Rabbi Malcolm Cohen

Rabbi Malcolm Cohen

This week I dressed up as Albert Einstein. This was not for a bet or dare. Purim is several months off and Halloween expired in October. I dressed up as Einstein to teach my congregation about him.

I figured that reading his words would have a certain power, but meeting him in person would be superior.

Aside from a shabby wig, fake moustache and dodgy German accent, I realised I would have to understand his Theory Of Special Relativity along with getting my head around energy-mass equivalence.

This was not an easy task for a rabbi with more of an arts background who had won the contempt of a succession of physics teachers in younger years.

My best understanding came not from the couple of holders of physics doctorates in my congregation but a 17-year-old student with a massive IQ and sweet nature who laid it out in all of its Einsteinian glory in a 20 minute phone call.

The problem with Einstein is that us religious types try to claim him as one of our own. He made a bunch of pronouncements about God which were pounced on but were not all they seemed. When Einstein said, “God does not play dice,” he meant, “Randomness is not at the heart of all things.”

When he asserted, “God did not have a choice in creating the universe,” he meant, “Could the universe have begun in any other way?” He was a pantheist (God = Nature) in the Spinozan sense that made our forefathers so nervous. The question is: “Why is that a problem?” Jews have always had multiple ideas about God and some Jews think different things about God depending on which side of bed they get out of.

Ultimately, I’m with Carl Sagan on this one: “How is it hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant’? Instead they say ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’”

A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”

• Malcolm Cohen is rabbi of Temple Sinai in Las Vegas