If one believes that our world is billions of years old, i.e. accepting the idea of each day in Sheshis Imei Berieshit (the Six Days of Creation) as eras and not literal days, then how does one understand keeping Shabbat as the seventh day, thus taking that 'day' literally?

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    Simple answer: Because the Torah says to.
    – Scimonster
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 9:55
  • One doesn't necessarily accept that. Related judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/29741/…
    – rosends
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 10:45
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    You answered it yourself - it's a great reason to believe the text literally. Or else, Shabbat-the-7th-day commemorates the 7 eras. But then I always wonder at what point does one start to take Breishith literally? Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 11:48
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    I don't understand the question. Why does keeping Shabbat on the seventh day imply a completely literal reading of the creation story?
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 12:12
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    I like the fact that the two comments above this one both more or less assume the answer's trivial, but in opposite directions. DS - The explicit context of the question is those who don't take "yom" in the text to mean what we mean now by that word. Daniel - We clearly use "yom" to mean 24-hour day in the context of Shabbat, and we declare Shabbat as a testimony to the "yamim" of Creation, so I think its fair to wonder how that could be consistent with assuming that these two yoms mean different things.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 13:08

4 Answers 4


"And it was evening, and it was morning, *one* day"?

Also, one can consider that "time started" in the way we know it only at the end of creation with the creation of Shabbat. Thus, only Shabbat has to be considered a 24 hour day. For example the sun moon and stars were created on the fourth "day" so that "before" then could not have been days as we know them. Before Yom HaShishi, each day was turned on and off explicitly. It is only at the very end (Vayechulu) do we have the actual time being significant.

Also consider that only man has an appreciation of time. This could imply that "time started" only with the creation of Adam. This could lead to a hashkafa article, but that is too long and philosophical to go into now.

  • "only man has an appreciation of time" ??
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 15:00
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    @DoubleAA As I say it is too long to go into now, but I have seen references (in secular sources) that only man is a "time binding" being. I do not have the sources at home, but that is what I remember having read. Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 23:30

Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb suggests that in the original six days of creation time moved faster than today. just like in the embryonic stage one does not need to breathe through his nostrils or eat through his mouth, etc.

so you can have a 24 hour day spanning billions of years the rules were different in those embryonic days

(we also find for example Kain and Abel born and grown up in the sixth day according to the midrash)



  • So why don't we keep billion year long "24 hour" Sabbatot nowadays?
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 17:18
  • it is six 24 hour days spanning billions of years. rules of time were different then. thats what he says.
    – ray
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 17:23
  • Right. So why isn't our commemorative day also a 24 hour day which spans billions of years?
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 17:23
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    because time moves differently now. our 24 hours is equivalent to billions of years back then
    – ray
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 17:24

Shemos 17:25-26:

ויאמר משה אכלוהו היום, כי-שבת היום ליהוה: היום, לא תמצאוהו בשדה. ששת ימים, תלקטוהו; וביום השביעי שבת, לא יהיה-בו

And Moses said "eat [the Manna] today, as today is a Sabbath for G-d. Today, you will not find it in the field. 6 days collect it, and on the seventh rest, for it will not be there.

This verse cannot be interpreted to refer to an era. It is clear from this verse that the Sabbath is one day. So when we are told to rest on the seventh day, it is clear that it is one day.

A clearer verse (which happens to be in Shabbos Day kiddush according to many customs) - Shemos 20:7-9 (the aseres hadibros):

זכור את-יום השבת, לקדשו. ששת ימים תעבוד, ועשית כל-מלאכתך. ויום, השביעי--שבת, ליהוה אלוהיך:

Remember the Sabbath to sanctify it. 6 days work, and do all your activities, and on the seventh day, rest for Hashem your G-d.

Again, here clearly this is not referring to eras, and this is the injunction to keep the Sabbath. It also refers to the Sabbath as the seventh day.

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    +!, but that's not the episode that's mentioned in Kiddush.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 19:16
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    @IsaacMoses that's the first ! I've ever gotten! While that's true, I'm not sure why that detracts from it's validity as an indication of when Shabbos is. But I just thought of a better verse to add. Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 19:31
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    @YEZ I don't think he was disputing that Shabbat is 24 Earth hours. The question as I understood it was Hashkafic: how does a 24 hour period commemorate a billion year period?
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 19:33
  • Would the downvoter please let me know how I could improve this post? Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 19:38
  • @DoubleAA I don't see that question being asked. The question asked is "how do we justify taking that day literally and not the rest?" which I answered by saying we know it from other sources. Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 19:39

Many people think that the Torah tells us in Genesis 1:1-1:3 about the creation of the world. Obviously, the Torah story certainly contradicts what science teaches. It is strange because the story seems to say that G-d created the world in six days. Is an all-powerful G-d incapable of creating the world instantaneously? It also implies that G-d rested on the seventh day. Does an all-powerful G-d tire? Perhaps the Torah is not telling us about G-d at all, but about humanity. In fact, an argument could be made that there weren't "days" at all but eons. The universe was formed over the course of billions of years.

Some insist that G-d rested on the seventh day, Shabbat. But this is not so. We should ask ourselves, does G-d need a rest? Actually, "rest" means "did not continue to create." Some scholars feel that Maimonides' view is that G-d formed the world out of pre-existing matter, there can be no “first day” per se if we understand Scripture in this fashion, further demonstrating that there were no concept of “days” in the Genesis account. In any event, the Shabbat is to recall that there is a G-d and that G-d created the world. Thus, it seems that the Bible isn't saying that G-d took a rest at all, nor does it imply that G-d created the world in six literal days. This is a parable to teach us about humanity.

Since Shabbat is people-oriented, Exodus 20:10, states that Shabbat was instituted to recall that there is a G-d, that G-d created the world, and that G-d gave the laws of the Torah. Leviticus 25:1 explains that keeping Shabbat is not optional. People need a rest. People also should stop working and think about G-d, understand what G-d wants from them, and enjoy the day with good clothes and food. This is not optional; it is "G-d's day" and this is what G-d wants.

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    An all-powerful god shouldn't need six days so instead he needed billions of years?
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 2:49
  • Does this explain why we observe Shabbat for one literal day?
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 2:50
  • @Alex the Rambam felt that G-d created the world instantaneously. Yet others felt that G-d did it in billions of years (ie six days meaning eons). All agree that G-d works through nature, meaning that G-d does not interfere with nature and allows the universe (ie through laws of nature in what the Bible calls “good” things) to take shape. I think this explanation is perfect since it is in harmony with science and the Bible. In this view, I think we keep Shabbat because it recalls that there is a G-d who created the world.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 3:03
  • I also think the creation story is more human-orientated than G-d-orientated and that it teaches us to have a day of rest. But it does not mean that G-d rested. The creation story is a parable; it certainly does not teach real science. For example, Maimonides felt that the creation of humans in the “image of God” to mean that people are like God in the sense that they can think. It does not mean that Adam was literally created from the dirt or Eve from his rib.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 3:03
  • But why do we observe Shabbat for one day if Shabbat in the creation story was not one day? I think that is the question being asked here (though phrased in the reverse).
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 3:07

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