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Sacred and Science

07/07/2022 10:28:18 AM


Beth Schafer

We spent July Fourth Weekend on Cape Cod visiting friends who summer there each year. We were in Woods Hole which is the home to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, one of the premier marine biology centers in the nation that draws hundreds of students there each summer to study. One of the most endearing things that happens there is the July 4th parade. It is not your typical Americana-type parade, it is a Science Parade where all of the students, researchers and Institute professionals dress up like everything from amoeba to crustaceans to zygotes and march down the main thoroughfare with fife and drum celebrating science. 

I couldn’t help but think about what scientific knowledge was like on July 4th over 200 years ago when our nation was founded and how far we’ve progressed since then. In so many ways we have evolved as humans and as a nation; scientifically, socially and civically. Our nation’s sacred and original text, the constitution, has been slow to evolve. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson believed a new constitution should be written every nineteen years. In a letter to James Madison, he posited, “if one generation of men has the right to bind another, the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living, which would be the reverse of our principle." What would our nation be like with a completely updated Constitution for each generation? How much farther would we be today if such a practice existed?

As for Torah, our sacred text that is thousands of years old, it, too, can get stuck in its antiquity. Talmudic discourse and more recent theologians have kept our original text from becoming “dead” and to belong to the living, but not unlike our Constitution, it has been slow and sometimes resistant to catching up with science and current societal norms. 

We live in two worlds whose laws enshrine our origins but that also desperately need to advance to be relevant in modern times. We live in the in-between. We are deeply committed to our roots, but aspire to realize our greatest potential. It is cause for much tension and grappling. I remain hopeful that each of these sacred texts, our Torah and our Constitution, will find their way to greater, more expansive and enlightened understandings for us to live in harmony; acknowledging both the divine and the science and the vital roles they play in human evolution.

Shabbat shalom,

Sat, December 10 2022 16 Kislev 5783