Torah and Science

Torah and science coexist in the world that Hashem fashioned.

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Yet, madda must yet be put to the test; it must be measured by the yardstick of Torah to determine whether it is fit for the human experience.

Attention to Detail

"Hashem Elokim" is the source of the broad principles of order in nature, and also of the detailed occurrences that comprise the life of the individual. The Talmud (Hullin 7b) states: "No man bruises his finger here on earth unless it was so decreed against him in heaven." Elsewhere (Shabbat 55a) it states: "There is no death without sin, no pain without sin ... "

It is the "Hashem" relationship that modifies events. The counterpart of God's intimate control over details of our life expresses itself in the religious life of the Jew in the details of the mitzvot. God did not only give us broad principles of ethical moral behavior, but also the details which cannot be neglected lest the principles be forgotten.

The ideological battle over the importance of detail was the battle between Cain and Abel. Cain felt that it was the principle of relating to God that mattered, and it made no difference what specific offering was brought. Abel believed that the principle should be expressed in details of respectful awe. It was also the battle between Korah and Moses.

This explains the enigmatic comment of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, that if you deduct the numerical equivalent of Abel (Hevel =37) from that of Moses (Moshe =345), you will be left with the numerical value of Korah (=308). When the principle of Abel, concerned with the details of man's relationship with God, is removed from Moses, then Korah and Moses were saying the same thing. Both believe in God, and want to do what is right, but Korah added, don't tell us exactly how to do it. Enunciate the broad principles and leave details for individual expression.

This unified theory of Torah and science is unique to Torah because it defines our monotheistic faith. Science is nothing more than the search to discover unity in the seemingly chaotic variety of nature. Torah is the discovery itself. 

The Third Axiom: Observing the World

A third axiom that Torah and science share... is that both science and Torah require an active interest in the simple occurrences of life. It is halakhically demanded that we be curious about God's nature. We must be "observant" Jews! That is also the basis of all scientific development: a curiosity and a confidence that one's curiosity could lead to discovery. 

Science and Torah co-exist in the world that Hashem fashioned. They relate to each other in the intimate unified relationship of a blueprint and a structure built when the blueprint was accurately followed. The imagery that the Sages tried to share with us is that of the Torah as the blueprint for the world around us. We are commanded to interact with this world.

The mitzvah (Genesis 1:28) of "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it" commands us to master the world. We are granted permission and given an obligation to do so. The generation of the Tower of Babel was the generation that rejected this duty and decided to build a megalopolis vertically, in order to avoid conquering the jungles and crossing the oceans. For this they were punished.

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Moshe D. Tendler

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler of the Community Synagogue of Monsey, NY, is Rosh Yeshiva at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and a professor of biology at Yeshiva University.