Monday, May 15, 2006

Science and Torah

This evening, Miriam and I went to hear Rabbi Nathan Slifkin speak at the Ner Yisrael Synagogue. There was a lively discussion between himself, and Dr. Joseph Bodenheimer (President of the Jerusalem College of Technology) and Rabbi Alan Kimche as to whether Chazal were reliable in their knowledge of science.

Rabbi Nathan Slifkin highlighted two cases in the Gemarah: that of the mouse that was half earth and half flesh, and the ruling regarding the killing of lice on Shabbat (which were thought to spontaneously reproduce). Rabbi Slifkin emphasised that the Sages of the Gemara were simply following the most advanced thinking of the time, and that Science has moved on since then.

Dr. Joseph Bodenheimer was more direct in arguing that Halacha has always and will always need to change as our knowledge of Science changes. He gave as an example the case of a baby born at eight months that can't be handled on Shabbat. (It was thought that an eight month baby couldn't survive).

Rabbi Kimche argued that it isn't for us to say whether Chazal were wrong. We need to say Tzarich Iyyun. He argued that Science is constantly changing, whereas halacha doesn't. I'm not sure the audience were convinced. After all, does anyone really think the world is flat??!

It was heartwarming to hear from two Orthodox scholars with some common sense.