Tenth Dr. Morry S. Fox
Miami International Torah
& Science Conference
"Beginnings, Endings & Renewals: Conversations Between Torah Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge about the Universe, Human life and the Mind"

2013 Presenters

Professor Nathan Aviezer

Professor Barry
Baumel, MD

Professor Joseph Bodenheimer

Professor Daniel Drubach

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

Rabbi Simon Jacobson

Professor Nathan Katz

Professor Yakir
Kaufman, MD

Rabbi Barry M. Kinzbrunner, MD

Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar

Professor John D. Loike

Professor Vera Schwarcz

Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD

Rabbi Professor Moshe Dovid Tendler

Professor Jason Wolfe

PRESENTERS’ ABSTRACTS (in alphabetical order)

Professor Nathan Aviezer
From Spinoza to Hawking: Analysis and Critique

Philosophers and scientists often claim that nothing exists except the physical universe. That is, what cannot be measured does not exist. This idea is central to the 1774 treatise, Ethics, by philosopher Baruch Spinoza, as well as to the 1796 treatise, Exposition of the System of the World, by physicist PierreSimon Laplace. Very recently, this idea has once again been proclaimed by cosmologist Stephen Hawking in his 2010 book, The Grand Design.

Hawking’s book presents his new theory for the beginning of the universe, in which he generalizes Big Bang cosmology to include String Theory and Quantum Theory, and he asserts that “the creation of the universe follows directly from the laws of physics, making G-d unnecessary.” Hawking’s book became an instant best-seller, to the delight of the atheists. Leading atheist Richard Dawkins gloats: “Darwin kicked G-d out of biology, and now Hawking has administered the coup de grace.” The fundamental error in the loud claims of Dawkins and Hawking will be explained, basing myself on the important principle: “Absence of proof is not proof of absence.”

The purpose of the talk is thus twofold: (i) to present simply and clearly, in layman terms, the scientific content of Hawking’s new theory, and (ii) to point out the fallacies of the conclusions regarding G-d claimed by Spinoza, Laplace, Hawking, and Dawkins.

Dr. Barry Baumel
“Dialogue on Epigenetics”

The epigene has been discussed as a similar to genetic element that attaches itself to the gene non-biologically and creates changes in a persons living pattern (Pembrey, Bygren and Golding, European Journal of Human Genetics, 2006).

In Chassidic philosophy there is very intense discussion and analysis regarding the commonalities between nurture and nature—that which enters the person through habit or behavioral proclivity and that which is genetically wired into that person from birth.  At times the acquired habits/nurture transformed to a state of nature is indistinguishable from  nature itself and can even at times exert much greater influence on our behavior.

This presentation will postulate how this distinction is identified and how one can make alterations or adjustments in the powerful epigene.

Prof. Joseph S Bodenheimer
A Fresh Look at Genesis

Developments in our understanding of nature have produced over recent decades new attempts to reconcile Genesis with science, among others by Aviezer, Schroeder, and Fain. From the Torah perspective, various approaches have been presented by Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Rabbi Y.B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi M. Breuer, and others. It is the objective of this presentation to take a fresh look at the opening chapters of Genesis and, taking into account the above material, to propose some new insights and observations on the text. The beginning of Genesis follows three general divisions: ten proclamations (ma’amarot), seven time periods (yamim), and three Creation ex-nihilo steps (bri’ah). Understanding the relationship between these divisions enables a new comprehension of the order of the text, e.g., why the emergence of vegetation on the third day precedes the appearance of the sun and the moon on the fourth Day. The fundamental transcendence of humankind to the remainder of nature becomes evident, and the continuity enigma between the first and second chapters of Genesis, seemingly in irreconcilable conflict, is resolved. The terminology used by the Torah in Chapter 1 and thereafter, is explained consistently.

Some parts of this talk have been presented at the first Memorial Lecture for Professor Cyril Domb in Jerusalem earlier this year.

Prof. Daniel A. Drubach, MD
The Beginning and End of the Mind; a Neuroscience and Jewish Perspective

The mind is the aspect of the self that deals with cognition, metacognition and emotional processing. The physical correlate of the mind is the brain; the mind-brain relationship is "an age old question" which is poorly understood, although some recent models may shed some light on this issue. Still, the brain is a physical entity, amenable to be measured, visualized under a microscope and studied through various molecular, physiological, and more recently functional imaging techniques. The mind is metaphysical, inaccessible to be measured with physical instruments. We do know that the physical formation of the brain begins quite early after conception, and that the process is highly regulated by genetic expression. In recent years, however, evidence has emerged that there is fetal brain activity which can be conceived as some form of "mind activity". System plasticity, the molding of the brain to environmental interaction may take place long before birth and may determine future features of the mind. Processes such as sleep-wake cycles begin long before birth and these may be associated with certain cognitive functions (such as some form of dreaming). From birth on, the mind is a highly dynamic entity that is in a state of perpetual change to meet the cognitive and ontological demands and expectations of the individual. "Mind plasticity,” the change in mind functions, is mirrored at a physical level by "brain plasticity.”  Mind activity, with ongoing change persists throughout the lifetime of an individual, although certain features may vary with age. In this presentation we will discuss the definition of the mind, the neural structures involved in its function, as well as the time frames for both the beginning and the end of mind.  We will also discuss the Jewish perspective on this matter.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
The Blossoming of Consciousness: Stages of Sentience in Halacha

Human consciousness develops in sudden bursts, followed by gradual blossoming. Each of these stages is pertinent to Jewish law and has been discussed at length by the classic talmudic scholars. This talk will present a small survey of key points of these discussions, suggesting ways to apply this knowledge to facilitate greater peace of mind in an increasingly busy world.

Professor Manfred Gerstenfeld, PHD
“The Jewish Perspective on the World as a Resource”

Concepts of sustainability are central to the Jewish worldview. If we want to understand how Judaism views the topic of resources, we can follow two types of analysis. The first one is to study biblical texts. The second approach is to examine Jewish law. The initial message of the Bible’s world view on the use of resources is clear: Adam and Eve were vegetarians and had no need for animals or meat, resources were abundant, there was no pollution in Paradise, no shortage.

The story of the Jews in the desert is a major narrative of the ideal use of resources. One type of food took care of all the Israelites’ needs and it was totally absorbed in their bodies. Clothes and sandals did not wear out. Another aspect of environmental importance concerns human food in the Messianic era, as will be described. The main base for our discussion however, is Jewish law. Jewish law prohibits the use of certain resources, mainly foods. One is also not permitted to wear an item of clothing which contains wool and linen mixed together. Nature should be protected in specific ways according to God’s detailed commandments, regardless of whether man considers them logical. One central commandment for the protection of natural resources is the principle of bal tashhit, do not destroy, which has expanded far beyond cutting down fruit trees. It prohibits the use of more than necessary to accomplish any given task.

Animal welfare and assuring that they are kept away from harm or pain, are fundamental principles of Jewish law which protect animals. When a Jew rests on Shabbat, his ox and donkey must also rest. Abusive land use and widespread erosion are nowadays considered among the most serious threats to sustainability. Another biblical law embodying significant sustainability elements is that of the Sabbatical year (shmitah), which guarantees soil protection. From contemporary economic and environmental viewpoints, the sabbatical as well as the jubilee years express two important sub-categories of modern environmental concern: land use policies and the preservation of natural resources. The concept that the land ultimately belongs to God is further expressed through the commandment in which one must bring the first fruits to the Temple.

The jubilee year marks the end of seven sabbatical cycles. “The land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me. Throughout the land that you hold, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”

It will be shown that Jewish tradition provides us with a hierarchy of ‘useful purposes’ with regard to using resources. Using resources in a way that violates this hierarchy of values is considered wasteful behavior and prohibited by Jewish law.

In modern times, one of the issues is experimentation on animals. A leading halakhic authority of the twentieth century, Rabbi Y.M. Weinberg, has stated that the elimination of human pain and suffering is more important than the prevention of animal pain. Another major contemporary authority, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg also deemed medical experimentation permissible. He stressed however, that efforts must be made to minimize the animal’s pain. The issue of using animal furs has also led to questions in Jewish law. In conclusion, it will be shown that the Jewish perspective toward resources is a thoughtful, careful and detailed approach. Resources are here to serve humanity, but we are told to show self-restraint and abstain from wanton destruction as well as excessive consumption. Humankind should take a measured approach toward nature. This is not only so because of self-interest, but out of a responsible attitude toward the natural and social environments.

Judaism teaches that nature is G-d’s property—He can do with it as He pleases. He can destroy parts of it as He sees fit. He can use it to reward and punish humanity and also specific people. Natural resources that He has made available to Man should not be abused. There is clearly a triangular relationship between G-d, man and nature, and to the Jewish People He has made natural resources available under much more specific conditions.

Yakir Kaufman, MD
The Beginning and End of the Mind

Beginning and end imply a hierarchy, a range within which something takes place. What is the hierarchy in which the mind functions? According to neuroscience, activity of the mind starts with an input of primary perception that continues to be generated by secondary and tertiary perceptions until there is a motor output. This paradigm is quite vague. The inner wisdom of the Torah, which encompasses the knowledge of existence, describes a grander, clearer pathway in which a healthy mind can develop self-reflection and guide a person’s emotions, thought and behavior, therefore enabling a higher level of spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being.

We harness neuroscience in order to improve humankind. Therefore, the hypothesis-driven model of neuroscience could benefit by learning from the dynamic kabbalistic model in order to understand the beginning and end of the mind.

Professor Barry M. Kinzbrunner, MD, FACP, PAAHPM,
Vitas Healthcare Corporation, Miami, FL
“Medical and Halakhic Aspects of End of Life Care"

While Judaism teaches that life is of infinite value, Ecclesiastes tells us that “…there is a time to live and a time to die….” Based on both Talmudic and Midrashic sources, we also learn that our patriarch Jacob actually asked G-d to create terminal illness in order allow us to have time to settle our affairs before death. Hence, the detailed account of his death in the last four chapters of Genesis. In spite of this, many rabbis are reluctant to allow patients under their consultation to access hospice services during the last phases of life. This is due to a number of barriers and misconceptions regarding how care is provided in a hospice program. Key barriers, including overall decision-making near the end of life, the management of pain, do-notresuscitate orders vs. cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and artificial nutrition and hydration, will be discussed from a medical perspective in order to show how they can be managed in ways consistent with medical Halachah.

Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Does life ever end?

All mortal life seems to be governed by the universal law: Everything dies.

But is that true? Science today has established that nothing truly disappears. Matter turns into energy. Water becomes gas. Even when organic bodies deteriorate and perish they are simply changing form. Life does not actually end. It metamorphoses from one state to another.But long before modern science, the Torah offers us an astonishing and sophisticated perspective on the eternal nature of life. We cannot understand mortality and immortality without first analyzing the very fiber of life. What is life? What is death? What is a soul, where does it come from and where does it go to after death? What lies behind the curtain of life as we know it?

This lecture will dissect the enigmatic biblical narrative about the genesis of life and death. It will uncover and explore the scriptural, Talmudic and mystical roots describing the fascinating complexion of life; compare different definitions of life and death – from the biological to the spiritual -- and draw parallels to the latest discoveries in physics and medicine, arriving at a most enthralling conclusion: Life never ends. 

Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar
“Dialogue on Epigenetics”

The epigene has been discussed as a similar to genetic element that attaches itself to the gene non-biologically and creates changes in a persons living pattern (Pembrey, Bygren and Golding, European Journal of Human Genetics, 2006).

In Chassidic philosophy there is very intense discussion and analysis regarding the commonalities between nurture and nature—that which enters the person through habit or behavioral proclivity and that which is genetically wired into that person from birth.  At times the acquired habits/nurture transformed to a state of nature is indistinguishable from  nature itself and can even at times exert much greater influence on our behavior.

This presentation will postulate how this distinction is identified and how one can make alterations or adjustments in the powerful epigene.

Professor John D. Loike, PHD
“New Biotechnological Ways to Begin Life”

Cloning Technology has been used successfully over the past fifteen years for over twenty different species to produce embryonic stem cells or for reproductive purposes. The application of this technology for human cloning, however, has been a scientific challenge until very recently. In May of 2013, a seminal paper was published, in the journal Cell, that described innovative cloning technology used to create human embryonic stem cell lines from healthy individuals and from patients with genetic diseases. These scientists were not interested in using this technology for human reproduction to clone people. Nonetheless, this technology is transforming theoretical human reproductive cloning into a potential reality. The possibilities enabled by this recent breakthrough in cloning technology raises significant and challenging Halachic issues. In this presentation, the scientific basis of this technology will be presented as well as the Halachic issues that emerge from this technology.

The Halachic resolution of these issues will be addressed by Rabbi Professor Moshe Tendler and Rabbi Avraham Steinberg.

Professor Vera Schwarcz
“Learning Not to Overstep the Line: Reflections on Life’s Boundaries in
Chinese & Jewish Thought”

At fifteen, I set my heart on learning… At seventy I followed what my heart desired without transgressing the line. Confucius, “The Analects” At fifteen the study of Talmud… At seventy, fullness of years… (Mishnah, Pirkei Avot)

Thinking comparatively about the beginning and the end of life can enrich our understanding of both cultural and biological paradigms for optimal survival. This paper draws upon key themes in Confucian and Jewish tradition to illustrate different strategies for mapping a person’s journey from life to death. In the process, we shall find radically different definitions of “learning,” “wisdom,” “accomplishment,” and “failure.”

To suggest, as the Zohar and the Tanya do, that the ending is embedded in the beginning will be shown to be also a key insight for Confucian thought as well. The journey from life to death is not one of devolution but an act of radical return that gives meaning and depth to each stage traversed by the individual—and the human community as a whole. Neither Judaism nor Confucianism limited definitions of “life” and “death” to one culture alone. Each offers distinctive angles of vision upon a broadly human predicament that knows no temporal or geographical bounds.

In both cultural traditions the successful completion of the human journey depends upon discovering and accepting the limitations that ethics imposes upon individual behavior. Knowing and staying “within the bounds” will be shown to be key to genuine transcendence.

Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD
“The Definition of Fatherhood and Its Contemporary Halakhic Significance”

Fatherhood is one of the most basic concepts; yet, we do not find in Talmudic
and Rishonim sources a direct definition of this term. Deduced from various Halachot, a father is defined as the man from whose sperm a woman became pregnant and delivered a child. In ancient times, this could happen only after direct relationship between a man and a woman. Modern fertility technologies enable the introduction of sperm into the womb of a woman without body contact between them—artificial insemination.

Moreover, it is possible to obtain sperm from a man, save it frozen and inseminate it into a woman after the man dies. Even more striking is the option to obtain sperm after the man dies and to inseminate it into a woman.

Are the men in the above examples defined by Jewish law as fathers of the offspring?
In the future, it might be possible to have offspring not only without direct contact between a man and a woman, but even without using sperm. This is the situations of cloning. How would fatherhood be defined in various situations of cloning?

These queries and answers will be discuss the presentation on the definition
of fatherhood.

Rabbi Professor Moshe Dovid Tender
“Halachic Parameters of ART (Assisted Reproduction Technology)"

This presentation will focus on several Halachic (ethical/moral) dilemmas resulting from widely used ART.

1. Risk / Benefit Evaluations

2. Sperm banks are a multimillion dollar industry, with reports of 150

a. Ovum “donation:” the donor must be prepared with nonphysiologically safe dosages of reproductive hormones to force multiple ovulations. Retrieval of the ovum is a surgical procedure.

b. In surrogacy, the surrogate assumes the health stresses of pregnancy and birth. Are both procedures in violation of the Torah law forbidding self injury even for monetary compensation? children sired by one donor. Does the use of donor sperm raise a concern for accidental incest?

3. Determining parenthood and “Jewishness”

4. If the report of successful production of human embryonic stem

a. Both in ovum donation and in surrogacy the question of who is the mother arises—the gestational mother or the biological (DNA) mother.

cells (cloning) proves accurate (reported in Nature, May 15, 2013, and questioned on May 30, 2013) a new set of complex dilemmas requiring further Halachic analysis arises.

Professor Jason Wolfe
“Death of the Whole by Death of the Parts”

“Arise and depart from amid the upheaval” – from Lekha Dodi, Shabbat evening hymn
Whether an organism dies by accident, murder, disease, or old age, ultimately that death results from the death or malfunction of a sufficient number of cells that make up the organism—often cells in critical organs such as the brain or heart. For example, if an artery bringing blood to the heart becomes constricted or is torn, those heart cells that depend on the artery’s supply of oxygen and nutrients may die, possibly leading to the failure of the heart and death of the organism. Similarly, but for different reasons, cumulative cell death in the brain can lead to Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other forms of dementia.

Surprisingly, most cells die by a mechanism that could almost be described as “voluntary.” Deprivation of nutrients triggers a molecular pathway that causes the cell to self-destruct by a mechanism that involves precise snipping of DNA into small pieces, the degradation of the cell’s internal skeletal system, outpouching of cell fragments and the uptake and digestion of those fragments by neighboring cells.

All multicellular organisms demonstrate this type of cell death; it is a well conserved mechanism throughout evolutionary history, involving the same genes and proteins. Moreover, the proteins involved in cell death are pre-manufactured in all cells.  That means that the system, the pathway that leads to cell death, is already in place even in healthy cells, and can be triggered instantaneously by the right signals. These facts suggest that regulated cell death is essential for the life of an organism. That seems like a paradox. How could a mechanism that leads to cell death be essential for the life of the organism? Regulated cell death is Janus-like, contributing, to the viablitiy of an organism or to its death, depending on the circumstances. In this presentation I will describe the characteristics of regulated cell death, discuss the ways in which it is essential for the life of the organism, how it can save an organism from cancer, and how it can be triggered by faults in a cell and contribute to the death of an organism.

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