Israel Funds Courses on Ties Between Jewish Law and Science

Program, funded by the Science and Technology Ministry, is drawing fire from academic quarters for not being science based.

The Science and Technology Ministry is continuing to fund enrichment courses for the general public on the relationship between science and Jewish law (halakha ), according to a tender published last week inviting groups to apply for grants. The tender stipulates that bodies applying for the funding must be those dealing with "halakhic-scientific research" and in finding "technological-halakhic solutions."

The ministry is to grant NIS 600,000 in funding to this year's programs, less than last year's NIS 1 million handed out.

The program is drawing fire from academic quarters for being less scientific and more Jewish law based.

"This is not activity to promote science, but rather funding of a halakhic discussion of science," said Prof. Sivan Toledo of Tel Aviv University's School of Computer Science.

Other academic officials said that at a time when the humanities and the natural sciences are having difficulty surviving for lack of funds and other reasons, the decision to fund such programs was not the right one.

A source in the Science and Technology Ministry said its Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi ) is advancing a policy of "bringing the community closer to science," and to that end "he obtained funding of approximately NIS 7 million, out of which NIS 1.2 million have been allocated to the subject of science and halakha."

According to the tender, "there is also importance to the area in which science and technology are incorporated in applied halakha over the generations" and that the funding was for programs that would combine "the study and application of science/technology in relation to laws by which Jews are commanded to act."

The call excludes yeshivas and kollels for married men unless their aims include research in the field or "solutions in the area of science, technology and halakha."

The Science and Technology Ministry said on Thursday that the invitation to apply for the funding was formulated together with the Justice Ministry.

The ministry also said groups studying the shmita agricultural sabbatical year would also be excluded from applying to avoid double dipping, because "such research is funded by the Agriculture Ministry."

Last year, six institutions received grants for more extensive programs, totaling NIS 1 million. Among them the the Torah-science college in the settlement of Ma'aleh Levona, the Institute for the Study of the New Month in the Kerem B'Yavneh Yeshiva and the Dr. Falk Schlesinger Institute for Medical-Halakhic Research of Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

Issues raised in the classes included the use of electricity on Shabbat, the place of astronomy in halakha and continuing education for rabbis on the issue of clinical death and transplants.

The ministry funds other programs promoting science, some more extensively than the science and halacha programs, such as science programs in local councils. Those get NIS 3 million, while other programs, like ones involving outer space, get NIS 300,000.

The Science and Technology Ministry said the tender was "augmenting, not detracting from" the ministry's ongoing activities promoting science and was one of many such tenders promoting science.