Keep Torah Out of the Science Classroom

By: Kira Paley  |  November 14, 2018

By Kira Paley, Editor in Chief 

As a humanities major pursuing a career in the sciences, I, like Yeshiva University, must find a balance between two disciplines. While I struggle to keep up with both science and English coursework, YU students–myself included–strive to strike their own subjective balance between two of YU’s supposed core pillars: Torah and “Madda,” or science. Torah U’Madda has a slew of implications; it can mean a dual curriculum or the ability to receive a secular education in an Orthodox Jewish environment, to name a couple. What it shouldn’t mean, though, is the intertwining of scientific and religious concepts in a science class.

Since I’m not majoring in a science, I have only taken a handful of science courses since I began Stern. In my chemistry and physics classes, I learned chemistry and physics; that is, my professors lectured solely on the subjects for which we students had registered. Yet this semester, in an advanced biology class, the lecture often focuses on the Orthodox Jewish connection to the material on the syllabus.

Despite that this is undeniably an Orthodox Jewish institution, we should not let all roads lead back to Orthodox Judaism, specifically when it comes to academics. I am taking this advanced biology class because it is a prerequisite for medical school, not because I am curious about the ways in which biology and Jewish law intersect. If a course is listed as a biology course–or even as a finance course, or a psychology course, or a political science course–its focus should be biology. If YU wants to boast that its academics are on par with higher ranked secular colleges, then its courses should be standard academic college courses. At NYU, CUNY, Barnard, etc., the time students spend in their biology courses is devoted solely to biology. Should YU continue to highlight its academic excellence, its professors and faculty must realize that Torah U’Madda does not need to extend to every aspect of the university. When it does, the reputation of the university as a serious academic institution suffers.

The Stern College Biology Department website outlines its various goals and missions; missing from its mission statement is a sentence about biology students cultivating their religious growth through the study of science, and rightly so. The purpose of getting an education in the sciences, whether it’s to obtain a career in a scientific field or simply for its own sake, is to become educated in the sciences. That is, to understand scientific concepts and principles, to learn how to evaluate scientific literature, to practice the application of the scientific method, etc. As an accredited academic institution, YU should educate its students in the sciences with this in mind, all ideas of halacha and Orthodox values aside when it comes to the curricular experience.

There is a place, even in a curricular setting, to discuss the intersection of Judaism and science–many places, even. But those places are Judaic Studies classrooms, not science classrooms. Instead of allowing for completely irrelevant discussions that detract from learning the relevant material, YU should create more courses which allow for those discussions. Students curious about medicine in the context of halacha can take JUDS classes and learn about the intersection, but students who register for a biology class should not be subject to tangents about Jewish law simply because YU is a Jewish institution. Going to a Jewish school does not mean that Judaism should permeate every single facet of the student experience.

Outside of the classroom, discussions about real world applications of Orthodox values at YU have their place. There’s the Medical Ethics Society and the Derech HaTeva Journal, and as always, students are invited to write about such topics for The Observer. Like all college experiences, the YU experience is multi-faceted and for some includes religious activity and growth. When it comes to getting a degree, though, the religious and academic aspects of YU should be, at the very least, allowed to be kept separate.