Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Passing of a Pioneer

Professor Cyril Domb (1920-2012)

I was greatly saddened last week to learn of the passing of Professor Cyril Domb z"l. The younger readers of this website have probably  not heard of him, but he was a pioneering figure in the field of Torah and science.

Professor Domb was born in England. He was the first Orthodox Jewish scientist to become a Fellow of the Royal Society, one of the highest academic honors in England. He moved to Israel about 30 years ago, where he worked at Bar-Ilan University and Machon Lev (JCT). My father, z"l, told me that he was one of the leading physicists in Israel (and Professor Domb, in turn, once told me that my father was a scientist of extraordinary breadth). Professor Domb also developed a range of Torah-study enterprises in England, from TVA to Hovevay Torah (no connection to the US institution). Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky referred to him as "the famous scientist sheyiraso kodemes lechochmoso."

Professor Domb was the first honorary president of the British Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. In this role, he co-edited a collection of articles by various authors, together with my mentor Rav Aryeh Carmell z"l, that was published in 1976 as a profoundly influential book: Challenge: Torah Views on Science and its Problems. After all these years, although some of the science is dated, there is still a tremendous amount of valuable material in it. It is also a remarkable volume for the sheer diversity of views presented - from the rejectionism vis-a-vis science by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to the accommodation of science in the thoughtful chapter entitled "AOJS Panel Discussion" (which was written by Rav Aryeh Carmell). Professor Domb wrote the opening chapter, which is a fascinating discussion of the role of the Orthodox Jewish scientist in the world.

Professor Domb was also a wonderful person - kind, warm, and modest. When I first met him at the tender age of 18, he was perfectly ready to invite me to his home and talk to me on various diverse topics, ranging from the authenticity of archeopteryx to the halachos of beliah at different altitudes. My family is indebted to him for his role in encouraging my parents to make aliyah (he told my father, "Come and work for Jews for a change!") and arranging a position for my father at Machon Lev.

A lengthy biographical sketch of Professor Domb can be found at the end of Encounter: Essays on Torah and Modern Life. He perfectly fulfilled his own prescription, in the opening chapter of Challenge, for the role of the Orthodox Jewish scientist: to "bridge the gap between the sacred and the secular." יהי זכרו ברוך.

20 comments:

  1. It's very thoughtful of you to write a post in his memory.

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  2. Thanks for the kind words, but a member of his family suggested it, so I can't take credit for the idea.

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  3. Did professor Domb accept that the world is billions of years old?

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  4. beautiful tribute

    I knew Professor Domb personally. He was a true gentleman and a scholar (in both limudei chol and limudei kodesh), not to mention a yarei Shomayim. One anecdote I can share is that he did not step out of his succah for all seven days of Succos(except for minyanim and asher yatzar). He simply moved in with all his books and sefarim and stayed there.

    I know it's a cliche, but his death makes me think, "They don't make them like that any more."

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  5. Yasher koach for the tribute to Prof. Cyril Domb. I was certainly aware of the book, "Challenge" that he edited with Rav Aryeh Carmell, and much appreciated the chapters written by the editors. I had previously heard Prof. Domb lecturing at an AOJS meeting. What remained with me after all these years was his reference to a proof that he had developed in kinetic theory that the influence of a "determined minority" was proportional, not to their numbers, but to the square of their numbers. In other words, a minority that follows a given direction when everyone else just behaves randomly, far exceeds their numbers in overall influence. This proof in the kinetic theory of molecules has application to many other areas, as well - including religion and politics. We have seen examples of such determined minorities in Israel lately - unfortunately for the bad. Hopefully, the larger population will wake up and exert themselves, as well.akingsE

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  6. think he wrote the survey of opinons re maaser kasefaim, still the best book on the subject. BDE.

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  7. Did professor Domb accept that the world is billions of years old?

    Have you ever heard of a non-Chabad physicist who didn't?

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  8. A reader passed on the following:

    Journal of Statistical Physics
    Volume 145, Issue 3, November 2011
    Special Issue Dedicated to Cyril Domb
    http://rd.springer.com/journal/10955/145/3/page/1
    The preface is free

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  9. I would like to add the name of
    Dr Alvin Radkovsky as another Orthodox/religious pioneer in the world of science. He was one of the founders the United States Navy's nuclear program. It was people like him and Dr Domb who proved once and for all that religiously observant Jews can go all the way" intellectually and be at home in the world of science and Torah at the same time WITHOUT COMPROMISE.

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  10. I did not know that Prof Domb ws still alive until now but still feel saddened to hear of his passing. The book *Challenge* which he and R' Carmell put together was an incredibly important book for me when I myself,as a teenager, struggled tremendously with questions of science and Torah. I found the book in my father's library (R' Nachman Bulman z'l) and it literally changed my life. Thank you for posting this memorial to Prof Domb.

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  11. (More than just the preface is free)

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  12. A footnote to the the link above leads to an interview with Professor Domb:
    http://authors.library.caltech.edu/5456/1/hrst.mit.edu/hrs/renormalization/Domb/

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  13. Ignaramous that I am, I knew nothing about Professor Domb until I saw the obituary in the today's Jerusalem Post. I immediately thought, "what was his connection with Rabbi Slifkin and his ideas," and did a Google search accordingly, arriving right to your post of today!! Nice going. Thanks for the cite to "Challenge." Does he have any other books you would recommend, accessible to a non-scientist?

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  14. Prof Domb, in addition oto all his other accomplishments, was also the edto ofth importnt Bar-Ilan Journal on Torah and Science, BDD. I remember with fondness the very and encouraging letters he wrote me when I contributed articles to the journal.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  15. Taking the physics-torah issue from a practical point of view: Are there any rashei yeshiva who have worked in the foundations (yesodot) of physics, and can thus speak about them "from the inside"?

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  16. Why on earth did this post receive 5 kefirah votes?!

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  17. Note to those wondering why their comments are not appearing: As it says very clearly, in capital letters, in bold, ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED.

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  18. David Debow
    I am Professor Domb's son-in-law. I wanted to let the community know that this heartfelt tribute and kind comments were shared with the family at the Shiva and indeed brought them comfort. They complimented wonderful stories by many and varied visitors and notes from all over the world. If I may add, in the spirit of this blog which champions truth and accuracy and in the spirit of my father-in-law who was in all things a man of great integrity, that while he loved the Mitzvah of Sukkah and invested in his Sukkah making it both warm, comfortable and safe, he was known to step out of his Sukkah for things other than Minyan. Please keep the comments coming.

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  19. David Debow
    I am Professor Domb's son-in-law. I wanted to let the community know that this heartfelt tribute and kind comments were shared with the family at the Shiva and indeed brought them comfort. They complimented wonderful stories by many and varied visitors and notes from all over the world. If I may add, in the spirit of this blog which champions truth and accuracy and in the spirit of my father-in-law who was in all things a man of great integrity, that while he loved the Mitzvah of Sukkah and invested in his Sukkah making it both warm, comfortable and safe, he was known to step out of his Sukkah for things other than Minyan. Please keep the comments coming.

    ReplyDelete

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