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Shalom Rosenberg
Science and Religion (Torah u-Madda) in Modern Jewish Thought. An Overview.
Editor’s Prefatory Note
In recent decades, the general topic of “science and religion” has gained new vitality. Whereas in the 1970s and 1980s it seemed to be a topic of historic interest only, in our own days it is again on the agenda in many quarters within the three Abrahamic religions, which perceive it as an acute and important intellectual and religious problem. The perplexity that Maimonides described so pertinently in the closing years of the twelfth century is still alive and well, at times as a true existential problem.
In Judaism, the theme of “science and religion” is usually termed Torah u-Madda: “Torah” refers to the totality of traditional Jewish learning and commitment; “science” (maddaʿ) denotes secular knowledge in general. Ever since Judaism encountered the Greco-Arabic philosophical and scientific tradition, in the ninth century, Jewish thinkers, both in the medieval period and, with even more vigor, in the modern period, have articulated the relationships of these two endeavors in various ways. Most works on this theme are written from a partisan perspective and expound the author’s point of view on the subject. This is what makes the text published here so valuable. In 1988, Shalom Rosenberg, then professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, edited a volume entitled Torah u-maddaʿ ba-hagut ha-yehudit ha-ḥadashah (Torah and Science in Modern Jewish Thought). Its first part (pp. 7–62) is a long introduction. The second part (pp. 65–214) is a collection of texts by various authors on the issue announced by the title.
Rosenberg’s introduction is a well-informed and very insightful overview and mapping of different stances within Judaism on the question of the relationship between Torah and scientific knowledge. Its approach is not historic, but systematic—its chief merit resides in this comprehensive typology and ordering of the multitude of positions on the issue. Although Rosenberg’s introduction (like the entire volume) is not “scholarly”—it was addressed to the general and not the academic reader—the perspicacity of its insights made me think it desirable to make it accessible to readers of English. It is offered here, under the rubric of “Treasures of the Past,” as a study that has become a classic.
Like every text, Rosenberg’s is the child of its time. It puts special emphasis on approaches that were part of the Israeli agenda in the late 1970s and the 1980s, especially those of Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. It also draws on publications that had some currency in those years but have fallen into oblivion since then (or almost so). Obviously, Rosenberg could not discuss significant treatments of the subject that had not yet been published.
I have in mind above all Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm’s Torah Umadda: The Encounter of Religious Learning and Worldly Knowledge in the Jewish Tradition
(1990).1 Taking this and other writings into consideration would have modified the picture in some of its details, but the main insights of Rosenberg’s “Introduction” remain valid and valuable.2 Torah u-maddaʿ ba-hagut ha-yehudit ha-ḥadashah, published by the Department for Religious Jewish Thought (tarbut toranit) of the Ministry of Education and Culture of Israel, was clearly addressed to the religious Jewish reader. Consequently it presupposes extensive
knowledge of Jewish lore. This made some editing inevitable if it was to be useful to English readers who lack this infrastructure. To this end, the English translation has been revised and extensively edited: quotations were completed and explanatory sentences added; in places, the order of sentences or paragraphs has been modified. One lengthy discussion had to be excluded from the text published here. The bibliographical references were mostly (but not all) verified and made more explicit; a few references were added (as the reader will easily identify). I have added very brief notes of my own, usually identified by my initials. By contrast, no attempt was made to “update” the discussion in any way. All these changes, too numerous to be indicated in the text (through brackets or notes), were introduced with the sole intention of making Rosenberg’s analyses as clear as possible for the reader. Therefore, although the text offered here is not a straightforward English translation of Rosenberg’s original, I believe that it faithfully reflects its ideas and insights. I bear full responsibility
for any departure of the English version from the original Hebrew.
1 Norman Lamm, Torah Umadda: The Encounter of Religious Learning and Worldly Knowledge in the Jewish Tradition (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1990). See also Aharon Lichtenstein, “Torah and General Culture: Confluence and Conflict,” in Jacob J. Schacter, ed., Judaism’s Encounter with Other Cultures: Rejection or
Integration? (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997), pp. 217–292.
2 Lamm’s approach (and some others) are discussed in my “Révélation et Raison, Torah et Madda dans quelques écrits récents,” in Gad Freudenthal, Jean-Pierre Rothschild, and Gilbert Dahan, eds., Torah et Science: Perspectives historiques et théoriques (Louvain: Peeters, 2001), pp. 239–267.
Gad Freudenthal
The complete text can be found here: © Aleph 15.1 (2015) pp. 65-175.


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