by Daniela Enriquez
Last week, on the Fourth of July, while most Americans were celebrating their Independence Day, scientists working at CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research) finally discovered the Higgs Boson, also known as “the God particle.” The entire scientific world celebrated the announcement, which signaled a new era of human knowledge. Israeli scientists were among the researchers who shared in this success. Eilam Gross, a member of the team and a professor at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, said: “When I walk around now and see the trees, I feel better connected to nature.”
Don’t worry if you’re not so interested or think that your life doesn’t seem so different than it did a week ago. I wasn’t thrilled about the sensational news either, until I ran across a number of articles about the religious consequences of this discovery and the relationship between the Higgs Boson and God. “God?” I thought. Why should He be affected by this human discovery? Why should religious people be worried about it? What does Higgs’s idea have to do with monotheism, with God or the Torah?
I started to read about the topic, trying to understand the relevance of this human achievement, and to figure out why such a small particle should be of such great importance to the Jews. I got lost in the midst of incomprehensible scientific descriptions and names, tried becoming acquainted with electromagnetism and the weak force, read articles about protons, electrons and neutrons.
I can’t say I totally understood the role of the Higgs Boson in our universe, but here is what I’ve managed to suss out:
1. The Higgs Boson is responsible for the mass of everything existing in the universe.
2. It controls the speed of protons and electrons.
3. Thus, it makes possible a structured universe, rather than an uncontrolled flow of energy.
By studying the Higgs Boson, scientists will be able to find an explanation to the beginning of the universe–a universe that is the result of a cosmic explosion, not created by God, but governed by natural laws that humans, finally, will be able to explain.
Is it okay for Jews to believe in such a world—come to life thanks to a huge collision, rather than one created by God? Is it okay to accept the idea of a world whose perfection depends on a tiny particle? There is a midrash, in Bereshit Rabba 1, about the letter Bet—the first letter of the Torah. The midrash asks why the world was created with a Bet. The answer? Because only one of its four sides is open—and open in the direction of the text. Thus, human beings can investigate only what has happened since the creation of the world, and not what is before, behind and above them.
Well, apparently this isn’t true anymore. Humans, it seems, are going to discover the entire history of the world, up to the very beginning, whether they are ready for it or not. It seems that religion and science are ready to collide and confront each other once again in the battle between creation and evolution.
Like many, I’ve always thought that in the modern era, religion and science could work together, as religion and philosophy did during the Middle Ages—as Maimonides seemed to be sure of.
But the question still remains: Is the Higgs Boson kosher?
Maybe yes. As Natan Slifkin writes on his website, rationalistjudaism.com: “In light of the foregoing, would Judaism not be justified in viewing this idea of a universal unity, which inquiring minds have already pieced together from the textbook of the universe and which man’s consciousness yearns to express, as nothing less than the long-awaited triumph of the truth of Judaism? This is the truth with which, thousands of years ago, Judaism first appeared in the midst of a chaotic multitude of gods, proclaiming that there is only one, sole God in heaven and on earth, and that all the phenomena of the universe are founded upon His Law. This idea, the concept of the Unity of God, is the truth for which Judaism has endured a course of martyrdom without parallel in world history. And so, I would firmly conclude that the discovery of the Higgs Boson is Good For The Jews”.
Maybe the idea of the world starting from a small subatomic element is anything but against Judaism. Maybe there is still room for dialogue between the most Orthodox rabbi and the most liberal scientist.
Or room for compromise. We discovered the particle responsible for the existence of the entire universe—but where did the Higgs Boson come from? Who created it? Or, isn’t it true that the world “Bereshit” could be translated as “with the principle” rather then “in the beginning”?
Maybe in the end it’s not so wrong to call it the God particle.