Thursday, December, December 12
Opening Night - Bridging Boundaries
KEYNOTE: Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar
“Absolute Standards in a World of Relativity”: Bridging Limits and Boundaries with Infinity and Eternity
With new and continuing advancement in discovering subatomic elements in the substructure of matter, and similarly recognizing underlying determined but yet unmeasurable potent factors in the biology of life and particularly humans, this may be the appropriate time to recognize a holistic concept that addresses all of these matters, ranging from the moment of creation and onward from an all embracing perspective, as we analyze the construct of the variables of limits and boundaries emanating from a source of infinity and eternity.
KEYNOTE: Mr. Alex Friedman
From Small Dream to Brilliant Reality: The Short History of the Space IL Program.
From Jewish student in Russia to Lead Space engineer in Israel – my short story.
The relations between science and religion – how can we achieve real harmony between them? – as taught by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
How does the Bereshit project meet the challenge to avoid contradictions between Religion and Space? Is it possible and how did we try to reconcile those contradictions in Space IL program. What additional steps can we take in the future?
Friday Morning, December 13
Sustainability vs. Plagues
Michael Kosoy, Ph.D.
The Ten Plagues from the Point of Evolutionary Biology of Infectious Diseases
The story of Ten Plagues in Egypt provides meaningful and functional principles for comprehending evolution and manifestation of epidemics of zoonotic infections such as plague. Etiological agent of plague is a bacterium Yersinia pestis existing under specific ecological conditions within endemic areas. Previously scientists believed that Y. pestis co-evolved with its mammalian hosts for millennia. Recent bacterial genome analyses demonstrated that a relative Y. pseudotuberculosis clone acquired properties of plague pathogen only few thousands year ago. Likely, it happened in Middle East or in Central Asia. Plague, as a disease, is not just a collection of individual cases due to appearance of a particular etiological agent. There are complex processes that precede massive epidemics. Modern research of evolution of zoonotic diseases may consider specific parameters driving epidemics, but the Ten Plagues’ narrative provides an unprecedented picture of plague evolution in its complexity. Each plague described in Exodus represents a specific stage (phase), which is necessary and sufficient for plague evolution. The ten stages include (1) dramatic environmental disruption – ‘Dam’; (2) sudden change of ecological niche for a principal animal species – ‘Tsefaredeim’; (3) presence of insect vectors for infection transmission – ‘Kennim’; (4) critical level of diversity (mixture) of wild animals – ‘Arov’; (5) epizooty among wild and/or domestic animals – ‘Dever’; (6) microbial evolution leading to specific pathogenesis – ‘Shkhin’; (7) rapid climate change – ‘Barad’; (8) invasion of alien biological species – ‘Arbeh’; (9) social disturbance – ‘Hoshekh’; and finally (10) epidemics manifested with a high incidence of fatal cases – ‘Makat Bechorot’.
Ms. Rina Krautwirth
Protecting against the Unseen: Rabbinic (Chazal’s) Approach to Chemical and Biological Hazards
Public health, which concerns the health and well-being of populations as a whole, in modern times includes investigations into the effects of chemicals and biologics on the health of populations. Although Chazal did not have the modern scientific tools to ascertain the nature of specific chemicals and biologics, nevertheless the gemara does address these two components of public health and their potentially harmful effects. Even in advance of modern times, Chazal established certain regulations to protect against chemical and biological hazards, regulations that today would constitute public health measures. Since parallel concerns often arise within Chazal’s realm and modern practice, their approach can inform current perspectives.This presentation will analyze Chazal’s approach toward several different public health issues that involve chemicals and biologics, such as water quality, water contamination, pathogen disbursement, air pollution, foodborne toxins, and nutrition, all of which remain public health issues today as well. For example, Chazal recognized the importance of water quality and issued injunctions against water contamination. Similarly, they established regulations against air pollution from tanneries, kilns, and threshing floors. With regard to pathogens, they recognized some of the ways by which pathogens spread and took preventative measures against those means of transmission. Chazal also offered regulations against food contamination. Additionally, they worked to gain an understanding of nutrition and offered dietary recommendations. A better understanding of how Chazal addressed these public health issues in their time can serve as a model for us to address the public health challenges that we might face today.
KEYNOTE: Professor Joseph S. Bodenheimer
How Does the Torah View Sustainability
The central theme of this conference – Sustainability, Resilience, and the Torah – raises the fundamental question: Is there a well-defined Torah attitude to environmental concerns? More specifically, is sustainability of resources on Planet Earth at all of concern to a Torah-observant society? Setting aside increasingly popular scare-mongering, and disregarding politically correct attitudes, it is worth looking to our own sources, to try to find out whether there exists a clear Torah attitude to the need to control our insatiable appetite for consumption of the Earth’s limited resources. If such an attitude does not yet exist, should we not endeavor to develop one?
Firstly considering the written Torah: If the initial instructions to pre-Noachides were to live a vegetarian life, does that not teach us something about the Creator’s attitude? Then, since the Tower of Babel was built with the declared purpose of self-preservation, why was the response of the Almighty negative? Further, the control of food in Egypt by Joseph sounds like a positive plan to maintain and ensure food supplies, but there was a price: the Egyptians were enslaved to Pharaoh. Is full environmental control only possible in an enslaved society? The 40 years of Manna in the wilderness are described on the one hand as a gift from Heaven, but the Manna is also described by Moses as a suffering. Finally, should the prohibition of Bal Tashchit be understood as a Mitzvah to preserve nature’s resources?
More examples of sustainability issues can also be found in other books of the Bible.
In the Talmud and the Midrashim there are several sayings of our sages that encourage concern for the environment and self-restraint. On the other hand, if the world is meant to exist for 6000 years, meaning that we have only 220 years to go, why bother about long-term effects?
In this presentation these ponderings will be discussed, in an effort to understand the Torah attitude to sustainability.
KEYNOTE: Professor Chaim Sukenik
The Interface of Halacha and Technology: Findings from The Torah and Technology Research Center
(co-author HaRav Yosef Zvi Rimon)
The rapid pace of technological development and ongoing innovation continues to impact our lives in ways we could not have imagined a few decades ago. Advances such as smart homes, autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence are now becoming accessible to the greater public and are bringing to the forefront issues at the interface of Halacha and Technology that have not previously been addressed. In the near future, it is likely that people will routinely have programmed robots operating different aspects of their homes and we may find ourselves wondering if it is permissible to ride in an autonomous vehicle on Shabbat. We will have to ponder the pragmatic questions raised by the implementation of new technologies along with the accompanying moral and ethical challenges. The pressing demand for Halachic expertise and guidance in these matters is becoming impossible to ignore. The Torah and Technology Research Center is being developed at the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) to provide a centralized, scholarly body equipped to deal with the Halachic implications of today’s technologies. This talk will highlight some of the underlying issues that are presenting themselves and survey some of the Halachic approaches and definitions that are emerging at JCT and elsewhere to questions ranging from sensors to artificial intelligence to new biological and medical technologies.
Shabbos Day, Saturday, December 14
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
The Jewish People comprises less than 0.21% of the world population. What is our role? What impact do we have? Should we have? Can we have? The great Greek sage Arquimedes, who explained the principle of the lever, is reported to have said: “Give me a place to stand on, and I shall move the world.” Can we move the world? Do we have that “place to stand on” necessary to do so?
The concept of Tikun Olam, Repairing the World, would imply that indeed we do. In this paper we will explore the traditional, mystical and chassidic perspectives of Tikun Olam through the teachings of Maimonides, the Arizal, the Alter Rebbe and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may their merit shield us. We will also explore the Halachic concept of Dovor Hamaamid (catalyst) and its implications regarding Bitul (Halachic nullification and insignificance) and its philosophical and practical implications regarding the magnitude of the role of the Jewish people within the community of nations. We will explore Nachmanides’ describing the 6,000 years of history as a reflection of the matrix created in the six days of Creation, as context for understanding our present era in relation to previous ones and our role in it as individuals and as a nation.
Mr. Mordechai Olesky
Photosynthesis: G-d’s Gift for Sustaining Life
Judaism attributes the source of our sustenance to G-d; science attributes our sustenance to the process of photosynthesis. The seemingly different explanations are resolved by understanding Torah as the blueprint of physical Creation.
The numerical values (gematria) of the combinations of written or oral expressions of the names of the Creator --- Havaya, Adnay, and Elokim, correlate with the quantities of components in the reactants of photosynthesis, 12 molecules of carbon dioxide and 6 of water. There is also a numerical correlation with the quantity of atoms in the catalyst, chlorophyll.
The numerical value of the sum of the composites of letters in the name Adnay (98) with its vowels (52), plus the sum of the values of the composites of the letters in the Name Havaya (56) with its vowels (46), are equal to the total sum of protons (252) in 6CO2 + 12H2O.
The sum of the numerical values of the letters in the Name Havaya (26) with its vowels (46), plus the sum of the values of the letters in the name Elokim (86) with its vowels (70), are equal to the total sum of neutrons (228) in 6CO2 + 12H2O.
The numerical value of the name Adnay (65) with its vowels (52), plus the value of the name Elokim (86) with its vowels (70), are equal to the total sum of atoms (273) in the catalysts Chlorophyll a (C55H72MgN4O5) plus Chlorophyll b (C55H70MgN4O6).
The sum of the numerical values of the expansion of the name Havaya (45), that is, the values of the verbalized expressions of the letters Yud Kay Vav Kay, are equal to the total sum of quarks in the protons of a single atom of each of the three elements that comprise the reactants, C (18), H (3), plus O (24),
G-d's Names reside within the components of photosynthesis. We recognize G-d as the Creator and Source of our sustenance when reciting blessings on food before and after eating. By utilizing that nourishment to learn Torah and perform mitzvot we build a dwelling place for G-dliness.
Motzei Shabbos, Saturday Night, December 14
Rain, Brain, and Genetics & Halacha
Professor Nathan Aviezer
How Science Deepens Our Understanding of Torah: (i) Rain and Chaos and (ii) The Rainbow and the Photon
Two examples will be given of how advances in science deepen our understanding of the words of the Holy Torah. The first example relates to rain. It states in Devorim that since the water in Israel comes from rain which is always uncertain, Israel requires G-d’s constant attention: A land (Israel) which is always looked after by G-d (11:12). However, recent advances in meteorology have led to accurate predictions regarding future rainfall. In thus seems that further advances in meteorology, using more powerful computers, will eventually eliminate all remaining uncertainties regarding future rainfall in Israel. Israel would then no longer require being “looked after by G-d,” a situation that contradicts the verses in the Torah. This contradiction has been resolved by the new science of chaos, which guarantees that accurate predictions of rainfall in Israel will always remain beyond the reach of meteorologists.
The second example relates to the rainbow. It states in Bereshit that after the Flood, G-d promised never again to destroy all mankind through a flood. The sign that G-d brings to seal His promise is the rainbow: I have placed my rainbow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant between Me and the Earth (9:13). Why is the rainbow the ideal choice for the sign of G-d’s faithfulness? Modern quantum physics provides the answer based on the photon, the quantum particle of light.
Rabbi Professor Moshe Tendler
The Right to Try: Halacha and the Use of Experimental Drugs
1. The Right to Try
USA FDA permission to treat critically ill patients with drugs being evaluated by the FDA but not yet approved. These drugs may prove to be harmful, shortening the life of the patient in violation of the Halacha. Quality of life is a significant factor in the decision to prolong the life of a critically ill patient. Five cases recorded in the Talmud will be analyzed to define “quality of life”.
2. Vaping (& cigarettes)
Evaluation of the claim that e-cigarettes are “safe” and prevents our youth from addiction to smoking tobacco.
Based on scientific literature (past June 2109):
(1) vaping causes a nicotine addiction in all cases and a nicotine addiction damages one’s health,
(2) e-cigarette users, after one year, are twice as likely to smoke regular combustion cigarettes
(3) Medical breakthrough: Nov. 8, 2019 – cause of fatal lung disease among vapers was identified as the oily vitamin E in the vaping mix.
KEYNOTE: Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg
Modern Genetics and Halachic Ramifications
There are numerous halachic considerations regarding the tremendous advancements in genetics. I shall discuss three major issues:
(a) identification – the halachic reliability of DNA concerning different scenarios, i.e., fatherhood, agunah, burial, Jewish gene and others;
(b) prevention – the use of genetic knowledge to prevent the birth of seriously disabled children, mitochondria replacement, BRCA gene and others;
(c) treatment – gene editing and gene engineering.
Sunday Morning, December 15
Outer Space & Inner Space
KEYNOTE: Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Ecosystems: The Inside Story - The Torah Dynamics of Matter/Energy Fusion
The advent of recent scientific and technological developments have opened up unprecedented insights into the intimate, symbiotic connection between nature and its relationship to human beings and the environment. Every fiber of existence is integrally linked through a complex, but eloquent flow of matter and energy. As with a holograph, every single neuron in the macrocosm is mirrored in the microcosm.
This paper will explore the fascinating parallels between the Torah’s legal and mystical perspective regarding our relationship with nature, and the latest fascinating findings in science. After reviewing the commonalities it will offer a new vision - and propose ideological as well as practical suggestions - of developing a new-age unity between ourselves and the universe. It will explore how we can minimize the new risks and maximize the novel opportunities presented to us by modern science and technology as we forge ahead into a bold and exciting future.
Dr. Shimon Lerner
Exoplanets, the James Webb Space Telescope and the Origin of Life in the Universe
The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch around March 2021, is set to become NASA’s flagship space astronomy telescope as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. This multinational, multibillion dollar scientific endeavor will provide scientists with an astonishing view of the Infra-red radiation from all planets and stars, at unprecedented resolution.
One of the core missions of the telescope is: to study planetary systems and the origins of life. Utilizing its detailed access to the spectroscopic properties of exoplanets (planets beyond our own solar system), it will be able to tell us in depth about their atmospheres, and perhaps even find traces of life. Coming in the wake of the discoveries of the Kepler Space Telescope, which have allowed scientists to confirm nearly 4,000 such exoplanets (see https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/), this will give us our best shot at identifying other sources of life in the universe.
Seemingly the less exciting prospect, the lack of any such signal could nevertheless provide a unique opportunity. Instead of using the Drake equation in its customary form (to estimate the probability of life elsewhere in the universe), we will be in position to turn the calculation around. In this scenario, the more exoplanets we analyze without discovering spectroscopic signatures of life, provides an upper bound on the very probability of life formation itself. With the advent of the new generation of space telescopes, the lower we can bring this number, the more appreciative we must become for the miracle of life on Earth.
Dr. Daniel Turgeman
“The Fullness Thereof ”: The Significance of the Higgs Mechanism in Jewish Thought and Theology
Our fundamental understanding of matter has been revolutionized in the past century. This revolution reached a climax in 2012 with the discovery of the Higgs boson — the proof of the mechanism that generates particle masses. The conclusion, with regard to our understanding of matter, is that there is no such thing as “matter.” The first section of this talk is devoted to explaining the scientific theory, while the second section delves into the theological meaning of this new paradigm.
As we experience it, there is a clear divide between light and matter. Matter has mass, is bounded in local space, and is conserved (what might be calld the "law of conservation of Matter"). Light, on the other hand, is massless, spreads over space, and has the ability to be created and annihilated. This clear divide began to crack with Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 and ultimately collapsed with the discovery of the Higgs boson in July 2012. In this talk, I shall try to elucidate the physical theory behind the Higgs mechanism and its deeper meaning in relation to Jewish thought and theology.
Mr. Daniel Friedmann
Is there a Blueprint for the Universe? The Origins of the Universe and Life
Every word in the 6 day Genesis creation account describes the origins of the universe and life on earth, and every discovery and observation by scientists leads to understanding of how the universe came to be, often in seeming contradiction to Genesis. They can’t both be right, or can they? We will compare what Genesis says happened and when it happened with the latest scientific discoveries relating to the development of the universe and the appearance of life on earth. A detailed creation timeline extracted from Torah sources will be set side-by-side with the scientifically established timeline of events. A Torah derived conversion factor for the 6 days of creation to time as measured by scientists will be used to compare both timelines. We will then discuss how it all happened and in particular what events should appear natural as they are performed under God’s name of working within nature and creating something-from-something vs. what events are ex-nihilo creations that science cannot explain. We will see that modern cosmological observation and theory are well aligned with Torah sources and that Torah illuminates the deepest fundamental unanswered questions by scientists—like what happened at the beginning of the Universe.
Sunday Afternoon, December 15
KEYNOTE: Professor Henry Abramson
Truth Will Spring from the Earth: Gutenberg, the Internet, and the New Uncertainty Principle
“What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun?” So asks Friedrich Nietzsche’s “madman” in 1882. “Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder?” The last two thoughts, given Nietzsche’s impact on the Nazi movement in the following century, are especially ominous—but the epistemological ramifications of his thought are still unfolding in our own times, an unintended consequence of postmodernism and modern communication technology.
This paper will take a historical approach to the intersection of information delivery systems and the popular conception of “truth.” Three distinct periods will be considered: the invention of moveable type and the printing press in the 15th century, the rise of mass media in the late 19th century, and the advent of the Internet in the late 20th century. In each of these periods of disruptive technology, the factors that combined to create the popular conception of “the truth” were irredeemably altered, resulting in both remarkable scientific advancement and massive social destabilization.
We live in a similarly unsettled time in which our technological prowess has outpaced our social wisdom, presenting both threats and opportunities to human civilization, from the most basic self-conception to our otherwise highly evolved social norms. After surveying some 21st century examples of this phenomenon, a series of practical recommendations will be provided.
Dr. Yonah Bardos
Genetics testing in the genomic era
Preventing the inheritance of Jewish genetic disorders: How common are Jewish genetic disorders? With the increase in genomic data, are there other disorders we need to be worried about? What is carrier screening? There are many different programs out there who offer carrier screening, ranging from Dor Yesharim to only Ashkenazi Jewish disorder panels to pan ethnic panels and whole exome sequencing. What are the pros and cons of these tests? Is there a difference whether we perform the test before marriage, before having children or when one is pregnant? Should we as religious consumers find out if our child is at risk of having a genetic disorder? What options during pregnancy are available and should we be using them. Can anything be done in utero to alter the outcome? If one does find out they are carriers for disorders what are their options. We will also present moral/ethical issues making it an interactive learning session.
Professor Joseph Jacobson
Recent Advances in CRISPR Technology for Human Genome Editing and Their Ethical/Halachic Implications
The human genome comprises some 3 billion nucleotide letters and codes for the full set of human proteins whose interaction in turn is deterministic of the vast majority of human traits. The discovery in the last several years of the CRISPR system in bacteria and it subsequent application to human cells represents the first easily programmable means for editing of the human genome. Recent advances in CRISPR  have significantly expanded the number of genes, and thus traits, that can now be edited. These developments bring in to focus, even more sharply, the need to have comprehensive ethical/halachic guidelines on the use of this technology in living systems.
In this talk we detail both the structure of the existing human genome and human genome diversity as well as recent advances in CRISPR technology for editing the human genome and how the human genome may be edited and transformed in the near to medium future. We then discuss the ethical/ halachic implications of genome editing including Kilayim and issues of safety (Sakana).
 Cong, Le, et al. "Multiplex genome engineering using CRISPR/Cas systems." Science (2013): 1231143.
 Chatterjee, Pranam, Noah Jakimo, and Joseph M. Jacobson. "Minimal PAM specificity of a highly similar SpCas9 ortholog." Science advances 4.10 (2018): eaau0766.
Expanding the reach of gene editing with a new CRISPR enzyme, FierceBiotech October 24, 2018
Mrs. Valeria Poltorak
Matrilineal Descent in Judaism and its Biological Basis
Historically, various societies had either matrilineal or patrilineal descent. Judaism recognizes both patrilineal and matrilineal descents but in different contexts. Jewishness is not determined by faith or by observance; it is inheritance as a matter of birthright. God chose a Jewish family, rather than an ideology, as the basis for the nation. Outside of conversion, ge’ur k’halachah, Jewishness is passed down strictly according to maternal line. In the spheres of family inheritance and tribal belonging, the lineage is determined patrilineally. Jewishness, however, is not connected to land ownership or any other material inheritance. From a spiritual point of view, a Jew is the one who possesses a Jewish soul. How this spiritual distinction is reflected in the biological relationship between parents and children is the subject of this paper. We analyze here sources from classical Jewish texts, Kabbala and Chasidic philosophy of Chabad, which describe the predominant physical influence of a mother on a child. We discuss this asymmetry and its mechanisms in the biological systems using recent discoveries in the areas of maternal genetic effects, mitochondrial inheritance, and epigenetic influence. The immense influence of a mother during embryonic development, as well as during early childhood, on the physical and psychological development of the offspring clearly illustrates the maternal mark on the spiritual development of a child. The examples from Jewish sages are exceptionally predictive of the modern scientific discoveries.