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On whom does one recite the blessing "ברכת שנתן מחכמתו לבשר ודם" (the blessing recited on non-Jewish scientists)?

  • Does he have to be a Ph.D? Does he have to have inventions to his name?
  • Did he have to learn in a prestigious college (like MIT)?
  • Can he just be a philosophy student?
  • Can one an "expert technician" (which does involves some intellectual skills)?
  • What if he's evil, would you say a blessing on a Nazi scientist?

Inspired by Upon whom would one make this blessing?

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Does madda necessarily mean "science' in the gemara, or can it just mean "wisdom"- i.e. philosophy and things like that too? – Baal Shemot Tovot May 25 '12 at 18:56
@هه: Mishnah Berurah 224:10, citing Pri Megadim, says that it is referring to "the seven aspects of wisdom" - i.e., the classical liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic, mathematics, geometry, music and astronomy. – Alex May 25 '12 at 21:27
The answer to all your questions is no. He needs to be exceptionally wise, which is not connected to having a PhD. – Ariel K May 31 '12 at 14:14
someone like einstein or feynman probably fits the bill – ray Feb 11 at 17:16

R' Eliezer Melamed, in an essay about this blessing and a related one for Torah scholars on the Beit-El Yeshiva website, formulates the standard thus:

חכם מחכמי אומות העולם שידוע כחכם וגאון באחד מן המדעים, כלכלה, מתמטיקה או אחד ממדעי הטבע, ובעבודתו תרם תרומה נכבדה למדע ולאנושות

One of the scholars of the [other] nations, who is known as a scholar and a genius in one of the sciences, economics, math, or one of the natural sciences, who through his work made a significant contribution to science and humanity.

My translation.

I think that this standard would not include philosophy students who don't produce science and would also not include expert technicians who know a great deal but haven't contributed to the body of scientific knowledge themselves.

He adds that the scholar must also be a follower of the Seven Noahide Laws, for:

וחכם שלא הצליח להבין את ערכן של המצוות היסודיות הללו, אין ערך לחכמתו, ואין ראוי לברך עליו (שו"ת מנחת אלעזר ח"ה ז, ד)‏.

If a scholar hasn't succeeded in understanding the value of these basic commandments, there is no value to his scholarship, and it's not proper to bless upon him. (Responsa of Minchas Elazar Volume 5, 7:4)

My translation and link.

That would put Nazi scientists right out, as they clearly placed insufficient value on the Divine commandment to not murder.

That's still a pretty amorphous standard. If one isn't sure if a particular scholar qualifies, R' Melamed says, in the entry in the online version of his Peninei Halacha series that covers this blessing (15:18), to say the blessing, omitting "are You ... King of the Universe" ("בלא שם ומלכות"). (He cites Tzitz Eliezer 14:37 as saying that due to such doubt, one should only say this blessing nowadays without that part, but says that most authorities and the state of the practice is not so. It seems to me that he's adopting the Tzitz Eliezer's opinion for cases when there is a doubt.)

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Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks mentioned in a lecture at YU in 2007 (I think. I recall it was shmittah based on another lecture that week) that he says this blessing on meeting Nobel laureates. That may not be an exclusive list (there may be others who are also deserving of blessing beyond the Nobel laureates), but it is the beginnings of an answer.

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Just science related laureates, or would he say it on Yasser Arafat or yibodel l'chaim President Obama? – Y ez Feb 12 at 3:05
@Yez I don't know. Logically, one could ask similarly (and less politically) on Literature winners, such as SY Agnon, Toni Morrison et al. He mentioned Watson or Crick specifically, who won for biology. – Ze'ev Felsen Feb 12 at 4:13

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