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.