On October 8, 2012, a handwritten letter was set for auction on e-bay. It sold, 10 days later, with a winning bid of over $3M. The handwritten letter was penned by Albert Einstein to Jewish philosopher Eric B. Gutkind in January 1954, a year before Einstein’s death. In the letter, the Nobel Prize winning physicist called religion childish and made light the idea of Jewish “chosenness.”
“For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions,” Einstein wrote. “…As far as my experience goes, [the Jewish people] are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything chosen about them."
Einstein’s genius was, undoubtedly, his clarity. Where scientists the world over struggled to explain phenomena which didn’t follow a trajectory, he sensed the framework which pulled them together. He saw order where others saw confusion, rules where others saw chaos. His genius was more than mere brilliance - being able to compute facts and figures quickly. It was his vision, sensing the sum where others saw parts, the end where others saw the process. His discoveries were rightfully lauded because they uncovered physical order in a complicated world, and resolved age old dilemmas.
Science is amoral; the splitting of the atom can be used for good or evil purposes. It is also “areligious.” Einstein had the equal opportunity to attribute the organization he discovered to an Organizer who purposefully desired for life to flourish, or to the random forces of happenstance.
Religion and science are said to be the great rivals of the 19th and 20th Centuries. But, in truth, they share significant points of agreement. Both science and religion agree that God that cannot be seen under the microscope. Both science and religion agree that God cannot be measured, charted or bent. The debate is whether God can be experienced, spoken to, and connected with. Judaism says that He can, via the soul, a spark of Divine within each one of us, the force the pulls us to the permanent, the force that pulls us to eternity, the force that pulls us to morality. Science does not comment as it can only study physical phenomena. Judaism says that the soul cannot be measured or charted, but that it is the most central part of our being, an idea that mirrors the experience of the majority of mankind. Science does not comment, as it, by definition, recluses itself to assessments of entities within time and space.
Einstein was raised secular, lived secular and was most animated by secular ideas; it is hard to imagine that he could have connected the dots from persistent design to purposeful Designer. A cultural Jew, his comments on life and living, history and theology are those of one trying to make sense of the Jews in a god-detached world. His understanding of anti-Semitism and the historical oddity of the Jew were spot on, but when he speaks of God he speaks, not of science which has no comment, but of his own experience. He did not have a relationship with God.
In a March 24, 1954 letter, he is quoted as writing, "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.
Einstein was perhaps the most famous agnostic of his time. Yet, I would argue that he held an underlying appreciation of God in the most traditional Jewish way.
In October 1933, Einstein took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey. This was the final chapter is his research, and, coming at the height of his fame, a period that allowed him to expound upon any area of science he chose.
He chose to spend much of his time working on the Unified Field Theory. Simply put, there are four interactive forces which keep the physical world together: strong interaction, weak interaction, electromagnetic interaction and gravitational interaction. In the Unified Field Theory, Einstein worked to discover the force that holds it all together. He spent all that time searching for unity because, undoubtedly, he intuited that there is a Unifying force.
Einstein spent 20 years trying to find the “one” in “four.” Interestingly, the Torah speaks about the spiritual taking on physical form as one becoming four. Genesis 2:10 recounts: And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it was parted, and became into four streams.
Man’s ability to connect to and speak to that God is the wonder that Judaism taught the world. It is the gift that never stops giving. The human is predisposed to this relationship and its soul craves it. In retrospect, it is unfortunate that Einstein, in a 20 year search for the idea that keeps it all together, failed to relate to the Hand that holds it all together.
As of October 18, the most expensive paper Einstein ever wrote is one that negates much of traditional Jewish belief. But to me, the most important paper he ever wrote is the one he never completed, the Unified Field Theory. It is, in fact, the mission of the Jew that remains until this day: promoting monotheism, a United God, who is the source of all pleasure and challenge, hope and purpose. May we encourage the world to connect to the Force that, truly, holds it all together.
The author of two books and the Director of The Jewish Centre’, Yaakov Rosenblatt is a rabbi in Dallas, Texas