Sunday, June 28, 2009

Science and Metaphysics Are TORAH.

Professor Israel Ta-Shema discovered a book, the Sefer Hamaskil, written in 1294 by Rabbi Shlomo Simcha of Troyes, a descendant of Rashi. In Da’at 32-33 (1994), Professor Gad Freudenthal wrote an article describing in detail the philosophy this author lays out and shows how it is based on a Stoic understanding of science and the cosmos. It is on this basis that R. Shlomo Simcha believed that the cosmic air is God. I am using this extreme case to illustrate how interconnected theology (Hashkafah) and the understanding of sciences are. It is only when we know the true makeup of the universe that we can know what God is not. A wrong notion of the universe will result in a fictitious sense of what God is.

The GRA (R. Elijah Ben Solomon Zalman - 1720-1797) held that science is the handmaiden of Torah for Torah cannot be properly understood without knowing the world. Rambam goes much further than that. In a side remark[1] in a discussion of why Pessach has seven days he writes –

For the Law always tends to assimilate itself to nature, perfecting the natural matters in a certain respect. For Nature is not endowed with thought and understanding, whereas the Law is the determining ruling and the governance of the deity, who grants the intellect to all its possessors. This, however, is not the theme of the present chapter: let us return to our subject.” (MN3:43)

The Torah is an active participant in nature – “perfecting the natural matters in a certain respect”. It participates by teaching people to understand their role in nature and act in ways that are necessary for the universe to continue existing. Humanity is not just a parasitic user of one of the worlds in a greater universe but an important element that has to play a role in the long-term survival of that universe. Torah is a very broad subject where the Mitzvot are only one component. Sciences, physics and metaphysics and what we call Torah, the written and oral Law, and Mitzvot all together make up what I will refer to as “TORAH”.

In Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:11 and 12 Rambam explains that Sciences and Metaphysics make up a part of Talmud which is a component of Limud Hatorah. (I am lazy to translate the whole segments so I will only do so with the sentences that prove my point).

וחייב לשלש את זמן למידתו: שליש בתורה שבכתב; ושליש בתורה שבעל פה; ושליש
יבין וישכיל אחרית דבר מראשיתו, ויוציא דבר מדבר, וידמה דבר לדבר, וידין
במידות שהתורה נדרשת בהן עד שיידע היאך הוא עיקר המידות והיאך יוציא האסור
והמותר וכיוצא בהן מדברים שלמד מפי השמועה--ועניין זה, הוא הנקרא תלמוד.

And this [analyzing the acquired information] is called Talmud.

And a little further –

כיצד: היה בעל אומנות--יהיה עוסק במלאכה שלוש שעות ביום, ובתורה תשע:
אותן התשע--קורא בשלוש מהן, בתורה שבכתב; ובשלוש, בתורה שבעל פה; ובשלוש,
מתבונן בדעתו להבין דבר מדבר. ודברי קבלה, בכלל תורה שבכתב הן; ופירושן,
בכלל תורה שבעל פה; והעניינות הנקראין פרדס, בכלל התלמוד.

And the matters referred to as Pardes are a part of Talmud.

So far, we see clearly that “Pardes” [literally an orchard] is a part of TORAH more specifically the section called Talmud. But what is Pardes?

In Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 4:13

וענייני ארבעה פרקים אלו שבחמש מצוות האלו--הם שחכמים הראשונים קוראין אותן פרדס, כמו שאמרו ארבעה נכנסו לפרדס

The subjects {physics and metaphysics] covered in the above four chapters [Yesodei Hatorah 1-4] that are included in these five Mitzvot [(i) Know God, (ii) not think that there is another god besides God, (iii) declare His uniqueness, (iv) to love Him, (v) to fear Him] are what the sages refer to as Pardes…

The first two chapters of Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah present Rambam’s understanding of metaphysics followed by two chapters that explain the world based on Aristotelian Physics. These subjects need to be known to adequately perform the five Mitzvot Asseh I enumerated[2].

Rambam then proceeds to put all this into its proper perspective.

ואני אומר שאין ראוי להיטייל בפרדס, אלא מי שנתמלא כרסו לחם ובשר; ולחם
ובשר זה, הוא לידע ביאור האסור והמותר וכיוצא בהן משאר המצוות. ואף על פי
שדברים אלו, דבר קטן קראו אותם חכמים, שהרי אמרו חכמים דבר גדול מעשה
מרכבה, ודבר קטן הוויה דאביי ורבא; אף על פי כן, ראויין הן להקדימן: שהן
מיישבין דעתו של אדם תחילה, ועוד שהן הטובה הגדולה שהשפיע הקדוש ברוך הוא
ליישוב העולם הזה, כדי לנחול חיי העולם הבא. ואפשר שיידעם הכול--גדול
וקטן, איש ואישה, בעל לב רחב ובעל לב קצר

And I say that one should not promenade in the Pardes only once one has filled his stomach with meat and bread. Meat and bread is a metaphor for knowing the explanation of what is forbidden and permissible and other such matters in the other [in addition to the five discussed here] Mitzvot. Although the sages refer to these matters as a small thing, for the sages said “great matter is the workings of the chariot” and a small matter is the discussion of Abaye and Rava, they still should come first[3]. They settle a persons mind and additionally they are the great good that HKBH bestowed to the inhabitants of this world, for them to inherit Olam Haba. All, adult and child, man and woman [note: woman too], a person with a broad mind or one with a limited one, can know it.

The Rambam I am quoting here and its implications are extremely broad and a thorough discussion would require many posts and I hope one day to do that, but I want to stay on subject. Basically, we read that there are five Mitzvot Asseh that we are required to perform but cannot do so correctly before we have acquainted ourselves with “the forbidden and permissible”. It also tells us that “the forbidden and permissible” is a tool given to humankind for it to be able to develop and acquire Olam Haba[4]. The acquisition of Olam Haba however can be had only after acquainting oneself with the whole TORAH, which includes Pardes. Clearly, Pardes, namely science and metaphysics, are part of TORAH and in fact are a goal that one has to aspire to grow into being able to apprehend correctly by keeping the Mitzvot – “the forbidden and permissible”. The Mitzvot are thus a stepping-stone to prepare us to have a correct understanding of our world which is the ultimate goal. Sciences are not a handmaiden for Torah but the other way around; “the forbidden and permissible” – what we routinely refer to as Torah, are tools for us to learn the sciences and metaphysics so that we know the whole of TORAH.

[1] To appreciate the importance of side remarks in Moreh Hanevuchim see Rambam’s introduction – In studying each chapter, do not content yourself with comprehending its principal subject, but also to grasp every word mentioned therein, even if that word does not belong to the intention of the chapter.

[2] Although the Aristotelian model has been shown to be wrong, the approach that our world functions by scientific rules and is not controlled by supernatural forces is still very relevant.
[3] The discussion of Abaye and Rava is an example of the Halachik discourse which makes up “the explanation of what is forbidden and permissible”. Rambam is saying that one must first know the Halacha before entertaining theology.
[4] See Hilchot Teshuvah chapter 9 for how this works.


  1. In an area where science conflicts with Torah what do you suggest we do? Rabbi Slifkin works to reconcile and to reinterpret Torah to fit science. But should we be so quick to reconcile the words of true chachamim to theories that are constantly changing?
    To reject science is ludicrous so how can we strike a balance between the scriptures and science?
    As a scientist should my work be influenced in any way by scripture?

  2. Anonymous,

    We have to differentiate between supposed science- torah conflicts in the written text of the torah. I am not talking historical but e.g. zoological issues. I was never too bothered maybe because I am not a zoologist but Rabbi Slifkin is trying to address those. The problem is that the difficulties are based on translations and interpretations that may not be authentic. Re the supposed physics in the Torah that never bothered me because i never read it as such but rather as ontological explanations for existence.

    Now re the Rabbis even when it has halachik implications I believe they did the best with the knowledge they had and they could have erred. Some areas we are committed and cannot change for now until sanhedrin return and others we can. See Rabbi Buchman's article at .

    Re your last question - yes your work should be influenced ontologically. You should always remeber that after all the answers you may find to scientific puzzles you ultimately do not know where all this came from and came into being and probably never will. that is where religion and scripture come into play to help understand the larger existential question.

    In short truth is the goal without compromise whatsoever.