Cyril Domb, 91, combined science, Judaism

Theoretical physicist sought to reconcile Jewish beliefs with scientific theories.

February 20, 2012 03:22
2 minute read.
Scientist at work (illustrative)

Scientist 311. (photo credit: Marretao22/Wikimedia Commons)


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Prof. Cyril Yechiel Domb, FRS, who died last week aged 91, was a theoretical physicist who in addition to his scientific works and publications, devoted much time to the explanation of conflicts between science and traditional Jewish beliefs.

Born in London in 1920 into an Orthodox family, Domb studied and lectured in some of the most renowned academic institutions, while contributing to Jewish society and the wider world around him.

After graduating from Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1941, Domb joined the research group on radar at the Admiralty Signal Establishment in Portsmouth as part of the war effort. The Admiralty’s radar systems could successfully detect enemy aircraft but gave no indication of their altitude.

Domb helped develop a system that overcame this problem, in conjunction with several other scientists working at the Signal Establishment, including noted English astronomer and mathematician Sir Fred Hoyle.

Following the war, Domb took up a lectureship at Cambridge, and was subsequently appointed chair in theoretical physics at King’s College, London.

In 1961, Domb published an article in London’s Jewish Chronicle. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, saw the article and wrote to Domb expressing several reservations about the views expressed in the piece. The subsequent correspondence led Schneerson to encourage the professor to engage in work to clear away misconceptions of religious skeptics brought about by misunderstandings of scientific theory.

Domb went on to publish numerous articles discussing science and religion, and along with Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, edited a collection of essays by renowned scientists in their field, titled Challenge, which sought to reconcile Jewish beliefs with scientific theories.

In his foreword to Challenge, first published in 1976, Domb wrote, “The Torah Jew does not have to choose between science and Torah... He is confident that the age-old tradition of Torah has something of supreme value to say to our broken, fragmented and disillusioned world... Science as such presents no conflict with the Torah.”

Domb was elected as a fellow to the Royal Society of London in 1977 for his contributions to the field of physics.

Having moved to Israel, Domb served as a professor on the faculty at Bar-Ilan University, and was also a visiting professor at the University of Maryland, Yeshiva University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Domb is survived by his wife, sister and six children.

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