Dr. Dror Fixler: Scientist and Rabbi who Blends Both Worlds

An electro-optics photonics expert on the Faculty of Engineering, Dr. Dror Fixler is a man who sees God in the nanoparticles of life.  Also an ordained rabbi with a congregation in Ganei Tikvah—and who has written three books about Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishna—his work in the religious realm informs and enhances his endeavors in the scientific one. 

And, vice versa. 

“I compare what I’m doing at Bar-Ilan University with a person who believes that God exists in the small things,” says Dr. Fixler, whose research, in part, has improved conventional microscopy with a method known as “super-resolution.”  Due to the diffraction limit of light, the resolution of conventional light microscopy is limited. Dr. Fixler’s work allows scientists to scan areas smaller than half a wavelength in size, enabling them to observe single-cell activity in biological processes.

“Working with details so small, it’s impossible to see single molecule movement by conventional imaging systems.  However, if I use an optical microscope to record a series of images over time, I can prove it by creating a movie-like collection of changing pictures that reveal a composite ‘portrait’ of the previously invisible target under my microscope.”

Dr. Fixler likens this process to the behavior of those who believe in God.  “One may not fully understand what God does on a daily basis—may not see the minute changes and understand the links between things.   But, proof for the believer comes when you bind all the images together and a portrait emerges.  Things become clearer,” he explained.

The quintessential Torah U'madda man, Dr. Fixler earned his undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate degrees from Bar-Ilan, where combining Torah knowledge and secular wisdom frames the University’s teaching philosophy.  A returning scientist from South China Normal University in Guangzhou, he is a member of the Nano Photonics Center at the Bar-Ilan Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA).  His research includes the emission, transmission, detection, and sensing of light for biomedical properties.  His primary foci are developing new technologies for super-resolution microscopy, medical testing, and light tissue interaction.

Beyond the walls of the University, Dr. Fixler is an expert in the use of electricity on Shabbat, an area carefully circumscribed by Jewish law.  Recently, he sparked debate in Israel when he publically suggested that driving thought-controlled cars and other devices that integrate the mind with machinery might be permitted on Shabbat.  Although he stresses that he does not personally think such activity should be allowed, he says his aim was to prod Jewish theologians and intellectuals to start thinking about the impact of technology on Jewish religious observance.

“Electricity is part of our life—Smart homes, automatic detectors, sensors. The challenge for this generation of poskim [Jewish law decisors] is to define what actions are allowed and what are not.  In order to do that, they need a deep knowledge of things such as LED operation and induction cooking.  My work is trying to establish the new way,” he says.