Tag Archives: judaism

Pesach and Freedom

So yesterday I was reading an article about how Obama has a seder night every year. Despite not being Jewish, he connects to it, because Pesach is the story of slaves being freed from hundreds of years of slavery. The Exodus from Egypt is more than just a single people being freed. It represents many different people’s stories. The plight of every slave that ever lived. And the hope that one day he will be free and free of his tormenters.

What annoyed me in the article, is that the article then went on to speak about the Palestinians one day going free and that the idea of the Palestinians being free is in fact a very Jewish idea and we should do all that we can in order to give them full autonomy.

Now, I have no problem with Palestinian autonomy. I do have a problem when Palestinian autonomy causes harm to innocent Israelis. To imply that Israelis do not want peace and that Israel is enslaving Palestinians is ridiculous in my opinion and you only have to visit Israel to know that isn’t true.

For 65 years we’ve been trying to make this two-state solution work. The Palestinians had ample opportunity to accept. Israel accepted the UN partition plan in 1947. It was the Arabs that went to war with Israel. When Israel conquered Jerusalem in 1967, it was not Israel that was the aggressor, it was our Arab neighbours.

People still talk about the “two-state solution” as if it’s a solution. IMO it isn’t and we’ve been wasting too much energy trying to solve this problem. We should try and live side by side as best as possible, but there are just to many issues that cannot be solved (such as major security concerns, hundreds of thousands of people being kicked out of their homes and many others).

But whatever you think about the road to peace, the Palestinians are not in slavery. Yes, there are security checks for bringing things into the West Bank and Gaza. There are check points all over the West Bank to stop weapons smuggling. And there is a wall surrounding the Palestinian areas stopping them from entering Israel. Would it be nicer for them if these obstacles weren’t there? Yes. But they’re for a reason. The number of suicide bombings within Israel has basically dropped to zero over the last few years. A dramatic decrease, but all thanks to the security fence. I’m sure it’s a bit of a hassle being checked every time you drive through a check point, but frankly, the same thing happens to me at the airport and we even have security check points on the roads in Israel. There’s a reason for that. To stop terrorism.

We’ll have peace when the Palestinians and the Arab world in general come to the conclusion that there is a Jewish state and it is here to stay.

So happy Pesach to you. Freedom is both a Jewish and universal value and I hope in the future we’ll see a peaceful Middle East, but it would be naive to say that day will come soon.

Pesach sameach

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Netanyahu On The Meaning And Mission Of Israel And Jewish Destiny

Good article by the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Warren Goldstein at Aish.com:

http://www.aish.com/jw/me/Bibi–the-Bible.html

BTW, this blog has no connection to Netanyahu. I just think he’s a great leader.

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And yet another Jewish Nobel Prize Winner…

Today, Alvin Roth, an American Jew (source: JINFO.org), along with Lloyd Shapely were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics. They received the prestigious award along with $1.2 million “for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design”.

That makes a total of three Jewish Nobel Prize winners this year: Serge Haroche, Robert Lefkowitz and Alvin Roth. All together, nine people were awarded Nobel prizes this year (not including the EU that won the Nobel Peace prize).

Jews have won 41% of all the Nobel prizes for Economics.

Last year, 5 out of the 11 Nobel laureates were Jewish.

Historically, approximately 20% of Nobel laureates have been Jewish. An astounding statistic, considering that only 0.2% of the world’s population is Jewish.

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Understanding Genesis

Understanding Genesis Front Cover

A few days ago I posted about Bereishit and Science. A very good on the topic is Understanding Genesis by Nahum Sarna (1966). I highly recommend reading it.

You can read the first chapter of the book, which deals with the beginning of Bereishit till Noach, here.

Next week I hope to upload the chapter on Noach.

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Second Jewish Nobel Laureate of 2012

Well done to Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka for winning this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry. They received the award “for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors”.

Robert Lefkowitz is Jewish according to JINFO.org. So far 2 of the 6 Nobel Prize winners this year are Jewish. Serge Haroche won the Nobel Prize for Physics yesterday – a French Jew of Moroccan descent.

 

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Jewish 2012 Nobel Prize Winner for Physics

Well done to Serge Haroche for winning this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics with David Wineland. They were awarded the prize “for groundbreaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems” according to the Nobel Prize website.

Haroche is a French Jew of Moroccan descent. Wineland definitely sounds like he could be Jewish, but I haven’t been able to clarify for certain whether he is Jewish or not. I assume he isn’t, but only because I haven’t found a source saying he is Jewish online yet and everyone has been writing about how Haroche is Jewish.

See here for a full list of this year’s Nobel Prize winners. So far only the Physics and Physiology/Medicine Nobel prizes have been awarded this year. The other Nobel prizes will be awarded in the next week.

Last year, there were five Jewish Nobel Prize winners. Overall, Jews have won approximately 20% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to date. An extremely impressive statistic considering Jews constitute only 0.2% of the world’s population.

 

And finally here’s an inspirational story that I read on Wikipedia today:

John Gurdon was awarded the Lasker Award in 2009 and this year’s Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. But this is what Wikipedia his past:

Gurdon attended Eton College, where he ranked last out of the 250 boys in his year group at biology, and was in the bottom set in every other science subject. A schoolmaster wrote a report stating “I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous.”

Quite impressive. Now he was obviously very bright, since he attended Oxford University, but that was to study Classics. He wasn’t a very good biologist at a young age. Just goes to show “Impossible is Nothing”.

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Bereishit and Science

It’s that time of year again. Tonight is Simchat Torah when we finish reading the Torah and restart again from Bereishit.

As a religious Jew, how does one reconcile the seeming contradictions between the Bereishit narrative and science?

A lot has been written on this and I am not going to be adding anything new to this discussion, but I hope this post will still be interesting for those that read it.

The first issue that needs to be addressed is the conflict between religion in general and science. In my opinion, there is no conflict between the two. Religion deals with God, how a person should act, with the ultimate purpose of life and living a meaningful life. Science deals with describing the physical world. Religion’s goal is not to explain the physical world and the goal of science  is not to tell us how to live a meaningful life. This is not an attack on science, this is merely the reality of the situation. The fact that mathematics doesn’t tell me how to live a meaningful life is not a problem with mathematics, it’s just not what mathematics is about. And the same is true about science in general.

Science can help us make decisions. It can help clarify the situation. Science produces medicine and it produces bombs. How we use those and whether we use them for good or for bad are not scientific questions. Good, bad, morality, meaning, God, etc. are not things science can address. This is not a flaw in science. It’s just the reality of the situation and it’s a mistake when people think that science can deal with these questions.

A person may come to the conclusion that life is pointless, that there is no ultimate meaning, that good and bad are an illusion or that God doesn’t exist, but none of these are scientific claims. Science may have played a hand in determining these beliefs and that is not at all unreasonable, but ultimately, these questions are not questions that science can address.

Lastly, if a religion goes and makes scientific claims, then of course there can be a conflict. Now religion has entered the scientific world and science can have something to say about the claim.

And this brings us onto the topic of Bereishit and science. I do believe that there is a conflict here. The Torah does make claims that definitely at first sight, do not fit with science. For example, a simple reading of the Torah would suggest the world is almost six thousand years old. Science claims that it is 13.7 billion years old. Here we have a contradiction. How old is the universe? Can the contradiction be resolved?

A number of different approaches have been taken. Some will claim science is wrong, but I don’t think this approach can be taken seriously. (Not that the science of today will be the same as the science of tomorrow. Things will definitely change. Science is not set in stone, but science will never reach the conclusion that the world is 6000 years old as opposed to many billions of years old, for example).

Another approach is to claim that science and Torah are saying the same thing and if you think there’s a contradiction, you just don’t know how to read the Torah properly. I don’t like this approach either. Not because it is fundamentally flawed, but because the reality is that Bereishit and Noach just don’t fit well with modern science without extremely forced readings. (Claiming that a day means a long period of time is not a stretch. Dealing with evolution in general isn’t a problem either. The Torah doesn’t talk about it and it doesn’t have to. But this approach still falls short of explaining away all the contradictions. When we get down to the details things really don’t fit so well, IMO. For example, the problem of the “rakiya”, the ordering of the six days – there were no plants before the Sun existed, but according to Bereishit there were).

Others will claim that Bereishit and Noach are supposed to be read allegorically. This may be true for parts of the creation narrative, but even using this approach, I don’t think this can be used to explain all the contradictions.

In my opinion, the best approach is to take a step back and ask what the purpose of the Torah is and to think about who it was given to. The Torah is a book that teaches man how to live a religious life, a Godly life, a moral life. Informing man of exactly how  the world came to be is not what the Torah’s primary aim. Some of the most important lessons we learn from Bereishit are that God created the world, there is one God and not a multitude of gods, God cares about the world, the world has a purpose, the world is good, that man has a purpose, man is created in the image of God, man is expected to do good, that man is rewarded and punished for his actions, what the day of Shabbat signifies, etc.

When compared to other Ancient Near Eastern literature of the time, some of these ideas are extremely novel and extremely important to teach the Israelites. For example, that God created the sun or the sea and that they have no power of their own is an idea that was a chiddush (novelty) in the Ancient Near East. Due to the success of the Torah, it is difficult to find polytheists nowadays (at least in the Western world). This, in large part, is due to the success of the Torah’s impact on mankind and it is something we often forget.

One of the major problems with the approach that the Torah is teaching us science in the first chapters of Bereishit is that if this is indeed so, nobody has understood Bereishit properly for the last three thousand or so years. And even more than that, now that we apparently do “understand” Bereishit properly, with the help of modern science, we don’t need Bereishit anymore, since we have modern science textbooks to teach us what Bereishit teaches us.

I understand that there are reasons that one might not like this approach, but I personally find it to be the best and most intellectually honest approach.

I think another issue that has to be thought about in relation to this topic is exactly what is meant by the word of God. At the very least, the word of God has reached us through the mouth or pen of man.

If you want to read more about this topic, I recommend the following books:

The Challenge Of Creation by Rabbi Natan Slifkin

Understanding Genesis by Nahum Sarna (you can read the first chapter which deals with the first chapters of Bereishit till Noach here).

Genesis And Jewish Thought by Chaim Navon (also available in book form)

This is also a good resource page with a YouTube video:

http://www.professorfink.com/RELIGION___SCIENCE.html

I might write a bit more about this topic in the next week.

Simchat Torah Sameach!

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