Scuba: In Search of the Sacred

“Leibush,” I turned to my office mate one day and said, “I think the crucial difference between the ways we view our religious imperative boils down to this: You believe that the only thing that is important in the whole world is to serve God, while I believe that what is important is to use the whole world in the service of God.” This was 20 years ago, and I had just finished my “4-2″ joint program at Yeshiva University and Columbia, graduating with a B.S. in Physics and a Masters in Electrical Engineering. Next was a job at the …
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That ’70s Song

Road Trip! My wife, Judy, and I just got back from a driving marathon – New Jersey to Charlottesville, Virginia and back in two days. Six hours each way, and regardless of how much caffeine, taurine, or yerba extract you ingest, keeping your eyes open behind the wheel is still a challenge. Luckily, our rental car had satellite radio with over a hundred stations, including channel 7 with non-stop ’70s music. I just celebrated my 52nd birthday (Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” came out in ’78), which means the ’70s were my formative years – end of elementary school, high school, and a …
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Hasidic Rebels

Night after night the pauper Eizik of Cracow dreams of a treasure waiting for him underneath a bridge in far-away Prague. So begins the famous Hasidic tale attributed to Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshiskhe and retold by Elie Wiesel in his book “Souls on Fire.” When Eizik finally decides to make the long trek to Prague, he is taunted at the entrance of the city by the captain of the guards who mocks him for believing in silly dreams. “You Jews are even more stupid than I thought! Now look at me, such as you see me here, if I …
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Anti-Kosher

Keeping kosher is not a simple matter – particularly if you travel. A day of meetings fueled only by cups of coffee culminates in the airport with a bag of Market Fresh (or not so fresh) carrots. And so, stomach rumbling, you begin to reflect on why you adhere to this diet-constricting lifestyle. There are those who maintain that the dietary laws of the Bible are essentially health related, a throwback to the days when eating pig meat could lead to trichinosis or some such disease. I think that approach misses a crucial central point, namely that kosher has little …
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Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

“It’s obvious from the bloated stomach and the advanced state of decomposition, that this body has been dead for between 16 and 18 days.” That kind of pronouncement is exactly what “H” might say on a typical CSI episode, with overly dramatic pauses thrown in for effect and the all-important removal of the sunglasses just before the last word. But did you ever wonder how medical examiners actually discovered that type of information? Or about the kind of scientists who spent their lives researching such a gruesome subject? Death’s Acre, a wonderful book that I just finished reading, is the …
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Saying Goodbye to Nili

Last week we said goodbye to our baby. Well, technically she was never “our” baby, but for nearly five incredible months Nili (not her real name), a beautiful, delicate-featured newborn baby girl lived with us, until last week when she was officially adopted by her new family. For whatever reason, her biological mother was unable to raise her, and so until all the bureaucratic details for adoption were worked out, we took care of her, and loved her with all our hearts. We saw her very first smile, heard her first gurgles and laugh, clapped wildly for her the first …
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Iron Man, Archimedes, and Iron Dome

Last night I watched the movie Iron Man with my son Eyal. I love that film – not only for the great action, but also for the quick dialogue and Tony Stark’s wry, sharp banter. At one point, a young liberal reporter corners Stark and challenges him on the morality of being a weapons manufacturer. Tony: It’s an imperfect world, but it’s the only one we’ve got. I guarantee you, the day weapons are no longer needed to keep the peace, I’ll start making bricks and beams for baby hospitals. My old man had a philosophy, “Peace means having a …
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Torah and Science, Redux

This past weekend I had the pleasure of being a scholar in residence in Congregation  Keneseth Beth Israel in Richmond, Virginia. Among the topics I discussed was an article I had written on Judaism and Darwinian Evolution. That paper appeared over twenty years ago, and a good part of it is devoted to discussing the conflict between science and religion in general and Judaism in specific. In my lecture, I took the opportunity to revisit the topic and wondered what, if anything has changed over the past two decades. My trip coincided with my having just finished reading a biography …
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(Why) Did God Send Sandy?

(This post is going to try something a little different, a joint blog – a “diablog” – if you will. My father-in-law, Professor Leo Taubes’ comments will follow mine.) For many religious people, the most natural thing about a natural disaster is the subsequent attempt to find spiritual meaning in the destruction and to engage in justification of its Divine cause. Rabbi Natan Slifkin discusses this in his blog “The Theology of Sandy,” and tells of his conversation with one Rabbi who sought to attribute the reason for the hurricane’s devastating effects to the iniquities of Atlantic City. These kinds …
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My Friend the Numerologist

Let me say from the get go that I don’t put much stock in numerology. But before dissing the discipline too much, let me also say that Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest scientist of all time, spent most of his later years immersed in numerology trying to decipher the secrets of the end of days hidden in numerical code within the Old Testament – primarily the book of Daniel. We ordinary people experience the world through a mere 5 muggle senses – yet even those boring senses can evoke so many emotions. When we see the sun set, we are deeply …
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