since that time, many respected rabbis have come out of support of Rabbi Slifkin’s views, Lord Sacks and Rav Areil only being the latest. But unless there is some sort of rethinking on this issue by the right (which I don’t see happening) – this a Pyrrhic victory at best. Nothing has changed. These views will continue to be seen as Apikursus by the largest and fasted growing segment of Orthodox Jewry. That is extremely sad and could lead to an even greater spit in Orthodoxy than we have even now.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/torah-and-science-the-controversy-remains/2012/10/07/

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