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What is “scientific” about Jewish Science?

The Society of Jewish Science, organized in 1922 by Rabbi Morris and Tehilla Lichtenstein, stresses mental and physical health, the power of the mind in gaining control over human emotions and beliefs, by utilizing prayers and ethical teachings based on the underlying tenets of Judaism.

The term “Science” in Jewish Science was originally used in the early 20th century sense, to imply a study of the relationships between psychology and mental health. While Jewish Science is not to be understood as a study of physics, chemistry, biology, or any of the empirical sciences, it nevertheless is consistent with much of modern medicine and psychology. The existential – humanistic movement in psychology, for example, which attaches great importance to human will, creative potential, and power to overcome obstacles is a theoretical descendent of Jewish Science beliefs.

Much contemporary research into health and psychology emphasizes the role of mental attitudes, personality characteristics, or the perceptual environment on the course of disease. Investigation of what are known as “self-fulfilling prophecies” provides scientific support for the often expressed belief that “Thinking something makes it so.” Cognitive science, in general, stresses the importance of mental factors in the determination of behavior, and cognitive therapy, in particular, gives a major role to “visualization,” a technique used throughout the history of Jewish Science for its therapeutic value. Recent trends in holistic health, environmental medicine, immunology and the mind, stress control, and biofeedback, to cite a few relevant areas, support much of the body of Jewish Science belief which is clearly outlined in Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein’s book Jewish Science and Health and Tehilla Lichtenstein’s Applied Judaism.

While Jewish Science places emphasis on the mental effects of a person’s physical health, it supports the undeniably vital role played in healing by medical science and mental health practitioners. Jewish Science opposes those creeds that deny reality to human ailments, and further opposes the belief that sickness is only the result of inadequate mental control, or the superstitious conviction that illness is a punishment for sin.

Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein, founder of the Society, based his principles and methods primarily on the Torah, the Psalms, and the writings of the prophets. The method of affirmation, for example, by which people express their desires in affirmative terms in the belief that such expression will assist in bringing about the desired state, parallels the method of expression found in the Book of Psalms. The relationship between spirituality and health can be found in a variety of areas of Jewish thought, from the philosophical writings of Moses Maimonides to the poetry of Judah Halevi, from the traditions of Hasidism to the prayers of the kabbalists.

The ceremonial programs at the Society use abbreviated siddurim which emphasize Jewish Science philosophy, visualization, and silent meditation. Our weekly programs consisting of learning sessions and worship services have been held on Sunday mornings in order to avoid conflict with traditional synagogue attendance. Many of our members, however, do consider the Society their spiritual home, and so special celebrations for Shabbat and the major holidays have been added to the calendar.

Membership in the Society of Jewish Science is open to anyone who wishes to connect with its philosophy and with the power of Jewish spirituality. We are, and have always been, a progressive, inclusive community. Tehilla Lichtenstein, wife of the founder of Jewish Science, led the Society for 35 years, and is reputed to be the first woman to occupy a Jewish pulpit in the United States.