The creative link between Kabbalah and quantum physics

Jewish Book Week guest Eduard Shyfrin set out to find compatibility between Torah and science


Eduard Shyfrin is typical of his generation of Jews in the Soviet Union: highly educated — he has PhD in metallurgy — but growing up with little knowledge of Judaism in a Communist state that scorned religion, when it did not repress it.

But in his early 40s, health problems led him to re-evaluate his life. “My way of thinking changed,” he said. “I started to be troubled by existential questions.”

He set off on a spiritual quest that has culminated in the publication of a book, From Infinity To Man, an attempt to marry Torah and science by showing that kabbalistic understanding of the cosmos squares with modern concepts of quantum physics.

Raised in Dnipepetrovsk in the Ukraine, he began his career as a foreman in a steel plant, working his way to the top until he left to found a successful metallurgy business. He now divides his time between Moscow and London.

After the end of Communism and the beginning of Jewish revival, he became philanthropically involved with the Jewish community, helping to reconstruct Kiev’s oldest synagogue and building a Jewish education centre in memory of his father. “But I was still far away from tradition,” he said.

The turning point came in 2003 when he underwent a crisis. “I asked Rabbi Bleich [Chief Rabbi of Ukraine] what I should do. ‘Come back to God, make teshuvah,’ he replied. It was good advice.”

But it could not simply be a matter of practice for him. Scientifically trained, he had to find a way to convince himself of the Torah’s truth. He began to study it, he turned to philosophers like Saadia Gaon and Maimonides. But it was in kabbalistic thought that he found a symmetry between Judaism and science.

The kabbalists created an elaborate system to explain how the universe was sustained by divine energy flowing from an unknowable Godhead.

In his book, he uses concepts such as information theory to recast kabbalistic insights in scientific terminology. Or as the motto on the cover of the book puts it, “In the beginning, God created information…”

 “I tried to prove if we dig deep into Kabbalah, we can find similarities and ideas of the physics of the 20th century,” he said.

The ideas of quantum physics and general relativity that emerged in the early 20th century overturned what he calls the “common sense” science that existed before. “We cannot imagine a particle in two places simultaneously,” he said.

The peculiarities of the universe continue to challenge scientists to find plausible explanations. For example, one theory popular among some is that our universe is just one among many and we are just lucky that we happen to be in a universe that is able to support life.

“Multiverse has never been proved. No one has seen even a second universe,” Dr Shyfrin argued. “So why not God? One man said that multiverse was the last refuge of atheists.”

Having studied Judaism in English and Russian, he taught himself Hebrew last year. “Now I read Torah without translation,” he said. “You cannot study Kabbalah seriously without Hebrew.”

Now 58, he has published commentaries on the Torah online for Chabad (Lubavitch); he has engaged a team of experts to help with his latest research project — a study of angels. 

His book, when published in Russian last year, was well received, he said. After one lecture he gave to Jewish students, he was told subsequently that four of them had chosen to be circumcised.

“If you want to convince somebody, you have to talk his or her language. With all due respect, the language of rabbis is like a foreign language for the intellectual Jews,” Dr Shyfrin said. “I talk their language because I am one of them.”

Eduard Shyfrin discusses his book at Jewish Book Week on Sunday, March 10 at 3pm



Eduard Shyfrin is not the only businessman from the former Soviet Union to turn his thoughts to religion. But Vitaly Malkin, a co-founder of the Russian Jewish Congress, has gone entirely in the opposite direction.

His book , published last year, is a full-frontal assault on monotheism, which he believes diverted people from the sensible path of classical philosophy into a world of false and repressive ideas. While Judaism comes in for a fair amount of stick, it is Christianity, and particularly its ascetic strain, that bears the brunt of Malkin’s antipathy.

Produced with a coffee-table gloss, his 400-page polemic is liberally illustrated with erotic images that reinforce of one of his main arguments: that ideals of purity and sanctity which reject the pursuit of pleasure are a sin against human nature. 

He was propelled to write after a family holiday in Egypt where he was shocked to learn of the prevalence of female genital mutilation.

Although the book does not disclose his Jewish identity, you might sense it from the force of his anger against theological justifications for the Holocaust.

Born in 1952, he grew up in secular Russia and graduated in maths and physics  before embarking on a lucrative banking career. He was also a politician with a seat in the Russian Senate for nearly a decade until 2013. Now he spends a fair amount of his time in France.

While happy to invest in secular Jewish culture and learning, he did not “give money to yeshivot or synagogues”, he said. 

For him, Jewishness is a matter of culture and nationality, not faith. “I am a Zionist — like one of those people, not religious, who set up Israel,” he said. 

His protest against religion echoes an anti-clerical tradition which saw the Zionist revolution as not only freedom from persecution but also liberation from rabbis.

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