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I know that the age of universe and/or earth is not one of the 13 ikarim.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan held it could be much older. But he wasn't a posek (at least he wasn't known as one) and was controversial.

Can anyone quote some opinions of contemporary (or older) poskim on whether believing the universe to be older than 6k years, or that it's 13 billion years old, is or is not k'firah?

I just want to make clear that:

  1. I'm not asking about how we reconcile Torah with science.
  2. I'm not asking for sources of opinions that hold the universe to be exactly 5782 years old.
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  • This question is part of a much broader, famous and long debate. See more: google.com/search?q=paskening+hashkafa
    – Binyomin
    Apr 19 at 9:55
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    My personal favorite is the source sheet of Rabbi Manning: rabbimanning.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/…
    – Binyomin
    Apr 19 at 9:57
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    If you are familiar with what Rabbi Kaplan wrote on this, then you should also be aware that he was quoting a Rishon, namely Rabbi Yitzchok of Akko in his sefer, Otzar HaChaim. Rabbi Kaplan had a few pages from the sole extant copy back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. But the entire text has since been republished multiple times. The most recent edition was printed by Rabbi Ehud Turjeman in Israel. Apr 19 at 13:22
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    See Slifkin's "Challenge of Creation", wherein he cites the views of R. S.R. Hirsch, R. Yisrael Lipshitz, R. Yudel Rosenberg, R. Gedalyah Nadel, R. Yehoshua Honigswachs, et al (and of course older sources suggesting as much), each expressing the perspective that an old age universe approach does not pose a challenge to the Torah. Apr 19 at 21:26
  • See Rabbi Slikin's book. Endless of examples.
    – Turk Hill
    Apr 19 at 23:04

2 Answers 2

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Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, wrote a series of letters to one of his students, Dr. Moshe Zeidel, regarding Torah and science. In letter 91 (numbering per Iggrot Ha'Re'ayah) he wrote, among other things:

"ועל דבר מנין שנות היצירה ביחש להחשבונות הגיאולוגיים בזמנינו. כך היא הלכה רווחת, שהיו כבר תקופות רבות קודם למנין תקופתנו הוא מפורסם בכל המקובלים הקדמונים, ובמדרש רבה "שהיה בונה עולמות ומחריבן", ובזוהר פרשת ויקרא שהיו כמה מיני אנשים חוץ מאדם שנאמר בתורה; אלא ששם צריך להשכיל יפה את המליצות העמוקות, הצריכות ביאור רחב מאד מאד. אם כן אותן החפירות מורות לנו, שנמצאו תקופות של ברואים, ואנשים בכללם, אבל שלא היה בינתים חורבן כללי, ויצירה חדשה, על זה אין מופת מוכיח, כי אם השערות פורחות באויר, שאין לחוש להן כלל.

Translation: "And on the subject of the dating of Creation with regards to the calculations of the geologists of our time. Such is the accepted [Jewish] view, that there were many eras before the counting of our age, something which is famously found among all of the ancient Kabbalists, and in Midrash Rabbah "[He] would build worlds and destroy them", and in the Zohar on Vayikra [it says] that there were several species of men besides for Adam who is described in the Torah; but there one must understand well the deep terminology used, that needs an expansive interpretation. Therefore, those [archeological] excavations that show us that there were eras of created creatures, and humans included, but that in-between there wasn't a general destruction and an entirely new creation [after that] - for that is not something there is evidence for, rather nothing but much speculation which need not be minded at all."

In other words, not only is there no problem in thinking that the world and/or the universe are much older than [insert Jewish year], it's possible that this idea is already hinted at in ancient Jewish sources.

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  • I voted up your answer, however I will not accept the answer as Rav Kook was arguably the most (one of the most) controversial figures of the 21st century
    – benny
    Apr 19 at 14:21
  • @benny I don't mind accepting or not. But why do you consider him controversial?
    – Harel13
    Apr 19 at 14:24
  • @Harel13 I may be wrong, but it seems only daati lemumi accept his hashkafic views. The rest of haredi world either ignore them or are vehemently opposed to them.
    – benny
    Apr 19 at 14:41
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    @benny ah okay. There's a lot to be said, but now is not the time.
    – Harel13
    Apr 19 at 14:58
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    Gedolei Olam of the chareidi world held Rav Kook by the greatest esteem (although I am also not an expert). Besides, he is quoting a Midrash. At least Chazal not deemed "controversial"?
    – Binyomin
    Apr 21 at 15:27
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Definitely not. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a single rishon who was a Young Earth Creationist.

The Ramban says that Bereishis 1:1 describes creation yeish mei'ayin (ex nihilo; something from nothing), and then untold time goes on before the hyle (substance) gets its current forms. But Bereishis 1:2 onwards tells the story after that time.

Rashi (1:1, 2:4) says that none of the chapter is about the order of creation.

The Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 1:30) says the six "days" are logical steps in Creation and not a chronological sequence. Interestingly, the Haqdamah to the Zohar (4b-5a) says something similar, identifying the days with the 6 ketzavos (directions? sefiros of emotion? all of the above?).

And while the Ramban says the 6 days are literally days, he also says they correspond to the following 6 millennia (and to the 6 emotional sefiros). Rav Eliyahu E. Dessler (“Yemei Bereishis veYemai Olam“, vol II pp 150-154; “Zeman veHishtalshelus”, vol IV, pp 113) shows how the Ramban means that they are actually the same stretch of time. That experiencing time as a line from past to present to future is part of the human condition since eating the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and that limitation didn't exist yet. So, we cannot understand how the same stretch of time can be literally one day and also a millennium that seems to be after the day, but that's because of the fruit.

This is consistent with the Maharal who says that while the pesuqim literally describe the history of creation, we cannot picture what existence during creation was like. So, if you think the literal description is of a single creation event that takes 5 days, you're mistaken. No human understanding, literal or figurative, will be correct.

While that may not be what the Ramban really meant, R Dessler didn't think it was kefirah to say that the age of the universe is "only" 6,000 years in one way of looking at time. He explicitly writes that in terms of history, both 6 days and the scientific findings are correct. Just that the 6 days perspective is more usable for our task in life of spiritual growth, and the scientific one is only good for science -- thinking it is primary shows misplaced priorities.

And in either case, the missing time thing would still mean the Ramban is consistent with an old earth.

Similar multiple creation times ideas show up in Bereishis Rabba, which describes Hashem creating worlds before this one and destroying them. Based on which, the Tif’eres Yisrael. He cites an opinion of the tannaim, a central theme amongst the more kabbalistically inclined rishonim, that Hashem created worlds and destroyed them before this one. Dinosaur bones and starlight are legacies of these earlier worlds. The Tif’eres Yisrael did not say anything about evolution, just that this earlier time explains what the fossils are fossils of. In Techeiles Mordechai, R’ Shalom Mordechai Schwadron speaks laudably of the Tif’eres Yisrael’s resolution.

In Gen 1:1, G-d creates ex nihilo (matter from nothing). Then, before verse 2, these other worlds (in this opinion, epochs) rose and fell. Then, there was “chaos and emptiness” from which our world emerged. The universe as a whole, even the planet, can therefor be older than 5758 years.

Since current theory is that the world started as a singularity — IOW, not within the purvey of science, it is all a matter of faith if the ex nihilo was with the intent of the Creator or not.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes R’ Yitzchaq meiAkko (a student of the Ramban) who concludes from the Zohar that the first creation was 15.8 billion years ago — the age astronomers and physicists seemed to be converging on in the 1980s and 1990s, given multiple ways of measuring the age. It is unclear that this is truly the intent of R’ Yitzchaq meiAkko, but that’s Rabbi Kaplan’s take. The original lecture to AOJS, which is more complete and persuasive than the mention in his NCSY book, is available for free from the Lulu storefront. This is built on an idea discussed by Rabbeinu Bachya and numerous other kabbalistically inclined rishonim, that of our world being one of a cycle of shemittos, so that there is history and time before our universe.

In contrast, I couldn't find a single source for Young Earth Creationism written before the late 19th century CE.

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  • +1 great answer!
    – Harel13
    Apr 27 at 19:50
  • Can you share some of the young earth creationist of 19th century views.
    – benny
    Apr 27 at 20:01
  • I always found it odd that people insist on a literal read of maaseh bereishis, of all things, when we know there are lots of pesukim (discussing things that you are allowed to talk about in public!) that are not literal. עין תחת עין, וקצתה את כפה, ארבעים יכנו, ......
    – Heshy
    Apr 27 at 20:01
  • Where did Rambam say the 6 days are literal?
    – Turk Hill
    Apr 27 at 20:05
  • @TurkHill, corrected typo -- that was the RambaN. The previous paragraph tells you the RambaM held that the "days" are logical steps and not points in time at all. And R Dessler understands the Ramban's literal 6 days as not meaning much, since time isn't really linear, Literally 6 days and yet also literally other things. Apr 27 at 22:15

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