Rick Santorum, the Pope, and the Menorah (B'haalot'cha)

Earlier this week, presidential hopeful Rick Santorum criticized Pope Francis for getting involved in scientific matters. In the past year, the Pope has urged his more than one billion followers to act more responsibly toward our earth and our resources. Santorum, a Catholic himself, was quoted as saying, The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists.

It's certainly true that religion continues to sometimes place a stumbling block before the progress of scientific advancement. One needs to only refresh their memory of high school science to wince at the treatment of thinkers such as Socrates, Galileo ... Einstein.

Given these historical realities, is it the case that religious thought operates under a completely different paradigm than scientific thought? Should religious thinkers completely excise scientific discourse from their thinking and writing?

In a twist of irony, it is the case that Pope Francis is a scientist, as he received a Masters degree in Chemistry prior to becoming a priest. But regardless, the question still stands: Do religion and science belong in two different worlds, and never the twain shall meet?

This week's Torah portion has something to say about this.

B'haalot'cha begins with God instructing Moses about several accoutrements to be found in the tabernacle. One of them is the Menorah: When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lamp stand. This menorah that stood in the temple had six branches, with a slightly raised seventh branch in the middle. This Menorah is of course a bit different than the menorah we light on Hannukah, the Hannukiyah.

The Menorah has become one of the most recognizable and powerful symbols in Judaism. This seven-branched m'norah is the seal of the State of Israel, symbolizing faith, determination, strength, knowledge and tradition.

One of my favorite teachings refers to this Menorah. It comes from Isaac Luria, a 16th century scholar who is considered to be the founder of Kabbalah. He taught that the six branches of the Menorah represent rational, scientific thought and observation. The center light represents the light of the Torah.

Maimonides thought similarly. He used the philosophical teachings of non-Jewish thinkers like Plato and Aristotle in constructing his Jewish world-view. Luria and Maimonides teach us that a life of Torah must explore outside of the words of Torah.

...

When he was persecuted by the Catholic Church, Galileo wrote a letter. He said that God wrote two different books. One is the book of creation and revelation. The other is the book of science and observation. Since God wrote both books, he argued, they are both equally important and, what's more, they both must be 'read' together.

Religion and science do indeed speak to each other.

As Luria's teaching suggests, Judaism challenges us to constantly incorporate modern life into our Jewish lives, replete with its scientific discoveries and technological advancements, with Jewish thought and theology.

But we must also remember that without the Torah, all of our rational and scientific discoveries are just unlit candles. It is the spark of Torah that ignites them. The spark of wonder, of community, faith, hope, tradition ... Only together do these create the beautiful Menorah.

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