The Science and Technology Ministry is this year investing NIS 1.2 million in research and education on the relationship between science and halakha (Jewish religious law). Half the sum will be allocated to promoting enrichment courses on the subject, and the rest will be used to fund applied research on scientific and technological solutions to problems posed by halakha.
The ministry is currently making decisions as to recipients of grants from the NIS 600,000 set aside annually to fund research; this year, the latter will related to issues in the fields of genetics, economics and the environment, and how they touch on the halakhic lifestyle. Last year the ministry funded research related to halakha and the field of medicine.
The ministry's support for halakhic-scientific research began with the appointment in 2009 of Daniel Hershkowitz of the Habayit Hayehudi party as minister. Much of the ministry's support for research of this nature has focused on technology that addresses prohibitions imposed by Jewish law on the Sabbath, including innovations for religious people suffering from illness and the disabled. Other research has related to organ transplants and implementing halakhic strictures during menstruation.
"Although there is a value to such research, it is not appropriate for money which the Science Ministry receives to fund research dealing with halakha," said Prof. Tsevi Mazeh of the faculty of exact sciences at Tel Aviv University. Mazeh is one of the most vocal proponents in the national religious community for separating scientific research from the Orthodox worldview.
"The science minister needs to deal with and invest in pure science," Mazeh said, adding that he has been particularly disturbed by a provision in the ministry's guidelines that makes a religious studies background sufficient for receiving funds.
For its part, the Science Ministry said only 1 percent of the entire ministry research budget is devoted to halakhic research.
"The ministry, which is entrusted with fostering science and technology in Israel, advances a wide range of scientific subjects and allocates tens of millions of shekels a year to advancing research on a variety of subjects, including advanced computer science, marine science, alternative energy, brain science, cancer research and the environment.
"When he came to the ministry, Science and Technology Minister Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz decided to promote research in the field of science and halakha due to the opinion that in the Jewish state - where many citizens observe tradition and where state institutions observe the Sabbath - science and technology should also serve to find solutions on halakhic subjects," the ministry said.