To my parents' generation, science and technology were not mortal enemies of Torah Judaism; they were its natural successors. In their eyes, science and technology represented progress, promise and the New World. They didn't really understand what Liste, Kelvin, Darwin and Freud were saying, but they believed in those men. On the other hand, they didn't really understand what the Torah was saying, either. But they associated the Torah with the shtetl, mud, superstition and restriction. The generation that opted for Zionism and Socialism, for culture and freedom and liberalism, replaced the superstitions of the Old World with the superstitions of the New World. They didn't do it intentionally, but they did it nonetheless: they deified science and technology and built altars to these new gods. In some cases they sacrificed their children on these altars. They certainly sacrificed their heritage.
This is not the place to analyze the causes and dynamics of that sociocultural revolution. But I'm sure of two things: the reasons they gave for discarding Torah (they would prefer to use the word 'updating' because 'discarding' has such a pejorative ring) had precious little to do with Torah; and the reasons they gave for deifying science did not derive from knowledge of science. The point to be made, however, is that it happened. The support of science, the blind acceptance of the validity of scientific statements and the equation of science with truth (at least science and truth as they were perceived at the turn of the century) became an important thread in the fabric of modern Western Judaism.
The situation is really a little pathetic to one who follows historical developments in science. The Jewish community has changed profoundly since it emerged from the shtetl mud a hundred years ago. The twentieth century, which experienced both Holocaust and rebirth, has irrevocably re-molded Jewish values and perceptions. Zionism, Socialism and Communism are no longer the major issues of our existence, even in Israel. Dreams about internationalism and the United Nations and equality among the 'family of nations' grow more sour every time the General Assembly meets. The promise of America and its political-economic mirage are being critically re-examined. But Jewish attitudes to science--especially as they conflict with Torah--are quite unchanged. They remain fixed--squarely in the last decade of the nineteenth century.
Second Constitilency: The Modern Religious Establishment
The 'modern' Jewish approaches to Judaism in America also draw some sustenance from the Torah-science conflict. However, unlike the immigrant generation, they do not consider science to be the successor of Torah; instead, they try to rewrite the Torah in order to show its fundamental agreement with modern truth--science. In this way, they can justify two of their basic claims to legitimacy on the Jewish scene: as guardians of religion, Torah and tradition, on the one hand, and as modern replacements for the Neanderthals who teach that Torah is eternal and immutable on the other.
Interestingly, all of the modern Jewish outlooks, regardless of their theological disagreements, have an almost identical approach to the challenge of science to Torah. According to this approach, the Torah writes allegorically whereas science proves things; the Torah was designed to teach morality whereas science teaches facts; as scientific discoveries are made, the Torah must be reinterpreted to avoid conflict with new discoveries. Jews are no longer obligated to accept Torah narratives in a literal sense, says the liberal theologian. Instead, they are ready to accept any new theory, any new statement, any new version of reality--as long as it has the imprimatur of science. Thus, Torah must be preserved for its moral and humanistic and even literary value, but its primitive elements and non-scientific pronouncements are dated and disposable and modifiable. The bottom line, actually, is to deny completely that the Torah is capable of saying anything it really intends to say, and to grant credibility only to what is accepted by the sophisticated, liberal establishment of Cincinnati, New York and Los Angeles at the close of the 20th century.
In liberal theology there are very few absolutes. Compromise is a virtue, and tinkering with tradition is a way of life. It should not be any surprise, therefore, to recognize that in the Torah-science conflict, modern religion doesn't even pause to challenge science. There is no claim made by a psychiatrist with credentials that is too bizarre, no hypothesis by an astrophysicist that is too preposterous. All science and all research are accepted as valid sources of truth and the Torah is stretched and twisted on the Procrustean bed of compromise to conform to the new discovery.
Even better is any new discovery which conflicts with the 'inconvenient' laws of Torah. The hypothesis that kashrut (dietary) laws were really ancient public health regulations, for example, killed two birds with one stone. It showed that the Torah was once valid (even advanced!) and it simultaneously permitted us to replace the old laws with modern sanitary codes formulated by the high priests of the Federal Food and Drug Administration.(No argument against this hypothesis, even from recognized experts in public health and medicine, seems to be effective. Science--even poor science--wins against anachronisms every time. Kashrut can be accepted and observed as a noble tradition, or as a historical link. But as a divine decree it loses any real clout.) This is also true with the Torah sex laws. Since it is known that all ancient people had sex taboos, the Torah can just be considered another historic document. Therefore, some parts can be accepted (for hygienic or moral reasons) and others can be rejected. The concept of Commandment was the first casualty of the rewriting of Torah--long before the concept of the age of the Earth.
The question can be fairly asked, Why modify the Torah? What is the benefit of rewriting it? Why not discard it altogether like my parents' generation did? Indeed, there are those, to the left of the Jewish American religious establishment, who claim that any observance of Torah--moral as well as ritual--is anachronistic. Beyond the liberal rabbi is someone more liberal who questions the need for a rabbi altogether. That is exactly why the liberal religious still need the Torah, or whatever emasculated parts they have chosen to retain. The Torah-science controversy has become a Torah-science 'synthesis'--the perfect ecological niche for those among us who 'want to do their own thing' and simultaneously remain traditional. We want to retain some kind of Jewish institution, a synagogue or temple, if only because the Gentiles have their churches and look with suspicion on the unchurched. Or we want to salve our conscience after visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, or to justify paying the salary of a rabbi. We will use whatever Torah is needed to maintain identity and will deny the remainder because of scientific discovery. Very rarely does the for- mula include such components as the Will of G-d--the desire and intent of the One Who gave us the Torah in the first place.
The preceding model can be used, as well, to describe the Torah-science conflict in Israel today. The compromises and selective utilization of Torah by those who manage Israeli culture, politics and educa tion are much more exciting than the dull American controversy. But I won't touch it until I take up permanent residence in Israel and can speak as a participant rather than a spectator.
The Third Constituency: Soviet Russia
There is yet another milieu in which the Torah-science debate is taken seriously: in Soviet Russia and other totalitarian states where the value of the individual and his spiritual component is basically denied. (Editor's note: this article was originally published in 1987).
Here, of course, the debate is not left to rabbis who are untrained in science and who only want to compromise a little bit. Here, the fight is conducted seriously, urgently and systematically with the whole power of the state mounted on the side of "science". And the fight has been remarkably successful except for a small handful of stubborn men and women who are the true kedoshim (holy martyrs) of our generation.
But in Russia the fight is understandable. Torah is the antithetical paradigm of the Soviet philosophy. Torah and dialectical materialism are in absolute and uncompromising opposition to each other at every possible point along their interface. That is why the Soviet government deems it imperative to eradicate Torah, its values and its narratives, its heroes and its ideals. For communist ideology to win, it must not only eradicate the Ten Commandments; it must also destroy, completely, the idea that there is a Creator and that there was a Creation, that there was a beginning and that there is one G-d and many worlds. They are not worried about being considered "old fashioned". The very ideas go to the heart of an attack on the Soviet premise and its continuity. Thus the Soviet government, for its very survival, uses science twice: once as a weapon to contradict Torah, and once--as the model of neutral values--to replace Torah.