July 17, 2024
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TABC, Keter Torah and Shaarei Orah Host Oneg With MIT Professor Jeremy England

On Shabbat evening, more than 50 people filled the Jachter home for a question and answer session with MIT Professor Jeremy England. Dr. England, a passionate and articulate Orthodox Jew, is a Nobel Prize-track scientist who has developed breakthrough approaches to reconciling Torah with contemporary science. Dr. England, included in Forbes 2012’s list of 30 under 30 top science researchers, is known by many in the scientific community as “the next Darwin.”

Priority was granted to anyone under 20 to pose questions to Dr. England. He felt that many youngsters struggle with the apparent conflicts between Torah and science and wanted to provide an opportunity for them to air their concerns with the “expert.” Dr. England succeeded in connecting with his audience and the session lasted well past the scheduled end time.

The evening began with Dr. England elaborating on a statement he made in a video presentation entitled, “Orthodox Jewish All Star, Dr. Jeremy England, ‘The Next Darwin,’” which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crJ7cPFN5ug. In it, he said, “I do not think there is any problem with being both a scientist while also having a commitment to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and Torah. I would almost go so far to say that those who see a strong tension there either need to have a subtler understanding of Torah or what science is, or both.”

Dr. England further noted, “We live in a time and a place where everyone around us talks about the models natural scientists have made of the world as though this is what actually is, as though the job of a scientist is just to turn over rocks and discover things that are intrinsically true about the world. In fact what scientists do is make persuasive cases for models that they themselves concoct. This doesn’t mean these models are lies, but it does mean that there are multiple compelling ways of characterizing the same world that need not be mutually translatable in a precise sense, and the question of what accounts we need most urgently in order to accomplish avodat Hashem (service of God) is presumably the one with which the Torah is concerned.”

In what was probably a highlight of the night Dr. England responded to a student’s query as to his decision to become observant. Dr. England related that during his exploration of Judaism he discovered writers and teachers such as Great Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs and legendary Yeshivat Har Etzion Rosh Yeshiva Rav Ezra Bick. His reaction to this exposure was that nothing in his education (which included studies at the world’s premier universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Oxford and Princeton) better captured the essence of the human condition than the Tanach and Chazal.

Dr. England related that he adopted a “Na’aseh V’Nishma” approach. He believed, and only then did he seek to make sense out of the conflicts between Torah and science. He told the crowded room that one should not approach these issues by feeling we need to justify Torah by proving it with science (though he conceded that there might be some limited value in that). Rather we should grapple with issue by recognizing that the Divine Author of the Torah is very much aware of the science and it is our task to deeply ponder as to what purpose He occasionally presents points that seem at odds with science.

The youngsters and adults were enthralled by Professor England’s creative interpretations of many and varied sections of Tanach and Chazal to arrive at a deeper understanding of the matters at hand. Dr. England approaches Torah with a Rabbi Akiva-style out of the box thinking that is both captivating and satisfying.

A special thank you to Congregation Keter Torah and Rav Shalom Baum for making this spectacular evening possible.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

Rabbi Haim Jachter is a rebbe at TABC and rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah.

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