Ahavas Torah rabbi blends science, soul

Rabbi Gedalia Meyer doesn't see a conflict between science and religion. In fact, both continue to coexist for the new rabbi of San Jose's Orthodox Ahavas Torah, who was formerly a working physicist.

In merging his two careers, it took some time and a good deal of reading and pondering for the 37-year-old Meyer to finally synthesize science and spirituality. He points to physics, where he says scientists have been on the verge of redefining matter for the last decade.

"There's a lot of room for the idea that matter is not as material as [scientists] once thought it was, and that it might contain certain nonmaterial components," he says. "That's exactly where the spiritual comes in."

Born Greg Meyer and raised in Los Angeles, Meyer studied particle physics as an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley and planned to attend graduate school in that field.

At Berkeley, he reflects, he found himself in some of the more politically radical circles on campus — circles in which atheism was markedly fashionable.

"The intellectual group I hung out with looked at religious people as sort of using a crutch. We looked down on them. I had never been given the chance to consider the possibility that religious people might have something that I didn't have."

During a postgraduation trip to Israel, he attended a Jerusalem yeshiva. Amid discussions on Judaism, God and the meaning of life, he found his philosophies beginning to change.

For Meyer, religion proved intellectually challenging and spiritually stimulating. "I decided to just keep going," he says.

Eventually, he attended rabbinical school at New York's Chofetz Chaim and served as a rabbi at a Seattle synagogue before taking the Ahavas Torah position in September.

Meyer moved to the Bay Area planning to study acupuncture, which he envisions as an alternative source of income should he and his wife, Suri, and their five children one day fulfill their dream of making aliyah.

"I have a very strong interest in this thing called the human soul, primarily from a Jewish viewpoint, but also from a more general vantage point," he says.

"I feel that in some way acupuncture is an interface between the body and the soul."

Once he has gotten his bearings at Ahavas Torah and can spare the time and energy, Meyer plans to attend a San Francisco acupuncture school part time.

In the meantime, he has his hands full at the 20-family San Jose shul, most of whose congregants broke away from nearby Orthodox Temple Am Echad last year after internal tensions became impossible to re-solve.

The tensions primarily revolved around disagreements over Rabbi Raphael Lapin, who succeeded his deceased father Rabbi Avraham Lapin as leader of the shul. Shortly after the younger Lapin assumed the helm of Am Echad in 1992, some members began complaining about his leadership style and judgment on religious matters. Others stood firmly behind him.

According to Meyer, the strain from the break has remained. "I see a major function of my being here as easing the tension and making it so the two shuls can live together," he says.

To work toward that goal, Meyer says he plans to keep lines of communication open between himself and Lapin, and encourage dialogue and joint events with congregants of both synagogues. "Within the next several months, I see this tension getting tremendously abated."

Meyer also hopes to increase the general level of Jewish knowledge and observance in the South Bay.

"I see the Bay Area as a phenomenal cultural center, one of the biggest in the world," he says, "but somewhat underdeveloped in its Jewish awareness."