Mind, Body and Judaism: The Interaction of Jewish Law with Psychology and Biology: Essays from the Torah U-Madda Journal


The essays in this volume focus primarily on the interaction of Torah with the disciplines of psychology and biology. The first section deals with the more general issue of science and religion. Three prominent scholars with recognized expertise in the secular disciplines discuss the general issue, followed by a prominent scientist with extensive training in Torah discussing the more specific question of evolution. The second section, Judaism and Mental Heath Forum: A Fictional Case with Commentaries, explores ...
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The essays in this volume focus primarily on the interaction of Torah with the disciplines of psychology and biology. The first section deals with the more general issue of science and religion. Three prominent scholars with recognized expertise in the secular disciplines discuss the general issue, followed by a prominent scientist with extensive training in Torah discussing the more specific question of evolution. The second section, Judaism and Mental Heath Forum: A Fictional Case with Commentaries, explores the issue of psychology and religion through a series of responses to a fictional case in which a psychiatrist unfamiliar with Orthodox Judaism attempts to treat an obsessed religious personality. The final sections deal with the interface between biology and religion. The symposium on Judaism, Genetic Engineering and the Cloning of Humans explores such issues as, What are the moral and religious limits of the new technologies, their appropriate and inappropriate uses? Are these technologies really welcome? How shall we understand human identity when some people will have had no parents? Then, moving from the beginning of life to its end, The Halakhic Definition of Death in Light of Medical History places the current halakhic debate on whether brain death constitutes halakhic death in the context of a history of the past debates on defining the end of life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780881257922
  • Publisher: KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/1/2004
  • Pages: 257
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.63 (d)

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The Interaction of Jewish Law with Psychology and Biology

The Michael Scharf Publication Trust of Yeshiva University Press

Copyright © 2004 Yeshiva University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-88125-792-3

Chapter One

TORAH AND SCIENCE Where Do Torah and Science Clash?

Adin Steinsaltz

The problems of Torah u-Madda are vast. No single lecture or article can do justice to the subject. I will not try to give solutions to problems that, in one way or another, some of our best minds through the ages worked through and thought about. But I will share with you some of what I know, with the hope that I will make people think.

I will divide my discussion of Torah u-Madda into two parts. One part is the subject matter, Torah and madda, that is, Torah and science, secular knowledge, philosophy-the problems they encounter and the antagonism between the two. The second part will deal with what happens to the person who is part of such an encounter between Torah and madda.

The encounter-the clash-of Torah and science has been the subject of any number of books that argue the issue in every direction. Some try to prove that Torah and madda are identical. Some try to prove that Torah and madda are opposites and claim that Torah should be the only guide, ignoring madda. A large number claim that Torah should be ignored and madda should take its place.

When people talk about clashes between the Torah and the scientific world or the world of secular knowledge in general, the question arises: in which areas does such a clash occur? Let's take mathematics. Mathematics is clearly the basis of almost all exact sciences, as well as a number of inexact sciences that try to apply mathematical and statistical methods in their study. There are some points of discussion as to whether the solution for the square root of 2 presented in the Talmud is an exact solution or an inexact solution, but answers to this have already been proposed by Maimonides and others. All in all, there are very few clashes between Torah and mathematics.

When dealing with Torah and what I call "hard sciences"-physics, chemistry, biology-we also have, practically speaking, very few clashes or conflicts. The real problem arises not in the exact sciences, but rather in two other areas. The first is the extremely dangerous field of popular science. This area has done a lot of harm, and not only to Judaism. In many other ways and in many other fields it has created whole universes of misconceptions that are extremely hard to rectify. A friend of mine told me about a poll of American university professors that was taken some twenty years ago. One of the questions was, "Do you believe in God? If not, why not?" This poll yielded two very interesting results. Most of the professors in the sciences said that they were believers. Most of the professors in the humanities said that they were nonbelievers. And the major reason given by the humanities professors for being nonbelievers was that science had proven religious claims to be false!

This striking phenomenon must be attributed to the influence of popular science. Popular science has a huge impact on people because it simplifies things. For example, in Israel we translate the theory of relativity as Torat ha-Yahasut and the theory of Darwin as Torat Darwin. Note the shift in meaning. When we call something a "theory" we refer to a certain proposition that tries to explain the world without advancing a claim for absolute truth. When one translates "theory" as "Torah," however, one makes a very different assumption. "Torah" means the truth, the law, the rule. This shift that happens in modern Hebrew occurs more subtly in almost every literature. When one reads a book on popular science, one does not differentiate between theory and assumption or notice that one assumption has more basis than another, that one is a guess and another a very wild guess, that some of the ideas are well worked out and some are still in the process of trying to piece together phenomena, experiments, and other things into some kind of a sensible whole without any real claim for being the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

When one writes a popular book, one has no time for presenting all the nuances of the issues. Therefore, science appears as law, a set of absolutes that are always functioning successfully. In fact, for many people, Nature with a capital "N" and Science with a capital "S" take the place of Torah. The scientist, with his white frock, replaces for so many the priest with his black frock. Many people who look toward science in this way are intelligent people in every other aspect, but they have a notion of science as the supreme ultimate law. The scientist, in one form or another, becomes the high priest of a new religion. This religion has a tremendous advantage. It works-always. If you want to see that it works, just observe.

Everybody in the world, in order to exist, needs some kind of a theology, some generalized set of ideas that will define values and systems. Some of these theologies are pagan theologies. Some of them are obnoxious theologies, but they are still theologies. The people who write popular science have, like everybody else, their own set of beliefs. When a person takes his scientific knowledge and tries to present it as an expression of his theological beliefs, the result is a whole system that is, in fact, some kind of a religion rather than a set of objective facts. For example, the German scientist Ernst Haeckel was a biologist and a very successful popular writer. His brand of Darwinism had a great influence on what is taught in every school system, even though his format of understanding biology was possibly an untoward one. Most importantly, because of his personal bias, he was partly responsible for spreading a certain type of Darwinism that was the basis of the Nazi ideology. Let me explain.

People may not like Darwin in any way. They may not like his ideas; they may disregard anything that he writes, but they must also recognize that there is no Nazi ideology in his writings. But when you take a phrase or notion of his and put it in a different light, it becomes an entirely different thing. What does "survival of the fittest" mean? Darwin does not use this expression exactly, but he deals with the notion. It has a rather specific meaning. When it is put in a popular book, however, especially when a person has his own personal bias in writing about these things, a whole ideology emerges that has the advantage or the disadvantage of being considered as science i.e., as truth. In fact, even in the so-called hard sciences, one can find evidence of the construction of a whole imaginary world, a world that is really not in any way a scientific one, a world in which science replaces religion and Einstein replaces Mosheh Rabbeinu.

This problem of the dangers of popular science reaches even into the scientific community. Popular science is not only the science for the ignorant and for the nonscientist. Most popular science is also the science for the scientist out of his particular field. When you have, as in our times, an explosion of information, and a person is no longer a chemist or a physicist but an expert in a very defined area within particular field, even scientists have to read popular science. There is no other way for intelligent, knowledgeable people to understand the world. Popular science, then, has been a major contributor to the notion of conflict between Torah and madda.

* * *

Another set of ideas that has had an even greater influence on the popular mind and on Torah u-Madda is the so-called soft sciences, sciences that are not entirely experimental or mathematical.

In America everybody speaks "psychologese." I do not think that people can fall in love anymore without indulging in talking about relevance, relationships, complexes, and so on. People can no longer use the simple words that they care about because they are so obsessed with popular psychology. Psychology has become something that everybody indulges in. And so it is, to a lesser degree, with many "soft sciences."

The soft sciences have one thing in common-many of their basic assumptions are truly assumptions of a theological nature. They do not stem from facts, but rather from a notion about the universe and the relationship between things. Some of the conceptual structures that people build are amazing, but in most cases they have very little relationship to anything in real life. Freudian psychology, for example, is a wonderful thing. It has all the beauty of Greek mythology. And even though nobody has ever witnessed an actual Oedipus complex-nobody has put it into a laboratory to see what it looks like or whether it exists at all-everybody knows about it. The same thing goes for much of sociology and anthropology. Many soft sciences are simply ways of viewing the world and have to be understood as such. They are nothing more than subjective beliefs that certain people espouse. Indeed, some of these views are so commonly accepted that nobody wants to doubt or question them.

C. N. Parkinson, of the Parkinson Law, wrote about this with regard to education. What happened to the schools, he asked, when plain good teaching was replaced by the imaginary science of educationalism? If one were to look for experimental results to show that people who were educated under the most modern systems, from Spock onward, are in any way better educated, better behaved, or better adjusted to the world, I do not think that one would find favorable evidence. I do not see any evidence that those children whose parents treated them in ways that ran contrary to all rules of modern psychology and modern books about how to raise children suffered as result. I have seen some of them as adults-my parents, other people's parents-and they seem to be well adjusted, nice people. On the other hand, I have seen a large number of people who grew up with the best of psychological and anthropological strategies and the best teaching methods, and not only are they poorly behaved, but they even know less for some reason. Sometimes with a simple blackboard you can teach more than with a whole laboratory of instruments.

What I am trying to say is simply that many of these so-called sciences are really no more than theories. They are pictures of existence that people built. I do not quarrel with a theorist's right to build these images and these constructions of reality. What I am countering is the claim that these pictures indeed reflect truth or real life.

* * *

Most of the clashes between Torah and madda, existentially speaking, are the result of the clashes in values between popular science and the laws of Torah. It is true that even mathematics, for example, can clash with Torah. Regarding the ratio between the diameter of a circle and its circumference, the tractate Eruvin says that the ratio is one to three, whereas the currently accepted opinion in mathematics sets the ratio at one to 3.14. This small problem is relatively inconsequential. However, in real life, when one tries to form a relationship or attempts to function in modern society, one's religious values constantly clash with concepts of the modern world, of Western culture, of "sciences" that are really only points of view. Herein lies the real conflict.

The clashes between the Western world and religion, Judaism in our particular case, are mostly the results of clashes with those theories to which people assign absolute values. The "science" of biblical criticism offers a good example of this phenomenon: Every assumption of biblical criticism that has come up against some kind of experimental check has been proven to be wrong. From the very beginning, up to our times, you can see a continuous line of mistakes. For instance, one of the minor results of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was that a whole set of theories, from dating biblical books to finding the authenticity of what is called the Masoretic text, was instantly eradicated. And yet, in many universities, people are still teaching Bible according to these erroneous, historically disproved principles!

The basic practical confrontation between Torah and science occurs when popularized hard sciences make theological claims under the guise of presenting scientific statements. Popular science penetrates everything, not only scientific, pseudoscientific, and semi-scientific books. When one reads science fiction or a novel, one gets a part of popular science with it. Even when reading comics, one encounters some form of a statement that is popular science. Many of the soft sciences contain accepted notions that are extremely difficult to uproot because they are repeated in every newspaper in the world, on the radio, and on the television. They become so overwhelming that one never thinks that there is a possibility of looking at things in a different way.

We, as a people, are ma'aminim benei ma'aminim. We are a nation of believers. If we ceased to believe in God, then at least we would believe in the New York Times! It is so; it is written so in the Holy Book! We just change the Holy Book! I remember when the holy book of Spock was everywhere-when mothers would cry if their children did not behave in accordance with Spock's description. When teachers tell their students that the truth is so and so, their students believe them. They shouldn't, but they do. And if teachers say that the world should be described in a certain format, their students believe them again. Belief is a good quality, but if one decides to be a believer, one should at least try to find a decent religion in which to believe. The religions that are so common all over the world-the psychological religion, the sociological religion, and so many others-are not decent religions.

In our society, common knowledge becomes accepted knowledge. A friend of mine told me a story about when she was teaching a class of foreign students at the Hebrew University. Among them were several Jewish students who had come from Poland in the 1950s. She was teaching a very rudimentary course about Judaism and she mentioned that the practice of human sacrifice never existed in Judaism. One of the students, a Jewish girl from Poland, stood up and said, "But please, isn't there a Jewish sect that takes blood for baking mazzah?" This student didn't invent this notion. It was common knowledge that everybody accepted as fact. She knew that her parents, not being religious Jews, did not practice this custom, but she was sure that most Jews did.

This is the case with many of our commonly held assumptions.


Excerpted from MIND, BODY AND JUDAISM Copyright © 2004 by Yeshiva University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Where do Torah and science clash? 3
Torah and science : constructs and methodology 17
Halakhah and scientific method 34
Darwin and Derash : the interplay of Torah and biology 43
Case study : diagnosis and treatment of a psychotic depressive 57
Ritual, literalism and diagnosis : thoughts provoked by a provocative essay 67
Religion and mental health : a theoretical and clinical perspective 71
"A garland for ashes" : regarding the diagnosis of religious rituality in "diagnosis and treatment of a psychotic depressive" 80
The human factor : a plea for second opinions 99
Scientific advance and the Jewish moral conscience 116
Creativity and catharsis : a theological framework for evaluating cloning 121
Cloning and its challenges 129
Human cloning : scientific, moral and Jewish perspectives 134
Cloning and the Noahide legal code 143
The case for genetic engineering 148
Cloning as a remedy for reproductive failure 153
The case against cloning 158
Human and molecular cloning : ethical dilemmas in a brave new world 164
Is a human clone a golem? 176
A matter of time : the moral status of cloning 187
The Halakhic definition of death in light of medical history 190
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