Two New Dynamic Programs about Judaism and Science funded by the John Templeton Foundation

December 28, 2015

Sinai and Synapses, incubated at Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) are proud to launch two innovative pilot projects regarding Jews, Judaism, and their relationship to science, both funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

“Scientists in Synagogues” creates “new opportunities for grass-roots exploration of the thorniest and most compelling questions we face regarding Judaism and science,” said Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, Founding Director of Sinai and Synapses. “Science in Rabbinic Training” reaches rabbis and rabbinic students to help them discover new ways to bring science into their education, he added.

Rabbi Mitelman said: “It’s rarely a challenge to get Jews to embrace science. However, it is often much harder to get Jews excited about Judaism. Indeed, a common refrain in liberal Jewish circles is, ‘I don’t believe in God. I believe in science and in nature.’ These projects present great opportunities for both scientists and the Jewish community to rethink the relationship between Judaism and science, moving them to increasingly integrated and sophisticated understandings of how they relate and connect to one another.”

Scientists in Synagogues, which has also received a grant from Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies, will select ten congregations that count top-notch scientists among their members, offering them mentorship, guidance and publicity, as well as a stipend for programming regarding Judaism and science. These scientists will explore how they integrate their Jewish identities and their scientific work, and will then become role models and ambassadors for productive conversations surrounding Judaism and science.

According to Clal President Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, “This program, Sinai and Synapses as a whole, and this multi-institutional partnership in particular, respond to a pressing need and do so by exemplifying Clal's commitment to making Jewish a public good – to making Jewish thought and experience increasingly accessible, meaningful, usable and impactful to an ever-widening audience, both within and beyond formal Jewish life.”

Science in Rabbinic Training will be led by the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program, whose mission is to relate scientific and technological development to purposes and concerns of society at large. It is a next stage in the larger and already highly successful Science for Seminaries initiative where seminarians integrate science into their theological education. To reach both rabbis and rabbinic students, this program will partner with Clal, Hebrew College, and the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, where Rabbi Mitelman was ordained.

“Many people look to their religious leaders for guidance on issues relating to science and technology, even though clergy members may get little exposure to science in their training,” said DoSER director Jennifer Wiseman. “With this project we’re offering the science resources for rabbinic training that have proved so beneficial to seminaries in other faith traditions.”

Ultimately, both Scientists in Synagogues and Science in Rabbinic Training will use the power of relationships and personal stories to highlight people who effectively bring their science and Judaism together in their own personal lives. As Mitelman says, “Our goal is to increase the number of people who see science and Judaism as collaborative. After all, the biggest questions we face are not religious questions or scientific questions, but human questions. We need both sources of wisdom to help respond to them.”
Sinai and Synapses offers people a worldview that is both scientifically grounded and spiritually uplifting. It provides tools and language for learning and living to the millions of people who see science as their ally as they pursue personal growth and the repair of our world. Through classes, seminars, lectures, videos and writings, it helps create a vision of religion that embraces critical thinking and scientific inquiry, and at the same time, gives meaning to people’s lives and helps them make a positive impact on society. See more at http://www.sinaiandsynapses.org.
Founded in 1974, Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership is a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center. A leader in religious pluralism, Clal links Jewish wisdom with innovative scholarship to deepen civic and spiritual participation in American life. Clal’s interdisciplinary programs explore religious and national identity. The Clal faculty, with its reputation for excellence, represents rabbis and scholars from many streams and disciplines, and provides cutting-edge teaching, lectures, courses, seminars, and consulting across the country. See more at http://www.clal.org.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org) as well as Science Translational Medicine (www.sciencetranslationalmedicine.org), Science Signaling (www.sciencesignaling.org), and a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances (www.scienceadvances.org). AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, http://www.eurekalert.org/eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS. See http://www.aaas.org/.

From Sinai and Synapses.
Rabbi Mitelman is founder and director of Sinai and Synapses, incubated at Clal, and is a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow.