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Scientism in a Chabad School?
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd
Readers Write

Notice to readers: In the month of Elul we undertake spiritual stocktaking akin to how a businessman would analyze his business to ensure he's gaining and not losing.

For the past three years I've been pretty delicate, creative and clever with my readership in terms of how I've presented the interplay of science and faith. In this week, however, as we gear up for the school year and take stock about what we are teaching our kids, I've taken the liberty to be uncharacteristically blunt. I hope you don't mind, but if you do... well, I'm in Israel right now, maybe the in your face culture here is getting to me.

Dear Dr. Gotfryd,

Thank you for agreeing to review my daughter's high school textbook and to evaluate its suitability for use in a Chabad school. As we discussed, I am mainly concerned about the way they treat the age of the world, the solar system, the big bang and evolution.

Rabbi L.

Dear Rabbi L.

I've reviewed the book and here are my abbreviated findings and thoughts.

By preface, every school type has its standards and outlook, be it a public school, a community school like a Hebrew academy, a modern orthodox, or a charedi school. My comments are more pointed and categorical then they would be if I were asked to comment on these other cases because you emphasize that your girl's school is Chabad so I assume the Rebbe's standards are to be reflected there, and also that you won't be offended if I tell it 'like it is.'

Liberally sprinkled throughout your child's text, from beginning to end, are heretical notions and even idolatrous narratives presented as science curriculum.

Specifically difficult is the one third of the text which is squarely focused on astronomy (nature and motion of heavenly bodies) and cosmology (origin and history of the universe). This unit of the book requires mastery of a large, diverse and detailed body of persuasive facts and arguments that would lead the average unbiased and rational person to conclude as follows:

The universe was created 14 billion years ago;
The universe originated in a Big Bang event;
The universe has evolved over billions of years to form stars and planets including the sun and the earth;
The earth is not unique, but there are hundreds of planets like it orbiting distant stars;
The earth orbits the sun just like those distant planets orbit their stars;
The earth spins on its axis which explains day and night and the motion of the stars;
Modern observations on earth and in space confirm all this;
Scientists all over the world agree on all this.

[Note: If you are not like Rabbi L, you may be saying to yourself, 'Hey! That is science.' 'That's what they should be taught,' and even 'Well, really all Lubavitchers should have to learn this stuff. After all we live in a real world.' Hold that thought, send me an email and I'll link you to resources that will explain scientifically why all the above-mentioned pseudo-scientific claims above are not really in the realm of science at all, but rather of scientism, the unverifiable speculations that constitute the mythology that many of today's scientists espouse as true.]

Back to the text, what are the implications for the Jewish and specifically Chabad student. First, there is frequent discussion of Greek and Roman idolatrous figures and narratives when discussing constellations. Students will have to study this information which involves transgressing two commandments: both the mentioning and study of idolatry. Even the book's first words are about a famous Christian holiday and the special story of an island named after it.

However, this is a small problem compared to the numbered points listed above. Idolatry is blatantly silly and therefore will not be taken seriously by the students. Heresy can be insidious. The Alter Rebbe in Tanya says that the 'wisdom of the nations' contaminates the intellect of the soul while slander and baseless hatred 'merely' contaminate the emotional qualities so they aren't as bad.

Here are some implications of the scientific 'principles' listed above.

a) The Big Bang implies that creation was a one time event followed by predictable natural outcomes that do not make room for any divine intervention whatsoever. (=azav es ha'aretz)

b) Cosmology and astronomy teach that only material forces exist. Nature's laws are viewed as fixed and unchanging since then, so everything can run by itself and there is no need for a god of any sort. (ayn Eloka) The implication is that even if there is a god, who needs him? He doesn't do anything.

c) Accepting a 14 billion year old world casts doubt on a 6000 year old world. One of the most common outcomes of accepting this view is the belief that the Torah is not literal but only literary at the beginning of Bereishis when it says the world was made in six days. The Rebbe declares that this completely undermines the basis of Shabbos observance (ki b'sheises yamim...).

d) The Shabbos of Creation, the six millennia, are important for the idea of a seventh millennium (yom shekulo Shabbos...). In this way, those scientific views challenge faith in Moshiach.

e) These evolutionary views as well as the sun-centered outlooks picture man as insignificant in the big picture. We are only an insignificant speck in an insignificant galaxy. That's great for the true humility we must feel but it flies against the idea of the individual changing the world. This science would have us believe, contrary to Torah, that we are insignificant and our divine service is insignificant.

f) We have a Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah that all this science contradicts in many places. Learning, reviewing, being tested on, and taking in pride in mastery of all these science views shows that there is something of higher priority in our Jewish and Chassidic minds than rabbinic authority.

That leaves us with 'pick and choose' Judaism, just like Reform and Conservative.

g) To say, yes but the Big Bang matches up with Genesis is simply not true. For example, the trees were created on Tuesday and the Sun on Wednesday. That is absolutely laughable to any Big Bang evolutionist.

h) These apologetic views backfire. Students don't need equivocators teaching them nor do they need hypocrites - they need educators. The Rebbe was vehement against apologetics, and even faulted the Rambam on this. The Frierdiker Rebbe too was absolutely strident and passionate on this point in his famous 1923 letter to the Rabbis of Germany, saying it was causing spiritual holocaust (long before the physical one took place, lo aleinu).

i) The Lubavitcher Rebbe is reputed to have said, "You can explain to an American everything, but you can't tell him anything."

This is very relevant. There once was a time when it was enough for a parent or teacher to say about some idea, "We don't believe in that." Those days are gone. Everything is questioned nowadays.

Young people, especially high school students, pick up their facts and opinions from their peers and very largely from mass media. They are very impressionable and the opinions they form in high school will largely stick with them for the rest of their lives (until Moshiach comes at which time we and they will say... Oops!).

The secular world view is very clear about its rejection of basic Torah facts and perspectives and nowhere is this more apparent than in science. It's hard enough to promote kosher and pure faith when the enemy is 'out there' somewhere but to invite doubts (safek = Amalek) into our schools and into the minds and hearts of our daughters and to tell them "Do well," "Study hard," "Do your science homework" so they can master and internalize heretical concepts which they in turn will pass on to their children raises the question of why send kids to a Jewish school in the first place?


You have a few options:

1. Do nothing - Keep the books, teach the material, don't worry about it. Probably some kids will not be hurt too badly. The problem is that many will.

2. Get rid of the books - It's a nice simple solution to the above but what about the science curriculum? The parents and the Board of Education are expecting the material to be covered.

3. Edit out the offensive parts - sounds somewhat reasonable but it sends a bad message to the kids because it looks like (a) we believe in defacing books (b) we don't have what to answer, and (c) it focuses their attention on the forbidden stuff and increases their curiosity. At a seder that's nice, but here, there's no mitzvah.

4. Get a good science text that teaches the facts but in a kosher way - But does such a textbook even exist?

5. Teach the textbook with critical commentary. Perhaps the best solution, but in that case an expert in Torah, science and education will have to do the following:
a. Writing a companion curriculum
b. Preparing companion lessons
c. Providing companion readings
d. Bringing in guest speakers or a/v media
e. Train teachers in these matters

I trust this helps,
A kesiva v'chasima tova l'shana tovah u'mesukah.


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