What is the view of the relationship between religion and
by Howard Greenstein
of the fundamental precepts of Judaism is that everything in the
universe is a unified whole, that there are no dichotomies between
the physical and the spiritual, or between the sacred and the mundane.
A corollary of this conviction is that our ethics also flows from
this universal harmony; reality will not permit double standards,
be they in matters physical or moral.
Unity is an essential key to understanding how all existence functions.
informs us that the universe is indeed one in ways our ancestors
could not even have imagined. Time and space are one; we are told
that they are in fact aspects of the same ultimate reality.
have also learned that matter and energy are one. As difficult as
it may be for some to understand, one may even speak of matter as
energy at rest; energy may simply be matter in motion.
further add that the organic and inorganic are actually one; they
no longer think in terms of total separation between animate and
inanimate life forms. The potential for life was present even before
life itself first appeared; viruses, for example, may well be a
transition or bridge between the inorganic and organic.
now know, as our ancestors could only have hoped, that the same
physical laws that operate on a macro scale also apply in the same
way on a micro scale. With the benefit of the most powerful radio
telescopes, we can now confirm that the chemical elements that make
up the components of our own bodies exist as well in the farthermost
reaches of outer space. The movement of protons, electrons and neutrons
within the atom corresponds strikingly to the movement of planets
in a solar system around the sun.
arrangement of chromosomes within living cells is precisely the
same in number and function in a celery stalk, a toad or a human
being. The evidence is impressive and can be documented repeatedly.
The entire universe in its vast complexity is one ultimate basic
reality. As Judaism proclaims in the watchword of its faith, the
Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Eternal, our God, the
Eternal really is one!”
blending of modern scientific thought with ancient Jewish teaching
has been noted by many competent observers. One such eminent scholar,
Dr. Ralph W. Burhoe, has noted,
scientific faith that all things are variants in a single system,
that one law rules the cosmos from end to end, from the largest
to the smallest, is a faith that grows stronger with each succeeding
new discovery that shows the relationship between phenomena
that previously did not seem to be related. We can be confident
now with the knowledge we possess that a clear continuity exists
from molecule to amoeba to humanity. Every individual is inextricably
linked to every other human being and to every other life form
in the universe. We are indeed all brothers… 1
can also acknowledge that nature provides us with ethical guidelines
for personal behavior. Much of that confidence rests upon an appreciation
for the teachings of evolution. A study of evolution manifests decisive
trends toward organization and order, toward uniqueness and individuality,
toward increased freedom and enlarged spirituality. Prior to the
appearance of humanity, evolution proceeded automatically in these
directions. From the human point forward, however, they are no longer
automatic. Further movement in these directions will continue only
with human initiative, only if people act in harmony with those
patterns. Judaism can apply these modern, scientifically oriented
terms to explain its conviction that people are partners in God’s
Shema is seemingly just a statement of faith, but in the larger
context of science and secular knowledge, this pronouncement proclaims
an entire world view not just about God, but about the universe,
humanity and life itself. In Jewish terms, science and religion
are indispensable partners in deciphering the mystery of existence.
1. H. Shapley, Ed., Science Ponders Religion, (New York:
Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1960) p. 80f.
©2006 Howard Greenstein
R. Greenstein serves as Rabbi of the Jewish congregation
of Marco Island, Florida. He has previously served congregations
in Florida, Ohio, and Massachusetts. Greenstein has been a Lecturer
at the University of Florida, University of North Florida, and Jacksonville
University. He is the author of Judaism:
An Eternal Covenant (1983) and Turning Point: Zionism
and Reform Judaism (1981).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.