Thursday, April 28, 2005

Einstein & Religion

So it seems that it's been 100 years since Einstein's "miracle year" of 1905 (see's coverage), and among the issues being spoken about is that of Einstein's religion and his religious beliefs. It should be no surprise to anyone that Albert Einstein was Jewish, though it seems he was a non-observant Jew. One cannot escape, however, the cultural and ideological makeup that comes with being Jewish, let alone Jewish in Europe during the time of WWI and WWII. published an article called "The Culture of Einstein" (all further quotes are from this article) in which one of the themes tackled is that of religion. Biographers claim, based on Einstein's own words, that there is a great misconception that Einstein believed in G-d due to some actual quotes of his, probably the most famous being, "I cannot believe that God would choose to play dice with the universe," wherein he decries the "randomness inherent in quantum mechanics." apparently, it is claimed by both biographers and the man himself, to deduce from the above that Einstein believed in G-d was a stretch; Einstein, it seems, did not believe in G-d, writing in 1954 that such a misconception was "a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly." The article then states, again based on Einstein's own writings,

For Einstein, references to God were a convenient metaphor, easy-to-grasp shorthand, he wrote, for "the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal."

Nu? Okay, and? This is part of G-d anyway you slice it! People get too caught up in the general perception of G-d as the bearded guy of the Sistine Chapel (which is Zeus, by the way) and don't stop to think that G-d is far, far more than that (and not that at all, as well). G-d is everything, including us, including "the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it," as well as that which science has yet to reveal.

It is the greatest joke that scientists, who often are the biggest self-proclaimed atheists, and who sometimes work with the intention of disproving the existence of G-d, are actually at the forefront of revealing the wonders and miracles of G-d to humanity. Scientists have given us a day-by-day account of the miracle of the creation of life in the womb; they have given us an understanding of energy and its transformations due to fissions and fusions (and what about the fact that energy cannot be created or destroyed, meaning that we are dealing with the same energy there was in the beginning, an all-encompassing energy that has always been... need I spell it out here?); they have shown us the wonders of stars, planets and formations existing in space farther than our imaginations could ever conjure. These are just some meager examples.

I don't know if Einstein truly did not believe in G-d, and more importantly, what did that mean exactly, but as I said at the beginning, you cannot take away a cultural imprint handed down from generations of Jews, stretching all the way back to Mt. Sinai. Judaism understands G-d in many ways, one of them as "the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." This doesn't mean G-d is limited, but rather that we are limited in our understanding, and need science to help us keep discovering the wondrous works of the Creator. When Einstein said he wanted to know the Mind of G-d, he was voicing a Jewish ideal, regardless of what the level of observance he kept was, regardless of what he believed or did not believe.

We need to stop seeing G-d as a limited entity, and recognize Him as everything, realize not a day goes by we don't witness miracles all around us (you woke up this morning, didn't you?). To all those atheist scientists I have only one thing to say: Thank You, from the bottom of my heart, for working so hard to reveal to me the wonders of G-d.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Saddest Mitzvah

Today I performed possibly the saddest mitzvah (commandment) I have encountered yet, burying another Jew.

On Shabbat Hagaddol (The Great Shabbat), the Shabbat that comes right before Pesach (Passover), which was this past Saturday, April 23, a member of our community died under horrible circumstances. This man was up in West Palm Beach and driving down to Miami to meet with his family that night to celebrate Pesach, when the rear tire of his Izusu Rodeo came off, sending the car into a violent spin across the median and into the opposite lane, before stopping at the other side of the road. The man was ejected from the spinning vehicle--he was not wearing a seatbelt--and died a most violent death which I do not wish to repeat.

This man was only 33, just three years older than me, and had pretty much everything he wanted in life, and Hashem decreed that his time here was up.

Since he died on Shabbat, and Pesach was immediately after, his funeral and burial were today. I took the time off from work to go to both and offer whatever miniscule support I could by my presence there. It tore my heart and soul, to be utterly honest. I didn't really know the man; it's not like we were friends or anything, and though he was part of the community it was more becayse his sister and her family live in our community, and he came often. But everytime I saw him he had a smile and a greeting for you, and whenever his help was needed, it was given freely and gladly. Perhaps he was not the most observant Jew, but he strove to be, and though he failed, he always tried again. The greatest tragedy of his death is that it happened on Shabbat while he was driving, something he knew full well he should not have done.

I don't believe in Divine punishment, not like its generally understood, so I don't think his death was a direct punishment for him driving on Shabbat (we'd almost be out of Jews by now), but one cannot avoid the fact that there is a lesson in this tragedy, though it may be a different one for different people. To me, being a 30-year old, this is a very clear reminder that our time here is not guaranteed by our age (he was 33), nor our wealth (he was rich by anyone's meassures), nor our plans (he wanted to marry his 5-year girlfriend and have a family of his own). I think of where I am today, of the plans I have for the future, of the things I want to accomplish, of the milestones I have yet to reach, and I try to imagine all that being stopped, brought to a screeching halt. It is a frightful thought, to be honest, but it is a very empowering thought as well: I have only today to make a difference. We are here because G-d wants us to be here, and finding out why--our mission, if you will--and then fulfilling that divine will is all that matters. Everything else is mist.

Pouring the shovelfulls of earth onto the simple pine box that held the body of this man was really hard. It meant confronting my own mortality, and then putting it aside to fulfill a commandment for another Jew, to help his soul complete the trip to Heaven. My rabbi said it best, though: "Take an example from him, and do as he did--help others, give of your time, give charity--this will be an elevation for his soul and for ours."

May the soul of Abraham ben Yosef find an elevation, may he rest in the presence of Hashem, and may the final redemption come soon, so that we may all meet again.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

More On The New Pope

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a very interesting article on its English website about the new Pope Benedict XVI. To the Israeli, and Jews in general, this new pope's history and track record are of interest, if only because we're all waiting to see how will things go now, especially after the pretty good interfaith relations established by John Paul II. Go read the article and then come back.

"New pope seen continuing relations with Israel, Jews" By Peter Hirschberg

For the most part, it seems like the speculations about having a transitory pope are turning out to be correct so far: choose an older, strong pontiff that can hold the church on the course left by John Paul while those in power have a chance to digest the previous pope's legacy and decide where they want to go next.

As a Jew, I sincerely hope that the good relations that were established by John Paul are continued, though with Benedict I still have this nagging feeling at the back of my mind that we should be always ready (that this election, and that this feeling of being on our toes, comes on the week just as we are to start celebrating Passover cannot be seen as coincidence; there is a message there for us that we must heed). In particular, there is one passage that exemplifies perfectly why is it that this former head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (which in effect makes him an heir to Torquemada, sensationalism aside) makes my spider sense tingle (emphasis mine):

In the document, Ratzinger seeks to tackle the Jews' refusal to accept Jesus as the messiah and Judaism's insistence that the messiah has not yet come.

"He argued that this position is also part of the divine plan," explains Rosen, who now heads the American Jewish Committee's Interreligious Affairs department, "and the fact Jews don't accept Jesus must not be seen as an act of rejecting God, but as part of God's plan to remind the world that peace and salvation for all humanity has not yet come. This is amazing. He took something that has been the source of major condemnation of Judaism and the Jewish people down the ages and twisted it into something of a positive theological nature."

Positive? Are we reading the same sentences? The above is so condescending that it's infurriating. Unfortunately it is a doctrine that is at the center of the new pope's ideology from his days as head of the Doctrine for the Faith.

I guess in the end, as long as he pays more attention to his own backyard, it's just fine and dandy. I will keep an eye on Rome, though.

[NOTE: Originally I had written a really long reply in which I was annoyed beyond belief at the tone of the quote from Ratzinger. When I hit the "Publish Post" button, however, I lost it, and I didn't have the energy to retype the whole thing. The above is greatly abbreviated, but it does keep the gyst of it all.]

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The New Pope

At midday, EST, a new Catholic Pope was chosen. This was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, to be known as Pope Benedict XVI.

I'm not sure how to feel about it.

I'm not Catholic anymore, so in that sense who is the new pope is irrelevant to me, but as a Jew, who is the head of the 1-billion strong Catholic Church is of a certain interest. John Paul II was not perfect, but he made some good strides in bandaging the deep wounds that separated Catholics and Jews, starting with the whole issue of the death of Jesus, and going all the way to the inaction of the Vatican during the Holocaust. His apologies were not perfect nor complete, but they were a great step. Now we get as his successor a man who was the head of the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (you may know it by its more popular name, the Inquisition) and a man who, in his youth, was a member of the Hitler Youth, and who served in the German army during WWII.

Granted, Ratzinger was part of the Hitler Youth when it was compulsory for every German boy to be a part of it, and I will not condemn him for that. He also served in a German Anti-aircraft unti protecting a BMW factory, though he says he never fired a shot. He later managed to get out of the army upon ordination. One cannot help but contrast John Paul's history of anti-Nazi actions, taken at great personal peril. And it is true that John Paul named Ratzinger to his post as head of the Inquisition, but let's not forget it is Ratzinger who took to the job all to well, defending the orthodoxy like a pitbull (an internal issue, so irrelevant to me), and authoring/co-authoring/supporting official homilies and statements in which the Catholic Church is named as the only source of true redemption.

It remains to wait and see what happens now. I am all for giving Ratzinger, or Benedict, the benefit of the doubt and see what he does as pope. But I cannot help but keep all the above information in the back of my mind, and hope that the Catholic Church doesn't de-evolve some 500 years to the time of the Holy Inquisition.

May Hashem help us all.