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Posts Tagged ‘science’

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?

Visit My Right Word.

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.

Pre-Health Science At TCLA

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Touro College Los Angeles (TCLA) offers a full array of prerequisite science courses for those interested in continuing their education and/or working in the health science fields. TCLA has recently increased their offerings due to popular demand.

This year the college offered Physics I and II and The Physical Universe during the summer semesters. It is offering Chemistry I and Anatomy and Physiology I this fall, and plans to offer Chemistry II and The Physical Universe II next spring. TCLA regularly offers Biology I and II, Chemistry I and II, Physics I and II, and Anatomy and Physiology I and II.

Dr. Niaz Cohen, Ph.D., who is teaching Anatomy and Physiology this year, also teaches biology at TCLA. She said, “The small group size in biology laboratory enables the students to assist each other in performing various lab exercises. In addition, the instructor is able to give more attention to each individual’s performance during various experiments.” Small class size and individualized attention is a benefit at TCLA – and especially valuable in science classes.

The Touro College and University System, having acquired New York Medical School in 2011, is adding an extensive range of M.D. programs to its already existing list of health science graduate schools. They include schools of Osteopathic Medicine; Pharmacy; Nursing; Physician’s Assistant; Occupational Therapy; Physical Therapy; and Speech Therapy.

To learn more about the pre-health science courses at TCLA, or for general information about its programs, please call 323-822-9700 x 85155 or e-mail samira.miller@touro.edu.

The New Israel Fund, Jewish Values And Atonement

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

In its September newsletter, the New Israel Fund (NIF) urged Israelis to examine their behavior (“cheshbon nefesh”), declaring “We have been telling you for some time about the upsurge in hatred and incitement in Israel…”

But in Jewish tradition, the processes of introspection and atonement for sins of commission and omission begin at home, including for the NIF.

As the most powerful political and social framework in Israel outside of the government, NIF exerts major influence through its funding, providing millions of dollars every year to dozens of organizations.

The founding donors and officials sought to promote important social objectives in a Zionist framework. But over the years, the Zionist commitment became blurred, and money from pro-Israel donors was channeled to extreme anti-Israel organizations, including key supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns.

NIF’s network also played a central role in the discredited Goldstone report, which falsely accused the Israeli military of systematic war crimes. In addition, while claiming to promote liberal, progressive Jewish values, a number of NIF-funded groups push highly intolerant and polarizing agendas, amplifying the impact of radical fringes in Israeli society, at the expense of the democratic consensus.

As a result, NIF is viewed with increasing suspicion by many Israelis and in a number of diaspora communities. In response, in September 2010, the NIF leadership belatedly adopted guidelines to prevent funding for groups that work “to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel.”

In some important cases, these guidelines have been implemented, and in 2011 the NIF ended funding for three NGOs – Mada al-Carmel, Al-Qaws, and Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) – that promote demonization of Israel.

Unfortunately, NIF failed to publicly acknowledge the reasons for ending support, or to explain how these extreme groups were funded in the first place. Indeed, NIF remains a highly non-transparent organization, without the checks and balances or democratic processes that are necessary to prevent abuses and highly damaging mistakes in judgment.

While belatedly cutting off those three grantees, NIF continued to fund groups involved in global demonization campaigns such as Adalah, Breaking the Silence, Machsom Watch and Yesh Din.

In 2011, NIF also began funding for three additional divisive NGOs, including +972 Magazine, a blog pushing a radical fringe agenda. A number of +972’s bloggers have invoked the immoral and false “apartheid” analogy, and in a February 2012 interview in The Nation, Noam Sheizaf, +972’s editor-in-chief, referred to Jerusalem as an “apartheid city.”

In May of this year, +972 published a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raping President Barack Obama and eating his limbs. And in September, Sheizaf used his twitter account to refer to critics as “the Jewish KKK” and “fascist” – reinforcing the image of the NIF network as exploiting a “progressive” and “liberal” façade for extreme polarization and hate speech.

In contrast to the actual behavior of the grantees, NIF has justified its funding for +972 as support for a “progressive view of domestic issues and Israel’s foreign relations” and of “broad public discussion and constituencies.” However, this English-only site is unknown to the “broad” Hebrew-speaking Israeli public. Rather, its targeting of an international audience with a message that demonizes Israel and attacks opponents (real and imagined) is entirely inconsistent with NIF’s stated aims and principles.

Another new grantee, Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), also raises many concerns regarding NIF’s decision making. HRDF is administered by Lizi Sagie, who was forced to resign from B’Tselem in April 2010 after she referred to Israel’s Memorial Day as “a pornographic circus” on her personal blog. She then had a short stint as a co-director of ICAHD, a fringe Israeli NGO that supports a “one state” political formula – meaning the end of Jewish national sovereignty.

Michael Sfard is a key part of the HRDF operation, advising the board on “application of Aid Criteria when reviewing aid requests” and monitoring the “performance of attorneys receiving aid.” According to reports, Sfard is the lawyer for a group of defendants involved in a private libel suit and receiving funds through HRDF. These activities appear to contradict the NGO’s mandate, and create at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

In addition, NIF authorized $162,430 for Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement (SJSM) in 2011. This organization’s main activities revolve around confrontational protests in the Negev, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. In March 2012, a very crude and offensive poster was posted on the official Facebook page of SJSM, and then removed after harsh criticism from some of its members and women’s rights activists.

What If Israel’s ‘Peace Partners’ Actually Prefer War?

Friday, September 21st, 2012

At this point in Israel’s problematic diplomatic agenda, there is really only one overriding policy question: Can any form of negotiation with the Palestinians, Fatah and/or Hamas, ever prove reasonable and productive?

From the very beginning, even before formal statehood in 1948, Israel has sought courageously and reasonably to negotiate with its many unreasonable enemies. Always, Jerusalem has preferred peace to war. Nonetheless, challenged by relentless and interminable Arab aggressions, diplomacy has usually failed Israel. Even the most visible example of an alleged diplomatic success, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979, is apt to fail calamitously sometime in the post-Mubarak era.

It follows that Prime Minister Netanyahu is obligated to ask: What real chance exists that, somehow, this time, and also for the future, diplomacy might be purposeful?

From Oslo to the present Road Map, diplomacy over Israel’s rights and obligations has always been an unambiguously asymmetrical process.

Israel’s principal enemies remain candid. On some things, significantly, they do not lie. On their irremediable intention to annihilate the “Zionist entity,” they are seemingly sworn to truth.

The key disputing Palestinian factions (Fatah or Hamas, it makes little difference) and Iran will never accept anything less than Israel’s removal. This is already obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention to what is said. Moreover, in a clearly corroborating bit of cartography, every PA or Hamas or Iranian map already incorporates all of Israel within “Palestine.”

Toward the end of his tenure, prior Prime Minister Ehud Olmert released several hundred Palestinian terrorists as a “goodwill gesture.” Together with then-President George W. Bush, he had decided to aid Fatah against Hamas with outright transfers of weapons and information. Soon after, those American and Israeli guns were turned against Israel. As for Olmert’s graciously extended “goodwill,” it had only served to elicit the next round of rocket fire. Matters were not helped at all by Washington’s corollary support for a Palestinian state, a thoroughly misconceived support now being extended by President Obama.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Rooted deeply in jihadist interpretations of Islam, there is an obvious and enduring inequality of objectives between Israel and its principal enemies. For both Palestinian insurgents and Iran’s president, conflict with Israel is always “zero-sum,” routinely an all or nothing proposition. In this starkly polarizing view of incessant strife between “the world of war” and “the world of Islam,” there can never be any proper place for authentic treaties or settlements with the Jewish state, save of course as a temporary tactical expedient.

For Israel, on the other hand, a negotiated peace with its Arab neighbors and/or Iran persists as an elusive but presumably plausible hope. This is true even when any prospect of Islamic reciprocity is evidently preposterous and historically unimaginable.

A fundamental inequality is evident in all expressions of the Middle East Peace Process. On the Palestinian and Iranian side, Oslo and “Road Map” expectations have never been anything more than a cost-effective method of dismantling Israel. On the Israeli side, these expectations have generally been taken, quite differently, as a hopefully indispensable way of averting further war and terror.

The core problem of Israel’s life or death vulnerability lies in the Jewish state’s ongoing assumptions on war and peace. While certain of Israel’s regional enemies, state and nonstate, believe that any power gains for Israel represent a reciprocal power loss for them – that is, that they coexist with Israel in a condition of pure conflict – Israel assumes something else. For Netanyahu’s several immediate predecessors, relations with certain Arab states, the Palestinian Authority/Hamas and Iran were not taken to be pure zero-sum but rather a mutual-dependence connection. In this optimistic view, conflict is always mixed with cooperation.

Incomprehensibly, Israel may still believe that certain of its Arab enemies and Iran reject zero-sum assumptions about the strategy of conflict. Israel’s enemies, however, do not make any such erroneous judgments about conformance with Israeli calculations. Further, these enemies know Israel is wrong in its belief that certain Arab states, Iran, and the Palestinians also reject the zero-sum assumption, but they pretend otherwise. There has remained, therefore, a dramatic and consequential strategic disparity between Israel and certain of its frontline Islamic enemies.

America Needs a New Civil Space Policy

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Other nations are not waiting for the US to decide what kind of space policy it wants.

China is moving ahead with its independent manned space program. On June 18, 2012, a Chinese Shenzhou capsule, with China’s first female Taikonaut aboard, docked with China’s new space station. This Chinese mission is most likely meant to show that China is winning a new space race with the United States.

In January 2013, whatever the new administration, it will almost certainly not consider civil space policy to be one of its top priorities – civil space being the government’s non-military space program. The most important part of that is NASA; other parts include NOAA for civilian weather satellites and the FAA office of commercial space transportation for licensing commercial space launches.

If, in the first few weeks, space questions arise at all, restoring the 22% (or more) cuts made by the current administration to America’s military space programs will take precedence over decisions on the future of NASA. The European Space Agency has, at least for the moment, given up on major new cooperative space exploration programs with NASA. Further, the confused management of the US Space Agency has discouraged most of the world’s space organizations from joining with Americans on any serious new projects.

This situation is the opposite of the goal which the Obama administration set for itself in the June 2010 National Space Policy. The White House policy makers said then that they wanted to “expand international cooperation on mutually beneficial space activities to broaden and extend the benefits of space …”

International partnerships for space exploration are certainly being developed — only without the United States.

It is hard nevertheless to imagine that the question, “What do we do about NASA?” can be long postponed: the US government’s military space and civilian space (which mostly means NASA) are two sides of the same coin. The same firms that support the military’s essential space functions also support NASA’s science and exploration programs. The stress on major civil space programs — caused by a combination of complex requirements, underfunding and poor management — means that in early 2013, several of the most important programs, including the Mars exploration project and the James Webb Space Telescope, will be in even deeper trouble than they already are.

Any new administration will at some point have to face the incredibly incompetent way in which the future of scientific research on the International Space Station (ISS) has been handled. To put it bluntly, the same woman who was in charge of writing the specifications for the body which is to supervise science on the ISS, is now a senior officer in the institution that won the contract. This involves, at the very least, what used to be called “the appearance of impropriety.” Until the new administration and NASA take dramatic action to separate themselves from this mess, investigations and litigation will probably ensure that very little science will be done on the station.

Moreover, to save money for the very costly and behind-schedule Webb Space Telescope — managed by the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland, and the pet project of the powerful and sometimes feared Democratic Senator, Barbara Milkulski — the rest of NASA’s science programs have been gutted. This plunder has been especially true of the planetary science missions: future Mars exploration programs have been canceled, and the planned “Flagship” mission to the outer planets has been postponed to the point where it is doubtful it will fly anytime within the next decade.

The manned space exploration program is a shambles. The commercial space projects are taking baby steps at a time where giant ones are needed. One hopes that the so-called “New Space” companies will find a way to thrive in this environment, but they are, with the exception of SpaceX, nowhere near ready to fly paying passengers into orbit, and will not be ready for some years to come.

In the early morning of May 22, 2012, SpaceX, based in Hawthorn California, finally launched its Dragon ISS resupply capsule on the company’s own Falcon 9 rocket. This was only the third Falcon 9 launch and the first since December of 2010. Three days later, on May 25th, the Dragon capsule was successfully berthed onto the space station. There is nothing unusual about a complex space launch vehicle taking more time than expected to perfect. For a private firm such as SpaceX, however, it has been an expensive process that has, no doubt, hurt its bottom line, at least for the short term.

The SpaceX Dragon’s launch was carried out under the terms of the Bush-era Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. In 2007 and 2008, NASA was planning to extend the COTS contract to cover transporting people, as well as cargo, to the ISS under the so-called COTS-D program. Now, instead of the commercial program being a useful auxiliary to NASA’s main human exploration plans, COTS-D was renamed the Commercial Crew and Cargo Development program (CCDev) and, after that re-renaming, is now named the Commercial Crew Program (CCP). NASA created this program to build vehicles that would take over the entire job of carrying people and cargo from Earth to orbit and back, a task was formerly performed by the Space Shuttle.

Congress rejected that approach; at present a stalemate exists between those who support giving the entire job to the so-called “commercial” industry and those who are pushing for a compromise. The compromise which the Obama administration reluctantly accepted in 2010 was that NASA would continue to develop the Orion capsule for possible missions to the asteroids, the Moon or Mars, and that NASA would begin work on a new rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which closely resembled the heavy-lift Ares V, a part of the Bush era Constellation Return-to-the-Moon Program. The SLS, like the Ares V, will, in theory, be able to lift more than 120 tons of payload into the Earth’s orbit — more than any other rocket in history. The current leadership at NASA, however, has been less than enthusiastic about the SLS program and has tried to undermine it every chance they got.

So how, in January 2013, could a new President restore NASA’s place as a world leader in science, technology and exploration? Perhaps by following three relatively-simple-to-understand principles:

Number OneRespect the US Constitution

Congress is a co-equal branch of the government. As such, it may be incredibly frustrating to deal with at times; however, its role as the keeper of the national purse must be acknowledged. The Obama administration’s cancellation of the Constellation program, which aimed to return Americans to the Moon and eventually land US astronauts on Mars, was nothing short of an act of political vandalism. Constellation had been carefully crafted, with considerable input from senior Senators and Representatives from both political parties. Killing Constellation poisoned NASA’s relations with the men and women on Capitol Hill. Until there is new leadership at the space agency and also at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, the bitterness and anger will endure.

Number Two: Set Clear Goals

People are tired of hearing about President Kennedy’s 1961 instructions to NASA to “within this decade, land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth.” The Apollo program was a product of a unique time and place. The US will never again devote more than 2% of GDP to NASA as it did in the mid 1960s. If the country were to spend even 1% of its annual wealth on NASA, it would look like a miracle.

Yet, reduced funding is no excuse for allowing the space agency to disaggregate into a unconnected set of programs which not only cannibalize each other, but which are often canceled after spending billions with nothing to show for them. A Back-to-the-Moon-and-on-to-Mars program is still the most sensible, and doable, long term goal. Humanity needs to explore and settle new worlds, and America needs to be at the forefront of those efforts.

Number Three: Reform the Way NASA Does Business

As with many other Federal agencies and departments, the waste that results from starting and then canceling programs dwarfs any other form of governmental waste. The cancellation of the Constellation program, after more than 9 billion dollars had been spent on it, was merely one example of this practice. Few foreign governments habitually start, and then kill, expensive national programs with the same reckless disregard for the national purse or the national interest as do our leaders in Washington DC.

To carry out these reforms not only does NASA desperately need to fix its management problems, such as the ones which have led to the wild cost overruns in the Webb Space Telescope program, but above all NASA needs new leaders in Washington. Any President should look soon into a top-to-bottom, radical reform and simplification of the gigantic and complex Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). America’s FAR are rivaled only in their Kafkaesque complexity and lack of rationality by America’s Tax Code.

Done correctly, such reforms would save the government hundreds of billions of dollars over the next ten years, not only at the Defense Department, but also at NASA. FAR reform would free up cash inside the NASA budget for research, science and exploration.

It should be noted that both of NASA’s commercial programs, COTS and the CCP, have been carried out under the “Space Act Agreement” law. This legislation has enabled the COTS and CCP contractors to build their vehicles to fill NASA crew and cargo transportation needs without having to fulfill the costly and time consuming requirements of the Federal Acquisition Regulations. This raises the question: Why doesn’t NASA ask all its contractors to work under the Space Act Agreement rules?

It needs to be clearly understood America’s civil space program is just as much an instrument of national power as the US Navy or the State Department. It is to be hoped that the President and Congress will in the future recognize this fact.

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

Mrs. Brown’s Journey

Friday, September 7th, 2012

I must admit to being a little shocked. After reading the Forward article by Judy Brown about her journey away from traditional belief – I really was taken aback.

Judy Brown is the award winning author of the book, Hush – a fictionalized story about the sex abuse of a childhood friend. A friend that experienced it in the Chasidic community in which she was raised. I heard Mrs. Brown speak passionately on this issue last winter here in Chicago. She was dressed quite Tzanua (modestly) according to Orthodox Jewish standards -and she wore a Shaitel. That is a wig. Which is how most married Orthodox women in the western world cover their hair.

I had assumed from this that although she was upset by the way her community treated sex abuse, that she was still very much a believer in the theology of Judaism. A recent article – where she described herself as still wanting to dress modestly even according to Chasidic standards despite the “pull” away from that by society – just corroborated my perception.

As it turns out, she apparently is not a believer. It is not that she abandoned her belief in God. But she seems to have abandoned her belief in the theology she was taught about the Torah… and perhaps has even crossed the path into the world of skeptics and Orthopraxy. As she admits:

“I discovered the agony of praying to God when I knew I was talking to myself.”

She now sees herself as an outsider among the people she grew up with.

I am not here to judge her. I am instead looking at the world in which she was raised. It seems obvious from her account that it is because of what she was taught – and the way she was taught it – that upon discovering the scientific way of looking at the world she appears to have lost her faith.

Interestingly, it was not the internet that lead her astray. It was the book Cosmos by famed astronomer Carl Sagan. I did not read the book. But I’m pretty sure it is based on the wonderfulPBS series of the same name hosted by Professor Sagan. I absolutely gobbled that series up. I actually recorded every episode and have watched some of them many times. I still have the entire collection in VHS.

It was an eye opener for me as well. One of the most educational and entertaining series I have ever seen to date, even though it was produced in the 1980s. Especially the episode on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. And yet I did not become a skeptic. Except for one brief remark by Professor Sagan where he argued against the existence of God in one of those episodes, what I saw was entirely compatible with Judaism.

But apparently Mrs. Brown had a different reaction. She had the same kind of reaction as people who are taught that every word in the first chapter in Genesis must be taken literally. That the world was created in 6 days and is less than 6000 years old. Even the most basic knowledge about the sun being a star – and stars being suns was a shock to her.

No matter how much she resisted believing what she read in that book, she eventually succumbed to the fact that there are billions and billions of stars (suns) in the universe and that many of them are millions of light years away, thus crashing her belief system. And now, prayer has become nothing more that talking to herself!

What a sad thing to read just before Rosh Hashanah.

In this era of instant information that can be had any time and any place and read in the palm of your hand, it is beyond foolish to try and ban it… or to even use filters so as to avoid reading the science upon which things like the age of the universe is based.

But it is even more foolish in my view to not teach the science in the first place. Ignorance is our worst enemy. Because the minute one finds a contradiction to the insistence that only the most literal interpretation of the Torah is acceptable, believers can and often will sadly go the way or Mrs. Brown.

Instead of hiding the facts of nature by ignoring the study of science, it ought to be fully taught in every school. There are Shivim Panim LaTorah. The idea of an ancient universe is not Kefira. Had Mrs. Brown been armed with that knowledge she may not have had her ‘epiphany’ about Judaism.

Had she been taught the theory of evolution properly, she would have realized that indeed it is quite compatible with the idea of God’s creation of the world. That He used the method of evolution as the mechanism for his creation. While there are elements of the theory of evolution that seem to contradict some of our beliefs, the overall outline of it is compatible with them.

But for Mrs. Brown (and probably for the vast majority of those whose secular education is so strongly limited) learning about evolution caused her to stop believing in some of the fundamentals of Judaism.

It seems however that instead of increasing the knowledge base of our people, religious leaders are going in the opposite direction. Virtually all Charedim in Israel have no education in science at all. Even in elementary school only basic math is taught. Beyond elementary school it’s Gemarah 24/7.

In the US that was not the case in the not too distant past. Virtually all Charedi high schools taught basic science. But it has increasingly become popular in these schools to either minimize or completely eliminate secular studies. The problem that this causes for Parnassa purposes is obvious and has been discussed here many times.

But what has not been discussed that much is the vulnerability this creates in these students. The slightest exposure to some basic scientific thinking can easily cause them to go completely OTD or become Orthopraxic closet skeptics!

The solution to preventing them from succumbing to this knowledge on the part of Charedi leaders is to completely ban all possible access to the “Kefira” of science. They condemn and want to ban the internet as that is the most readily available source of knowledge available. They even ban books that try and reconcile that science with the Torah – like those written by Rabbi Slifkin – in the strongest possible terms… fearing it will all lead people astray. But banning it all is about as possible as banning air.

Mrs. Brown decided to read a book on the subject after having some spirited discussions with a friend. The book she chose was Cosmos by Carl Sagan. Had she been fully prepared for it by a proper science education, she may have had the same reaction to Cosmos that I did. But instead it led her to reject her religious teachings.

Even without the kind of basic science education that I had – had she read Rabbi Slifkin’s books, she might still be a believer today. But his books were banned. In her mind therefore, what difference was it which ‘forbidden fruit’ she partook of?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/mrs-browns-journey/2012/09/07/

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