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What Do Science and Technology Have in Common with Judaism?

What Do Science and Technology Have in Common with Judaism?

Two girls wearning fluorescent safety goggles and working with a Bunsen burner

Judaism has always stressed a search for knowledge. At 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy (Sci-Tech for short) one of the Reform Jewish community’s 16 summer camps, a crowd of inquisitive, intelligent, and extraordinary campers live out that search by studying astronomy, 3D animation, computer programming, and more.

Yes, but what makes these things Jewish?

Each week, two or three rabbis, cantors, or educators join different camp communities as visiting faculty, not only creating special bonds with the kids by playing capture the flag or gaga, but also helping with b’nai mitzvah tutoring, Shabbat preparation, and teaching, as well as by offering divrei Torah (words of Torah) and telling stories.

Recently it was my turn to serve as a visiting faculty member, experiencing and facilitating the blend of Judaism and science. At Sci-Tech, campers spend a lot of time focused on a single scientific or technological subject, such as robotics or forensics. Because these aren’t, strictly speaking, “Jewish topics,” instructors, counselors, and faculty add a Jewish connection, often by using science and technology to explain or enhance words of Torah.

One morning, for example, I talked with campers who were studying computer programming and codes, a subject about which I know almost nothing. So, I taught them about gematria, the Hebrew numbers code in which every Hebrew letter has a numerical equivalent. Using gematria, the numerical value of the letters in the word chai (the Hebrew word for life) total 18, which is why the word often is associated with this number. In this way, as campers explore how to write a computer code, they also learn about Jewish codes across the centuries.

In a video game design class, students might learn about PARDES – the multi-leveled system to study Jewish texts – and how the video texts they are creating have a richness to them. Likewise, in robotics, campers learned about the Golem, the mythic Jewish monster of Prague that essentially was a Jewish robot. One last example: In their BioZone class, students receive white lab coats at the beginning of their two-week study of medicine. The coats, they are taught, echo the tallitot (prayer shawls) many of them received at their b’nai mitzvah in several ways. Both are special garments given to mark a milestone moment and to identify them in new and different ways – the tallitot as young adults in the Jewish community and the white coats as medical students at camp.

Sci-Tech celebrates five core values: kavod (respect), kesher (connection), sakranut (curiosity), taglit (discovery), and savlanut (patience). Through their experiences, campers come to understand them as scientific and technological values, as well as Jewish values all in one. Uncovering and highlighting rich connections between Judaism and the students’ scientific studies will help them internalize the values as they master incredible technological subjects. Just as their passion, learning, and faith are joined together at Sci-Tech, so, too, may campers find similar bonds and connections with Judaism and faith throughout their lives.

Rabbi Mark Kaiserman is the senior rabbi of The Reform Temple of Forest Hills in Forest Hills, NY

Rabbi Mark Kaiserman
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