It was at the Prestwich home of his parents, Roger and Eve Lister, that in 1999 the then minister of Reading Hebrew Congregation read the BBC book, The Planets.
Despite dropping science subjects at Manchester Jewish Grammar School to study French at university, Rabbi Lister became fascinated by scientific links to the Torah.
He said: “The beautifully presented book was a fascinating read. It got me thinking about biblical verses, which referred to the stars, the sun and the earth etc.
“As I was reading about different features of the planets, the stars and the wind, I kept thinking about biblical references.
“It occurred to me that God knew about recent scientific discoveries way back when He gave us the biblical books. I began to wonder how we might incorporate the scientific knowledge and whether it could give us any new insights into what God was saying.”
Thus was born Intergalactic Judaism, which Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks described in his foreword as “a work that combines dazzling erudition in astronomy, theoretical physics and various other scientific disciplines with a fine knowledge of Jewish mysticism and biblical commentaries — and an ability to combine them seamlessly into a world which is both spiritual and humane”.
Rabbi Lister is at pains to emphasise that Intergalactic Judaism is not trying to justify Torah in scientific terms.
He said: “I’m not interested in that. Science changes all the time. You can prove the Torah with science as much as you like, but if in 100 years’ time science is different, what’s the point?”
The book examines Torah metaphors which incorporate scientific phenomena, using contemporary understanding of these to enhance spiritual messages as in his comparison between the Torah and a laser beam which can “punch through physical limitations”.
Rabbi Lister said: “I read popular accounts of quantum physics, and researched NASA and the European Space Agency. When one finds a Torah and a scientific idea that are somehow linked, once you’ve made that connection of the way the scientific idea amplifies or gives insights into the Torah it just falls into your head.
“I had to write the book in a fairly simple style because I don’t have an academic scientific background. I reckoned that if I understood the science, anybody could.”
He added: “In my present congregation at Edgware Synagogue I am very privileged to have Dr Paul Newham, who is well-versed in astrophysics in my community and has a gift for putting things simply. He reviewed all the science.”
Although conceived in 1999 it took him years to complete.
He said: “I started it when I was a minister in Reading. Although I had a full-time job, I am a morning person so I tended to work on it very early from 4-5am. But when we moved to Muswell Hill Synagogue in 2000, I had to leave it because my wife Rachie and I had another two children.
The couple now have five children — Moshe Chaim, Shoshana, Yishai, Leora and Akiva, aged between five and 16.
He added: “Also, at Muswell Hill I was teaching as well as being a rabbi. I was just too busy. When I came to Edgware Synagogue in 2008 I felt that I really had to get going and finish it off. Although Edgware is a large community I am only holding down one job instead of one and a half.”
After studying at Prestwich Jewish Day School and Manchester Jewish Grammar School, as well as being active in Prestwich Hebrew Congregation’s youth service, Rabbi Lister spent a year at Manchester’s Shaarei Torah Yeshiva, after which he studied at University College London.
After university Rabbi Lister returned to Shaarei Torah for a couple of years, before marrying London-born Rachie.
The couple moved to Jerusalem where Rabbi Lister studied at MirYeshiva before joining Ohr Samayach’s Ohr Lagolah programme for those wanting to do educational and rabbinical outreach in the Diaspora.
Intergalactic Judaism is published by Urim Publications. It was launched at Prestwich Hebrew Congregation on Wednesday, November 16.
Other news can be found at the http://www.jewishtelegraph.com/.