Science in the Torah

Laser Cutting in Biblical Times


The use of radiation in various cutting processes has expanded considerably in the past two decades, primarily due to recent tools that are extremely powerful and provide highly accurate and clean incisions. Laser cutting tools, for instance, are used in a wide variety of applications; from diamond cutting to operating rooms.

Like electricity and any number of other natural forces, radiation appears in nature, although the way to harness it was discovered only recently, and is considered one of the most important discoveries in modern times.

It is fascinating to learn that thousands of years ago, the Sages knew, from the Torah, of the existence of radiation and its ability to perform fine cutting and cleaving work. The Creator of the universe has revealed many of nature’s secrets to the Jewish people, in order that they use such knowledge to fulfill the Divine commandments.

Furthermore, if those ancient Sages were among us today, they might well think that scientists are using roundabout, artificial means to produce radiation. For the Sages were acquainted with the most original and direct radiation available in nature – the shamir worm.

To understand this better, we must realize that the Sages needed to know about this mysterious natural force in order to build First Holy Temple (Solomon’s Temple) in Jerusalem, without the use of metal tools. Scripture tells us (Kings I, 6:7):

“For the house, during its construction, was built of stone made ready at the quarry; and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in construction.”

Iron tools could not be utilized in the construction of the Temple, because iron was used in weapons of war. It was inappropriate to use it to build the House of Peace – the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the Divine Presence resided in the material world, and which drew universal bounty into creation.(1)

A far more limited use of shamir worm was made previously by Moses, 400 years before the Temple was built. Jewish tradition has it that the Shamir was used to inscribe the names of the twelve tribes on the two precious stones set into the shoulder straps of the High Priest’s outer garment (the ephod) and on the twelve precious stones set into his breastplate (choshen mishpat).

This is what the Talmud has to say on the verse above, from Kings I:(2)

“[King Solomon] said to the Sages, How shall I manage [without iron tools]? They replied; there is the shamir, which Moses brought for the stones of the ephod.”

The shamir worm had no sharp edges protruding from its body, or anything similar. It cut and cleaved with a form of radiation that it emitted from its body.

The Talmud records how the worm was used to engrave the names on the stones of the ephod.:(3)  “We do not write upon these stones with ink, because the verse states [that the writing must be]: ‘Like the engravings of a signet.’ Nor can we engrave them with a knife because it states: ‘in their settings’ [i.e. the stones had to be placed in settings that remained whole, and a blade would have removed some of the material]. Rather, a person writes with ink upon them [as a template], shows the shamir [the written strokes] from the outside, and they split of their own accord, like a fig which splits open in summer and nothing at all is lost, or like a valley which splits asunder in the rainy season and nothing at all is lost.”

In other words, there was no need for the shamir worm to actually touch the stones. It was merely held above the pre-marked letters and they were engraved into the stones by a radiation emanating from the worm.

We will end this chapter on a final, amazing note. It is known that radioactive material must be stored in lead containers, for any other material would allow it to leak out.

How was the shamir worm stored, since it incisive vision could penetrate even stone?

The Sages state:(4)

“After the Temple was destroyed, the shamir ceased to exist. What was the nature of this shamir? It existed since the six days of creation. When placed upon a stone or a beam, they split apart like the pages of a book. When placed on iron, the metal broke apart and fell away. Nothing could withstand it. How did they store it? They wrapped in soft wool and placed in a leaden box filled with barley bran.

Obviously, no attempt is being made here to establish exactly what type of radiation was emitted by the shamir, because we have lost all further knowledge of this amazing worm and have no examples upon which to conduct research. In view of the Sages’ comments, we can say that it emitted a very unique type of radiation, with the ability to cut and cleave, similar to a laser, but which could only be stored in lead, similar to radioactive substances.


Notes and Sources

(1) It is interesting to note that some experts in the field of alternative medicine refrain from using metal tools when cutting and dicing medicinal plants, such as garlic, for they claim that this dissipates their beneficial properties.

(2) BT Gitten 68a. The Talmud continues with an explanation on how to find the Shamir.

(3) Ibid. 48b

(4) The Tosephta to Tractate Gitten 15a. See also Gitten 48b.


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