Judaism Unbound Episode 114: Sinai and Synapses - Geoffrey Mitelman


Dan and Lex are joined by Geoffrey Mitelman, the Founding Director of Sinai & Synapses. Together they discuss the realms of science & religion, perceived by many as entirely separate, and the ways in which Mitelman blends them together every day of his professional life. 

 Image Credit: Eli Talks

Image Credit: Eli Talks

(0:01 - 12:25): To begin the episode, Mitelman provides an overview of the work that Sinai & Synapses does. [1] Honing in on scientific and Jewish takes on the concept of memory, he shows how it is possible not only to treat science and religion as entirely separate realms, but also to blend teachings from both. [2] [3]He then shines a light on two of his organization's central initiatives, Scientists In Synagogues and the Sinai & Synapses Interfaith Fellowship. [4]

(12:30 - 27:57): Mitelman puts forth four common orientations toward science and religion, which he terms the "conflict," "concert," "contrast," and "contact" models respectively, [5] explaining why Sinai & Synapses advocates for the "contact" framework. [6] He then distinguishes between the ideas of religion and God, which are often treated as synonymous. Continuing, he gives a take on a question that many have asked over the years: why it is that so many Jews seem to work professionally in scientific fields. 

(28:02 - 46:56): Re-visiting the question of memory, and also bringing up the topic of compassion, Mitelman provides additional examples regarding how Jewish and scientific examinations of a topic can  be blended with one another to fuel new and creative forms of meaning-making. Shifting gears, he argues that Judaism (and other religions) might be effectively understood as analogous to languages. He also looks back at his upbringing and early professional life, exploring what factors led him to care about questions of science and religion in the first place. To close the episode, he looks at one of the strongest characteristics of the scientific process: failure. He emphasizes why the process of experimentation necessitates failure, and that failing should therefore not be seen as a tragedy, but part of the path towards success. [7]

[1] Learn more about Sinai & Synapses by visiting SinaiAndSynapses.org. Read Geoffrey Mitelman's full bio by clicking here.

[2] For more on the distinction between episodic and semantic memory, which Mitelman highlights, click here.

[3] For Stephen Jay Gould's ideas on non-overlapping magisteria, which Mitelman critiques, click here.

[4] Learn more about Scientists in Synagogues by clicking here. Explore the Sinai & Synapses' Fellowship here.

[5] For a full piece by Mitelman that lays out these four models, see "Science + Religion = Better World."  

[6] View Mitelman's ELI Talk on these four ways to relate to science and religion by clicking the video link on the right.

[7] In discussing failure, he cites Stuart Firestein's Failure: Why Science is So Successful, which is available on Amazon at this link.