Klatzkin explains the universe
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Klatzkin explains the universe

Was the world created in six days or did the Big Bang start a process of millions of years of evolution? And is religion really in conflict with science?

"It’s about truth," said Rabbi Shmuel Klatzkin, who will speak at the Chabad Center of Passaic County later this month. "Judaism and science require dedication to truth, which goes beyond affection for habits and comfort," Klatzkin told The Jewish Standard in a phone interview earlier this week.


Rabbi Shmuel Klatzkin will speak on science and Torah.

As for Genesis and the Big Bang, Klatzkin doesn’t see a contradiction at all.

"If you look at the order of the Genesis text and look at the order of what the Big Bang might be saying, there are a lot of parallels. People will fall into traps if they become obtuse in their readings," he said.

In his talk, Klatzkin will ask participants to take a deeper look at the roles of science and Judaism. One of his own teachers held the philosophy that those who promote the conflict between religion and science are either not serious scientists or ignorant of religion. Klatzkin gives over this philosophy in his own talks, which he tries to make as engaging as possible for those who are skeptical of his ideas.

Not that he’ll outright try to change somebody’s mind. Rather, Klatzkin wants to engage critics during his talks so that they can draw their own conclusions.

"I don’t feel I’m out there to sell people on something. I’m there in the best tradition of Judaism that you model what you’re talking about — you teach by example," he said.

There is an idea floating around in society now that a person who is scientifically serious cannot be religiously serious, and vice versa, Klatzkin said. "It’s not fashionable to be religious if you’re an intellectual."

That is the idea that Chabad wanted to confront.

"I think especially in this generation, where there is technological advancement, people become complacent in their scientific knowledge, which leads them to become sometimes skeptical about godliness," said Rabbi Michael Gurkov, director of Passaic Chabad.

Classic Jewish thought as portrayed in Kabbalah teaches of a unity that encompasses all things and powers, Gurkov said. It also teaches that there is no severing of science and technology from philosophy and religion. This, said Klatzkin, is seen in the Kabbalistic idea of the tzimsum — the contraction of God’s infiniteness to allow space for the universe to exist.

Klatzkin is project director of the Miamonides Project at Dayton Chabad in Ohio, where he teams with Dayton Chabad’s scientist-in-residence Stuart Fickler, who holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. Together they examine issues of science and religion from both angles and try to bring the different viewpoints together.

Klatzkin was ordained as a Reform rabbi at Hebrew Union College in 1978. In 199′, he received a graduate degree in Near Eastern and Judaic studies from Brandeis University. He came from a secular home though and chose Reform because that is what he grew up with, he said, not out of allegiance. During the next few years he began exploring the world of Hasidim and eventually made the transition to Chabad, a change he described as a direct trajectory rather than a sudden switch.

He will speak on Monday at the Chabad Center of Passaic County in Wayne at 7:30 p.m. For information, call the Chabad Center at (973) 694-6’74.

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