Stuart Fickler, Ph.D.

Chapter 13 – The “Science” of Judaism


You will certainly not doubt the necessity of studying astronomy and physics, if you are desirous of comprehending the relation between the world and Providence as it is in reality, and not according to imagination. – Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed, Part I, Chapter XXXIV)


In the previous chapters, we have discovered that humanity has a God-given purpose. To fulfill that purpose, we must acquire knowledge of the true nature of God. However, our tendency to define God in our own terms and create God in our own image is a barrier. It is idolatry.

Maimonides considered the purpose of Judaism to be the total elimination of idolatry. Abraham was commanded by God to end idolatry by going out to himself. That command was the first step toward achieving our purpose. But, how does one go out to oneself? How do we overcome the perceptual distortions of our inner model of what the world should  be? The Talmud tells us God is Truth. How do we find Truth?

Obviously, a committed Jew would say, Torah contains the Truth. That person would be right. However, Maimonides and the Lubuvitcher Rebbe have told us that the Torah is given to us in the form of allegory. Sages have taught that, if we saw the total truth of the Torah before we were prepared for it, we would be overwhelmed by it.  That is the reason for the allegory of Torah (see Chapter 2). How, then, do we extract the truth from the allegory?

In the Guide for the Perplexed (Part I, Chapters XXXI – XXXIV), Maimonides presents, in considerable detail, his approach to the study of Metaphysics. He defines Metaphysics as the acquisition of “the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures” (see Chapter 3). His primary concern is its specific application to extracting Truth from Torah.

Maimonides begins with the assertion of Genesis 1: nothing exists but God and God’s works. He recognizes that direct knowledge of God is beyond our capacity. Therefore, we must come to know God through God’s works. This is reminiscent of Exodus 33, where Moses asks to see God’s glory and God replies that he can only see his back. That is, he could only see the consequences of God’s presence.

He then asks how we can come to know the true nature of God’s works. He concludes: Consequently he who wishes to attain to human perfection, must therefore first study Logic, next the various branches of Mathematics in their proper order, then Physics, and lastly Metaphysics.” With the exception of Metaphysics, this is precisely the same discipline required for training a natural scientist. Thus, Maimonides has bound Judaism and Science into an indivisible relationship. He has presented us with the “Science of Judaism”.

He has also established a clear distinction between the boundaries of Science and those of Metaphysics. Science is focused on the processes of God’s works. The concern of Metaphysics is the purpose of God’s works. Maimonides has clearly asserted that it is necessary to first understand the process.  Then, we can approach the purpose with a greater degree of certainty, a degree of certainty that is far less vulnerable to the threat of idolatry.

In this way, Maimonides has provided us with profound insight into God’s command to Abraham: “Go out to yourself." If you believe in a God who exists independently of your internal perception, you must seek God in the world beyond yourself. This is the first imperative given to the Jewish people through Abraham.

That takes care of the “go out” part of the command. What about the “to yourself” part? This again reveals the insight of Maimonides. Science is a cyclic procedure. It “goes out” to observe as objectively as possible. Then it takes what it has learned in “to itself” in order to formulate a theory (allegory). Next, it “goes out” to test the validity of the theory (demonstration). If the demonstration is supported by reality, it uses the results to extend the range of observation in the next cycle.

Can this same cyclic scientific process be applied to Metaphysics? Science selects processes for investigation that can be observed. In order to preserve objectivity, the processes must be separated from the observer as much as possible. They must be measurable to some degree. Then, they must be supported by repeated demonstrations. How can this possibly be applied to Metaphysics? Metaphysics deals with the interaction of the observer, humanity, with God and God’s Creation. The observer and the observed cannot be separated. The entire process is confounded! Or, is it?

The answer demonstrates the supernal genius of Torah. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel described Judaism as a religion in time. Paul Johnson wrote, in his A History of the Jews, “No people have ever insisted more firmly than the Jews that history has a purpose and humanity a destiny.” The Torah constructs its allegories from history. History allows us to step back and observe our role in God’s Creation. It allows us to discover the expectations and limitations that God imposes upon us. And, it provides the means of measuring ourselves with respect to our relationship with God.

Chabad teaches that true knowledge is achieved through combining binah (analysis) with chochmah (abstract conception). This Chabad concept applies equally to Science and Metaphysics.  Binah is synonymous with reason. Chochmah is synonymous with intuition and belief. Both Science and Metaphysics require a delicate balance of both. Many great discoveries of science start with intuition and are established with reason and demonstration.

The Lubuvitcher Rebbe spoke of this balance: 

Intellect is inadequate because not all things can be explained. Intellect needs faith. Faith is impotent because truth remains forever unreal. Faith needs intellect. But they are opposites, as contradictory as being and not being. Faith accepts; Intellect questions. Faith surrenders; Intellect struggles. Miraculously, there is a power that can join them in harmony. It is called wisdom: the capacity to see the truth as it is.

 Albert Einstein echoed the Rebbe: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Kabbalah teaches that Truth can only be found where opposites are harmonized.

We have discussed finding our relationship with God in God’s creation. You might still want to ask: where is God in all this? I’ll give you a clue. Einstein said:The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.

The Rebbe taught that the Torah is not in the scroll. The teachings of the Torah are in the scroll. It becomes Torah when it is within us. Then, let’s take “Our Torah” out into God’s Creation and find our relationship with God and ourselves. Lech lecha!

With God’s help, to be continued. Next time: “Back to the Future”

Emet v’chaim.