Jewish Science 101

To what extent do Judaism and science collide?

History of Judaism and Science

The Bible and Talmud saw science and the Jewish tradition as manifestations of the same divine truth. The rabbis of the Talmud even used science in legal decision making– using astronomical calculations to create the Jewish calendar–and referenced many of the scientific theories of their time.

Medieval Jewish thinkers–many of them scientists—were forced to struggle with new scientific theories and apparent contradictions between Judaism and science.  Maimonides strove to integrate Judaism and science, going so far as to assert that if the eternity of the universe was proven though science he would reinterpret the biblical passages figuratively bring them in line with scientific truth.

Creationism & Evolution

The scientific theory of evolution seems to contradict the biblical account of creation. While the Bible claims that God created the world in six days, culminating with the creation of humanity, the theory of evolution asserts that humanity evolved over billions of years.

Some Jews reject evolutionary theory, while others reject the biblical account of creation. Many, however, strive to integrate the biblical account with the findings of modern science. Some Jewish thinkers reconcile the biblical account of creation with evolutionary theory by rejecting literal understandings of the Bible in favor of metaphorical or allegorical readings. Recent theories regarding the expansion of the universe have provided new opportunities for reconciling the biblical account of creation with science.

Some modern kabbalists have looked to the scientific theory of exponential expansion for corroboration of Lurianic kabbalistic ideas. These thinkers suggest that tzimtzum (God’s withdrawal from the universe) occurred during the moments right before creation, when, according to the theory of eternal inflation, the universe began to expand exponentially, inflating countless random quantum events in the process.

Social Sciences and Judaism

Jews were prominently involved in the creation of the modern fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology.  Nearly all the members of the Gestalt school of psychology were Jewish, as was the father of modern psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. While many of these psychologists led secular lives, Jewish texts, traditions, and values–such as Talmudic ideas about the good and evil inclinations–continued to impact their work.

Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber–all Jews–were among the first sociologists of religion. Each had powerful critiques on the role of religion in industrial society (Marx famously called it the “opium of the people”) and questioned its relevance for modern man.

Emile Durkheim also contributed to the founding of anthropology. His students included Marcel Mauss, a Jewish scholar who researched non-native cultures. Mauss trained Claude Levi-Strauss, a French Jew from long line of rabbis who developed the theory of Structuralism. In America, German Jewish immigrant Franz Boas founded the first department of anthropology at Columbia University. Today, modern ethnographies of the Jewish community include studies of the Habad movement, memorialization of the Holocaust, and examinations of Jewish texts and practice.

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Kiddushin 6

You are hereby my rib.