Science Will Meet Judaism at Kol Ami


Kol Ami — The Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community is combining science and spirituality in its upcoming four-part series “Science Meets Judaism: Exploring the Connections.” The series will explore ecology, animal behavior, AI and particle physics and how they relate to Jewish philosophy.

Rabbi Gilah Langner Photo Provided

Kol Ami is one of 15 synagogues to win a grant from Scientists in Synagogues, which also provides grant holders with guidance and networking to hold science-based events.

Rabbi Gilah Langner said that Kol Ami’s faculty first heard about the grant last year, when B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville received it. The Rockville synagogue notified others in the area when applications for the 2023 grant opened, and Langner and other faculty were

“I have a very long-standing interest in science myself,” Langner said. “I don’t have any training in it, but I’m very fascinated by the conversation between science and religion, especially Judaism, and how they talk to each other and encourage each other. We have some scientists in the congregation, too, so it felt like a natural fit.”

Langner will be hosting the first educational program, “Restoration Ecology,” in September and October, along with Dr. Betsy von Holle, a program director at the University of Central Florida’s biology department. Starting on the morning of Rosh Hashanah, the program will examine the biblical idea of creation along with the current biodiversity crisis.

In addition to discussing the idea of restoration ecology and the actions scientists take to restore endangered and threatened species, the program will examine how they relate to the Jewish value of tikkun olam and how Jewish thought regarding ecology has evolved over the years.

The four different topics that the synagogue will be examining from Fall 2023 to Spring 2024 were carefully chosen through discussions with faculty and guest speakers who are a part of Scientists in Synagogues.

“We wanted to share the kind of things that would be interesting to a general audience, and that the scientists we are working with would love to share with everybody as well,” Langner added.

Programs coming later down the line include “Animal Perceptions: From Sentience to Spirituality,” about animal behavior and the idea of creatures having souls; “Artificial Intelligence,” about AI programs and how Jewish values can make them more ethical; and “How Long is Forever?” about the universe’s fate and the Jewish idea
of eternity.

“My feeling is that our ancestors, our rabbis, our Torah, our tradition of writing has always tried to answer questions about the universe and our world and the place where God resides just the same way that science is trying to answer questions about the world and the universe,” Langner explained. “And these are two different ways of thinking and probing and trying to penetrate the mysteries of life and existence, and they
can coexist.”

The rabbi added that she hopes people will get a better understanding of the relationship between science and religion, and how the two interact and supplement each other rather
than competing.

“Both science and Judaism are fascinating ways of exploring and thinking about the world,” she said. “If we put them together, we can really enrich our lives, our insights into the world and insights into the mysteries of the universe.”

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