Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 22 March 2014 / 20 Adar II 5774

Spiritual Science

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Adam

Dear Rabbi,

Why is science so harmful and unharmonious with G-d’s Creation? Would a Torah approach to science be better for the world? If so, shouldn’t Jews set an example by being a “Light unto the Nations” in this regard as well?

Dear Adam,

I don’t agree that science, per se, is harmful and incongruous with G-d’s Creation. On the contrary, I think science, which better enables us to understand and appreciate Creation, can be used as a powerful tool to reveal G-dliness in the Creation.

If there’s something that’s potentially harmful associated with science, it’s not the knowledge of it, but rather the application of it — for example, in the form of technology and industry.

That’s certainly not to say that technology and industry are inherently harmful. But since the impetus for advancement in these fields is mainly material gain and efforts devoid of any spiritual, G-dly considerations, the result may likely be harmful to the world in some way.

If spiritual and Torah ideas were guiding the application of scientific knowledge, it’s possible that its effect would be more wholly beneficial for the world. The Torah Laws and teachings regarding Shabbat, the Sabbatical year, agricultural practices, the treatment of animals, the preservation of natural resources, the relationship between industry and the environment and many other areas, all aim at finding a proper balance and fusion between spiritual and material interests.

Since these values are from the Torah, they would, as you suggest, also be included in our mandate to be a “Light among the Nations”. Torah-observant individuals and communities certainly have room for improvement in these areas, but insofar as the Torah commands us to interact with the world in a way that is harmonious with G-d’s will, we should set a good example.

One might argue that the potential impact of “spiritual science” on the world would be negligible and therefore unrealistic. But it is interesting to consider how much environmental concern groups, over decades of consistent and persistent effort, have affected environmental policy, legislation and compliance.

If the Torah world is not in a position to lead these efforts, we should at least sympathize with their efforts while simultaneously interacting with the Creation according to the will of the Creator — sparingly, sensitively and with the aim of preservation and elevation, not depletion and destruction.

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