Can an artificially intelligent robot become Jewish? Does Jewish tradition teach us who should get the COVID-19 vaccine first? On what basis should we decide when life begins and ends—science, philosophy, or religion? Does Jewish law offer clear guidance about how to preserve our natural environment? In this course, we will explore some of the challenges, opportunities, and mysteries of modern science and technology from three distinct perspectives: Jewish philosophy (how we think about things), Jewish law (the rules that govern our behavior), and Jewish ethics (the rightness and wrongness of our choices and actions). We will then study some cutting-edge test cases—from managing medical care in a pandemic to the changing definition of death to the future of artificial intelligence. All these cases demonstrate human mastery over nature (and its limits), raise questions about what life is and when it begins and ends, and open a wellspring of ethical challenges. At every turn, thinking as Jews, we will not only ask what science says we can do, but whether everything that can be done should be done.
Rabbi Benjamin J. Samuels
Benjamin J. Samuels has served as rabbi of Cong. Shaarei Tefillah of Newton Centre since 1995 and teaches widely in the Boston Jewish community. He earned his semikhah (rabbinical ordination) from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, holds a PhD in Science, Philosophy, and Religion from Boston University, and received an MA in Biblical Studies and Medieval Jewish History, and a BA in English Literature from Yeshiva University. His scholarly interests in religion and science primarily focus on how Jewish law and bioethics respond to changes in scientific understanding and technological capability.
Meet the Instructor
Tikvah aims to make all of our courses available to as many qualified students as possible. In the event that Tikvah needs to add additional sections, this course may be taught by a different faculty member with a similarly high level of expertise.