Bloggers note: I wrote this prior to going to the March for Science on April 22, 2017. While the march is over, I believe the teaching here remains relevant in helping to understand the relationship of Judaism to science and its deeper implications for the era of fake facts and willful ignorance that we seem to be entering.
Why I am Going to the March for Science and You Should Too
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Convener and Director of Panim Hadashot-New Faces
Friday, April 21, 2017
I am joining the March for Science tomorrow on my Sabbath day. Why am I going to this march instead of attending Shabbat morning services?
I am going as a human being who feels strongly that this march is the best expression of the value of Earth Day and the call to arms for the looming long-term danger of climate change.
I am going as an American citizen deeply alarmed about the intentional undermining of the role of scientific research and evidence in so many fields by the new administration.
I am going as a Jew because of the repudiation and manipulation of reality by our president and many of his enablers is an affront to Jewish teachings on wisdom and honesty. See Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Sages, Chapter 5, Mishnah 7 “There are seven things that characterize a golem (I will leave this Hebrew word untranslated).Â , and seven that characterize a Hacham (a wise person).
I am going as a rabbi because I believe that the deep and critical study of nature is a precondition for the study of Torah. In this view, I follow my teacher, Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher and physician of the 12th century. Maimonides “allowed the authority of Jewish revelation (Torah) to be severely constricted and even undermined in those areas where recent knowledge about the natural world appeared to challenge the wisdom of the rabbis (of the Talmud, 700-1200 years prior to Maimonides).”
Maimonides’ wrote in his classic work, The Guide for the Perplexed,
“Do not ask of me to show that everything they [the rabbis] have said concerning astronomical matters conforms to the way things really are. For at that time mathematics was imperfect. They did not speak about this as transmitters of dicta of the prophets, but rather because in those times they were sages of knowledge in these fields or because they had heard these dicta from the sages of knowledge who lived in those times.” LINK
A rabbi in our time also must also listen to the dicta from sages of knowledge who live in our time. Going beyond Maimonides we must admit that mathematics and other fields of science are never perfect and are evolving as our knowledge increases. Maimonides lived before the development of modern scientific method, but I am certain his view would have embraced modern scientific method and would have sought its findings in all fields.
Sages of knowledgeâ€ in our day test their scientific theories among their peers and their findings are public and subject to experimental challenge Denial of the efficacy of this method and of the findings it reveals, is one of the most invidious trends in our time now egged on by irresponsible government officials.
This denial and dismissal of the scientific knowledge must be opposed and challenged.
Why am I making an exception to my Shabbat practice of attending morning services and traveling to participate in the march? I am following Heschel’s example of praying with my feet. I also understand the Jewish Sabbath as a Zecher Lemaaseh Bereishit-a memorial to the act of creation. By marching I am intentionally fulfilling one of the purposes of the Sabbath day.
When people with immense power endanger the natural world and undermine the habitability of the world we are dependent on, then it is a Kum V’aseh (Stand Up and Act) moment. That is why I think that Jews who love the Sabbath should join me in attending the march. 500 marches are occurring not only in the US, but around the world. Let us Sing a Song of Shabbat and Sing a Song for the entire world.