Remembering a Great Rabbi Who Brought Religion and Science Together

October 11, 2021 | David M. Weinberg
About the author: David M. Weinberg is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), and former senior advisor in Israel to the Tikvah Fund. He also is a widely published kosher-wine enthusiast.

While some thinkers have seen inherent tension between faith and science and others have seen them as separate but complementary perspectives on the world, Rabbi Moshe Tendler—who died last month at the age of ninety-five—saw the two as working together, in a quintessentially Jewish fashion. He was best known for applying new medical knowledge to the thorniest questions of Jewish law, and applying Jewish law to new medical technologies. David M. Weinberg writes:

Tendler was a professor of microbiology and Jewish medical ethics at Yeshiva University, a distinguished clinical cancer researcher, one of America’s leading bioethicists, and a president of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. . . . Simultaneously, he was a yeshiva dean, a community rabbi in Monsey, New York for over five decades, and an unassailable expert in halakhah (Jewish law).

Tendler also was the essential, accessible “rabbi-doctor” pastoral guide for thousands of Jews in times of medical crisis. Every day, he fielded dozens of calls from around the world about complicated issues of Jewish law and medicine, especially issues relating to abortion, artificial insemination, contraception, end-of-life issues, organ transplantation, and the definition of death.

As Weinberg notes, there are many learned Jews today who are also accomplished scientists, and some are even Nobel-prize winners, but

none was as uniquely positioned to move the needle of the appreciation for science in the religious world and of the respect for religion among his fellow scientists as was Tendler. He empowered Jews everywhere to value the wonderful and complex interface between science and religion, and he demonstrated the value of this fusion for the non-Jewish world too.

Torah-educated students, [Tendler believed], should derive an important conclusion from viewing a human cell under a microscope, . . . the palpable sensation of encountering God as the creator of life. Just as, [a midrash teaches that] the patriarch Abraham recognized God when he viewed the stars in the sky, we also should recognize that He created this world through our observation of the microscopic human cell.

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