When a team of scientists that researched embryonic development found that the embryo’s first brain activity begins at the 40th day of pregnancy, they had no idea that this discovery was already known to man for thousands of years, concealed in the parchments of the Torah scroll. Likewise, the scientists who investigated the process of formation of the continents had no idea that their momentous discovery was already known about 3,000 years ago – that the continents were once all connected.

These pieces of knowledge, and many more like them, are scattered throughout the length and breadth of the Tanach and Talmud. Another example is the studies demonstrating that the method of animal slaughter used by the Jewish people for thousands of years causes the least amount of pain to the animal, as it takes into account the special structure of the system of arteries in the animal’s neck.
Mastery of the Sciences – the Wisdom Beyond Space and Time
This article will present a number of examples of the Torah’s mastery of the sciences. The Torah demonstrates knowledge of zoology, biology, astronomy, botany, and embryology – knowledge that did not originate in well-funded scientific research, or by means of advanced measuring devices and computers.
It must be emphasized from the outset that despite the fact that exact scientific information can be found in the Torah, the Torah’s intention is not specifically to inform us about scientific facts. Rather, its intention in relaying scientific information is to provide the basis for a certain piece of Jewish law, or an ethical teaching. The Torah’s main purpose is behavioral instructions for man’s spiritual benefit, and not the material dimension of reality.
The World is a Sphere
In ancient times, the widespread belief was that the world is flat and rested on the tails of three whales, or upon the backs of four giant elephants that stood on a gigantic turtle swimming in the ocean. Only a small handful of people held the view that the world was round as a ball. They were considered lunatics, because such a theory was difficult to deal with. Later, a number of Greek philosophers accepted the idea that the world was a globe, but the vast majority of humanity believed the world was flat, or at most a semicircle like a baseball cap. Obviously, those who believed the world was flat could not entertain the possibility that there was life on the other side.
Similarly, until the time of Copernicus (1473—1543), the common belief was geocentric – that the Earth was positioned at the center and sun and the stars revolved around it. Only after Copernicus publicized his findings, shortly before his death, did the understanding that the Earth orbits the sun (the heliocentric belief) begin to penetrate mankind. It was around the same time that the idea that the rising and setting of the sun is caused by the Earth’s spin on its axis began to be established.
A short time before that, in 1492, Columbus discovered America, and the belief that the world was a globe and there was life on every side of it received clear affirmation. Today, of course, we know as a fact that the world is spherical based on satellite photographs.
The amazing thing is that all these facts were written in the Zohar, by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, about 1,900 years ago, long before these facts were scientifically established!
The Zohar says:
The whole world with the people on it is a revolving globe. Some of the Earth’s inhabitants are above and some below. The races indigenous to the various climes differ in appearance due to the differing environments of their native lands. When one part of the world is in sunlight, the other part is in darkness. There is inhabited latitude where daylight sometimes prevails for almost the entire 24 hours. This secret was transmitted as a tradition to the masters of Torah wisdom.
Remarkably, the Zohar explicitly asserts that:
•The world is spherical.
•The globe does not remain still; it revolves around its axis.
•People live on both the upper side and lower side of the globe (meaning, on the entire circumference of the globe).
•All the people on the entire surface of the globe stand upright.
•When a portion of the world is in light, the other portion is in darkness.
•There are places where there is light for a long time and a very short night.
Today, all these statements have been shown to be entirely true.
This passage concludes by stating, “This secret was transmitted as a tradition to the masters of Torah wisdom.” The Torah scholars did not achieve this wisdom through reasoning and analysis; rather, it was a tradition transmitted from generation to generation, since the time Moshe received the Torah at Sinai.
The Continents were Connected
In the book Planet Earth, Jonathan Weiner describes the revolution in the scientific understanding of the geological history of the planet Earth at the beginning of the 20th century. The hero of this modern revolution was the German scientist Alfred Wegener, who claimed that in the past all the continents were connected:
He came up with the idea when he noticed that the coast lines in South America and Africa fit together like two pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. To explain this phenomenon, Wegener proposed that the two continents were in the past one continent that became separated. In the course of time he saw all the continents as parts of one single landmass… He claimed that the pieces continue to drift apart from one another to this day.
Wegener saw geologically identical mountain systems stretching from east to west on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, in South Africa and Argentina. A plateau in Brazil corresponded exactly to an identical plateau in the Ivory Coast in Africa. Identical fossils of tropical ferns are found in certain areas of Africa and Brazil, and the point of their dispersal corresponds exactly as the coastlines do.
Support for Wegener’s theory came from the work of Eduard Suess (1831-1914), a geologist who also maintained that the entire world was once a single super-continent he called Gondwana. He based his theory on a fossil plant found in Africa, South America, Australia, and Antarctica.
Later, Alexander Logie du Toit (1878-1948), a South African geologist, joined them and added further fossil evidence that demonstrated that in the past, identical life forms existed on the entire southern hemisphere, which indicated that there was once one continuous continent.
In 1915, in The Origin of Continents and Oceans, Wegener published the theory that there had once been a giant super-continent.
At first, it aroused strong opposition in the scientific community, for no one could explain how the continents could drift when they were anchored in the foundation rock of the oceans’ floor.
Since then, it has been discovered that the Earth’s crust is not one single landmass, but is rather divided into dozens of tectonic plates that are joined together, and which float independently on the molten interior of the Earth, each in constant movement in relation to the others. Using measurements from satellites, it has been discovered that South America continues to drift away from Africa at the rate of ten centimeters a year. The speculation has be come a universally acknowledged theory.
Was this fact known to the Torah and the Sages of Israel?
The answer is found in the ninth verse of the Torah: “And Gd said: ‘Let the water gather under the heavens to one place and let the dry landmass appear,’ and so it was” (Beresheet 1:9). The verse speaks of a “dry landmass,” in the singular form (“hayabashah”), and not “dry landmasses.”
The Zohar is explicit: “It was taught: The water brought forth one dry landmass, and it became seven landmasses [continents]” (Zohar Hadash 12:1).
Bee Honey
The Mishnah states: “Whatever is taken out from the impure is impure, and whatever is taken out from the pure is pure” (Bechorot 5b).
This rule states that the milk of a female camel, for example, is prohibited for consumption, because it originates from an impure (non-kosher) animal. The same applies to eggs from an “impure” bird such as an eagle. However, the milk of a cow and hen’s eggs are kosher, since they originate from kosher animals.
In light of this rule, the question arises why bees’ honey is kosher. Honey originates from an impure creature – a bee, which is obviously forbidden for consumption – and thus it should also be impure. The Sages (ibid. 7b) answered: “Because they [the bees] bring it [the nectar] into their bodies but they do not extract it from their bodies” (ibid.).
The Rambam explains this answer in Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot (3:3): “Bees’ honey is permitted because it is not extracted from their bodies; rather, they gather it from the plants into their mouths and spit it out in the hive so that they will have food in the winter.” In other words, honey does not pass through the bee’s entire digestive system; rather, it enters its body and is discharged from the same place where it had entered.
Let us examine the production of honey based on the latest scientific findings. The process begins when the bee leaves its hive to forage for nectar. When it finds a suitable flower, it lands on the petals and makes its way to its base, from which it sucks the nectar through its proboscis into its honey stomach, or the crop, where the nectar is stored temporarily, until the bee returns to the hive. Once it arrives back at the hive, the bee discharges the nectar from its stomach, handing it over to another bee that is in charge of storing the nectar in the honeycomb. The foraging bee keeps a little nectar in a separate part of its stomach, separated from the honey stomach by a sphincter, for its own nourishment. This small amount continues on the path through the bee’s digestive system until it is completely digested.
The nectar is turned into honey in two possible ways. One way is to remain in the bee’s stomach long enough to react with the enzyme invertase excreted by the bee’s stomach on its way back to the hive. Invertase converts the nectar’s sucrose, a complex sugar, into two simple sugars, fructose and glucose, from which the honey is made. If the nectar did not remain in the bee’s stomach long enough to undergo this chemical reaction, it will turn into honey during the storage period in the honeycomb, where it undergoes a process of dehydration, which activates the invertase, causing the chemical breakdown into honey.
These facts demonstrate that the honey does not pass through the bee’s digestive system. Rather, it only enters the upper portion and is later expelled the same way it came in. This corroborates the halachic distinction drawn by the Talmud between an impure animal’s milk and bees’ honey. The milk is prohibited because “whatever is taken out from the impure is impure,” whereas honey is permitted because it is not considered “taken out from the impure,” since, as the Talmud said, “They do not extract it from their bodies.” This means that it does not pass through the bee’s digestive system, and is only stored in its body until it brings it to the hive, at which point it is expelled.
Already two millennia ago, when scientific knowledge in this area was non-existent, the Sages knew about the process through which bees produce honey, without conducting scientific experiments. They obtained this knowledge through Torah tradition, without requiring any scientific research or experimentation!
The Pure and Impure Fish
The Torah writes in Vayikra (11:9):
“Among all [creatures] that are in the water, you may eat these: any [of the creatures] in the water that has fins and scales, those you may eat, whether [it lives] in the seas or in the rivers.”
We are given here two physical properties of the kosher fish that are permitted for consumption: 1) fins and 2) scales. The Torah states clearly that a fish may be eaten only if it has both fins and scales, and if either of these two properties is missing, the fish is impure and unfit for consumption.
Accordingly, if a piece of fish with scales but without fins was placed on a plate before us, according to the rules we have seen, we would have to decline eating it. However, since we have not seen the entire fish, the possibility exists that the piece was taken from a fish that had fins, but they were cut off and thrown away. Here, the Mishnah (Oral Law) comes to our aid
“Any fish that has scales has fins, but there are fish that have fins but no scales” (Niddah 51b).
The Mishnah gives a general rule that any fish that has scales must have fins. Therefore, we are permitted to eat the piece of fish on our plate, although we see only one of the two required signs, because if it has scales, it must have had fins, as well.
This comment of the Mishnah is simply amazing. The Mishnah had precise knowledge of all the fish in the world, both in oceans and lakes, and could guarantee that the piece of fish on our plate is certainly kosher, because there is no fish in the world that has scales that does not also have fins.
Today, over 30,000 species of fish have been classified, and not one of them has scales but not fins. Is this not proof that the Writer of the Torah knew everything in existence in the world, and even underwater? How else could the Mishnah have known, in those ancient times, about facts that only in recent times have been discovered, after a great number of the fish in the entire world have been classified? Is it possible that the authors of the Mishnah wrote these words based only on the scientific information that was available in their day, which happened to turn out to be true according to modern day discoveries?
Unless there was a clearly established tradition, the Mishnah’s authors could not have possibly taken such a risk and guaranteed that every fish with scales has fins, for if the claim was ever found to be false, their credibility would be undermined. Undoubtedly, they knew this as a definitive scientific fact.
Some have tried to dispute this claim, pointing to the Monopterus cuchia, a fish that lives in the Indian Ocean and which, they say, has scales but no fins. After further investigation, however, this contention was found to be false. Fish classifier S. Hamilton proved that this fish indeed has a fin on the lower part of its body: “A rudimentary dorsal fin originates a little anterior to vertical from the bottom.” Thus, not only is the claim of the Mishnah not refuted, but it is even strengthened, because after all the efforts of those who have sought to refute the claim, after they turned over the whole world to find a fish that had scales and no fins, they only found one candidate, and it turns out that it actually does have a fin!
Rabbi Adi Cohen is the head of Maagley Yosher educational institutions who has educated hundreds of students over the years. Rabbi Adi Cohen is now available to give lectures. He can be reached at: 972 548 466 692.