Community Blog Faith and Science: My Journey Through Me’ah at Hebrew College
My journey through Me’ah touched the most personal parts of my mind and my heart.
I was brought up in a predominantly Jewish community in the Bronx. A mix of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Secular Jews. My parents were Holocaust survivors, who brought with them the traditions of a nearly decimated eastern european jewry. Influenced by orthodox, hasidic, and zionistic beliefs. They did not abandon their faith, they embraced it. And they did not focus on the question “why me?” they courageously rebuilt their lives.
We were members of a modern orthodox synagogue directly next door to our house. And in the summer, if for some reason we did not go to services, you could hear the sounds of praying through the open windows. When I sat next to my mother, during holidays I would see my father’s smiling face through the mechizah, as we experienced through prayer the presence of G-d. I knew deep in my heart, despite all the horrors and loss my parents had experienced, Jewish faith and belonging had been the core source of their sustenance.
For many years, I went to Hebrew school, learned to read, recite the prayers and sing the songs. Our rabbi and our teachers were respected and beloved and taught us a knowledge and love of Jewish ritual and culture. I was taught and believed that G-d had whispered in the ear of Moses. I did not learn the history of the bible as myth or metaphor. And I was nourished by the light and warmth of the Jewish traditions as were my parents and Jews through the millennia.
We also lived in a secular and assimilated community. And I eventually found myself in my own personal halacha. Attending the Bronx High School of Science, drawn, to physics chemistry and particularly biology. I as fascinated by the Big Bang Theory, the theory of evolution, and the scientific method.
My mentors through college and dental school encouraged me to reason logically and to accept only that which can be observed and proven. I was a scientist and a feminist. One would think my world of science and my world of faith would collide. But for me, there existed no disharmony – Judaism and science had different purposes.
Overtime however, one way of life took precedence over another. The secular demands of life and profession became all encompassing. The traditions I grew up with were gently pushed to the side, but not forgotten. And I continued to maintain a strong Jewish identity. The scope of my knowledge of Judaism although rich in tradition and ritual, was narrow and I needed to expand my understanding of our deep and complex history — perhaps, finally so I could comprehend the sermons of our family rabbi when he spoke of talmud, halacha, Shulchan Aruch, Rambam and Rashi.
Me’ah gave me the foundation to integrate traditional faith and modernity. To understand the challenges and complexity of our books, our people and our land. To understand the perseverance of Jewish thought and community affected by the ebb and flow of tolerance and intolerance, destruction and survival.
Through Me’ah I learned of the struggles and triumphs of a nation of faith and a nation of people. How despite our differences, we used our faith and communal connection to survive as a Jewish people. I learned, in historical context, of the great Jewish thinkers and their quest to reconcile faith and science.
Maimonides, both a highly regarded Jewish philosopher and a physician, in a Guide for the Perplexed, gave the Jewish People a model for balancing rationality and Jewish tradition. Faith and reason are not enemies, in Maimonides teachings, they are essential to each other if we are to understand G-d and our place in the world.
Excerpt from Dr. Florence Rosenberg’s speech at the 2019 Me’ah at Hebrew College graduation ceremony. Dr. Rosenberg is pictured above, far right.