5770 and 13,000,000,000 is a big difference!

I am looking for a good explanation for the different views of the age of the universe, [the Tanakh's view and astronomy's view.] Please help me out!


9 Answers 9


As an observant astrophysicist (pun intended; I'm actually a theorist), I get this question a lot. Personally, most answers I have heard seem rather contrived and do little justice to either the science or the Torah. The study of physics and the study of Torah are both wonderful pursuits of a "higher truth," but they consist of very different methods and really speak different languages. I am highly skeptical of any that claim proof of a theory in one field based on evidence from the other.

But to answer your question more directly, I view the issue as a classic example of the Torah "speaking in the language of man," a concept found throughout Rabbinic literature. We know the Torah was given to a rag-tag collection of ignorant slaves less than two months after fleeing for their lives, and having only the simplest knowledge of their own history, much less "science." How should the Torah begin? "In the beginning, 13.7 billion years ago, the scalar inflation field expanded by 47 orders of magnitude, then began cooling adiabatically into a quark-gluon plasma"?? Even to the most secular scholar, the Torah is a brilliant study in human nature and emotion. To understand it, we must read it in its own language, not ours. As many medieval commentators point out, the purpose of Genesis is to teach us moral lessons, and at most, political history, not science.

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    Only an astrophysicist would have even thought of "observant" being a pun in this context. :)
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Apr 13, 2010 at 17:31
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    Rabbi Dr. David Shatz has an article in Tradition Journal about a year ago about this question; Jeremy's answer is discussed there. He quotes Rav Kook that had the Torah spelled out that the Earth is a ball orbiting the Sun, the people would have been scared of falling off of it!
    – Shalom
    Commented Apr 13, 2010 at 17:53
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    Physicists represent!
    – Eli Lansey
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 13:36
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    They weren't a rag-tag collection of ignorant slaves. Yes, they were rag-tag, and yes they were former slaves. "Collection"? Odd word choice. "Ignorant"? No! They weren't more ignorant than their contemporaries at that time and place, I don't think. Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 15:05
  • 3
    +1 but Rambam did say that the Torah went out of it's way too list the twenty generations from Adam to Avraham specifically to show how old the world is and when it was created.
    – user6591
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 15:41

There are a number of answers to this question:

  • The traditional haredi approach is that the universe was created to look old, but is really only 5770 years old in reality. There are many issues with this, but its also unclear how it could actually be defined as being that young when every measurement says its old.
  • Gerald Schroeder tries to use the relativity of time and an exponential scale to show how each period of creation was 24 hours at a certain point in the universe. (I read it some time ago, so I'm not exact an the details).
  • The standard non-haredi answer is that each day represents a large period of time, perhaps billions of years. This just runs into issues of explaining how the order works out.
  • Some also say that the entire description in Bereishis is not meant to describe physical reality, but to teach theological lessons. So no scientific questions can be raised on the account. This may go against the more traditional understanding of seeing multiple levels (including peshat) in the Torah, since it claims that its no longer meant to be read on any physical level.
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    The "traditional haredi approach" (which some might just call the Torah approach) is not so unclear if you don't start with the assumption that science must certainly be correct.
    – yoel
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 5:28
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    Yoel, the traditional Haredi approach, is beyond a doubt NOT the 'Torah Approach'.
    – avi
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 16:19
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    Please edit "traditional Haredi belief" the term "Haredi" itself is sufficiently variable to mean little to nothing. It is certainly difficult to decide what their "traditional belief" is
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 19:17
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    regarding your comment, the earth being not flat is observable. but nobody can observe how long the universe existed.
    – ray
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 22:02
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    @ray the point is you can see all kinds of evidence that the universe is billions of years old. Radiometric dating, the expansion rate etc. So once your ignoring that amount of evidence you should essentially not trust even what you can see.
    – Orion
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 17:11

When science says "the world is 13,000,000,000 years old", they are not saying "I was there. I have a video. I KNOW". They say "based on the evidence that I have, and based on the laws of nature that I observe, the world could have been created like this.

Or maybe not. Maybe there are other scientific laws involved that we just don't know about. We don't know everything yet, and it's possible all of our theories wouldn't work under different conditions. Remember, in the Rambam's time, everyone was convinced that the science of his day was absolutely true, to the extent that we had to "show" how we agree to science.

Or one can add, even if you say that from the Big Bang on everything was natural, the original yesh mi-ayin, the something from nothing, must have been supernatural. If creation is supernatural, there is no reason to stop the supernatural involment by the Big Bang, why not extend it to the end of creation. It says that when Hashem created the world, it was created fully formed. Meaning, Adam was an adult. If he would come to a doctor and ask "how old am I?" the doctor would say "middle aged". Was he or not?

In other words, it's not a scientific question, as it deals with "did Hashem perform this miracle or that miracle".

Many would answer: "Ahh... But it's a much smaller miracle for Hashem to create a "Big Bang" than create a world. Why make miracles bigger than they are?"

The answer to that this is not a scientific argument. Why Hashem makes a bigger miracle instead of a smaller isn't a scientific question. Maybe philosophical, but not scientific.

So in the end, there is no scientific evidence of the age of the universe. Philosophically one may find it hard to believe why Hashem would create the world looking old, but there are no questions based on science.


Theories of Evolution

How Old is the Universe According to Judaism?

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    When studies in a whole bunch of different disciplines say, based on entirely different types of evidence, that the world is orders of magnitude older than 6000 years (never mind the exact number), it's as if there was video evidence. You can ignore the evidence only if you believe that a) in fact, God didn't create the world with a natural order, or b) that God seeded the world with all kinds of false evidence of earlier times, the equivalent of Adam being created with a piece of bubble gum stuck in his stomach.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 6:51
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    @Isaac all of those studies and disciplines, though, are predicated on the assumption that the foundational concepts of science are sound. Is there a halachic obligation to accept that? Maybe the scientific method doesn't really work in the first place.
    – yoel
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 17:19
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    @yoel First of all, we're not discussing halacha. The various observations of science are based on what we see in front of our face, just like every other question of what goes on in nature, of which there are many in the Talmud. Either we accept that there's such a thing as a consistent natural order (in general), in which case all such questions have meaning, or we don't. Besides the facts that the Talmud does, in fact, concern itself with such questions, and that life would be insane if we couldn't depend on the natural order to persist, there's Tehilim 148:6 in support of this idea.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 18:04
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    ...I don't see any need to say in the first place that God planted a false natural history. I am satisfied to say that I know that Chazal are correct and that it is unclear how, if at all, science accords with this. As for the excellent citation in Tehillim, I wonder how we can reconcile that with God stopping the sun for Yehoshua?
    – yoel
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 18:11
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    @avi, whether or not WE can build an organ with a history, Hashem definitely could. Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 17:34

The Seder Olam Rabbah added up all of the generations in the Torah and those in the rest of Biblical history to determine how many years had passed since the Creation of Adam. By that reckoning, 5770 years have now elapsed since that Creation. Genesis 1 describes Six Days between the initial Creation of "the Heavens and the Earth" and the Creation of Adam. If you add six days to 5770 years, you get an elapsed time from the Creation of the Universe to now of 5770 years.

Many different and unrelated scientific inquiries have produced evidence consistent with the Earth and the Universe being orders of magnitude older than 5770 years. In The Challenge of Creation, Chapter Nine: "Evidence for an Ancient Universe," R' Natan Slifkin accessibly summarizes some of the these methods, including analysis of fossils, tree rings, and geological features.

To your point, he describes the evidence for a Universe age on the order of 10 billion years that comes from telescope observations of galaxies that are 10 billion light-years away. The presence of light from a source that far away implies that the light had been travelling for 10 billion years before it reached us, which implies that the galaxy it came from and the Universe containing it are at least that old.

A great deal of ink has been spilled trying to deal with this apparent disagreement between Scriptural and scientific evidence. The following few chapters of The Challenge of Creation describe a number of approaches to this issue as well as the author's approach.

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    I heard he was put in pseudo "cherem" by the gedolim (including R' Elyashiv). Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 2:59
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    @HachamGabriel Some of R' Slifkin's books, including an earlier version of the one I refer to, were banned by some gedolim (many of whom, incidentally, never read the books in question or spoke to their author about them). R' Slifkin was not personally put into cherem. He has a section on his website with a great deal of information about this controversy.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 20:23

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has shown that the tradition of the age of the world is not a simple subject.

Let's stick to Jewish sources only and ignore any other source.

We have two dating systems.

  1. One is based on the Seder Halam, that which gives us the current calendar year. According to this view, Adam Harishon was kicked out of the garden of eden 5771 years ago.

  2. We have the world dating system, based on the Gemora and the Kabblah. This system gives us many different possible answers for the age of the world, which I will get into later

Now, according to the gemorah, option 1 will not tell us the age of the world. It will only tell how long humanity as descendand from Adam has been around. The gemorah tells us that we can not know or study what came before, what is above, what is below, and what will come in the future. As far back as we can know, is how long we as people knowing Gd have been around, and that is all we are allowed to know.

However, the gemorah says that some people, teacher to student can teach each other otherwise, and we have many cryptic statements in the Gemorah regarding the age of the world. One such statement is that the world was created 974 generation before the giving of the Torah. (Or 947 generations before Adam was created) Depending on if you use a generation as defined between Adam and Noach, or between Noach's son's and Avraham, or between Avraham and Moshe, you will get a different calculation on how many years the world existed before Adam. (anywhere from 18,940 years to 177,089 years)

According to another view of the Kabbalists and Ramban:

Ramban Shmos 21:2 Also discussing shmita, and the significance of seven cycles, he says: And the seventh was chosen for days, for years, and for shmita but it all relates to another matter and this is the secret of the age of the universe (sod y'mos ha'olam)

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan expounds this further based on the writings of Rabbi Isaac of Acco.

According to the master Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac of Acco, when counting the years of these cycles, one must not use an ordinary physical year, but rather, a divine year (Otzar Chaim 86b). The Midrash says that each divine day is a thousand years, basing this on the verse, "A thousand years in Your sight are as but yesterday", Psalm 90:4 (Bereshit Rabbah 8:2, Zohar 2: 145b, Sanhedrin 97a). Since each year contains 365.25 days, a divine year would be 365,250 years long. According to this, each cycle of seven thousand divine years would consist of 2,556,750,000 earthly years. This figure of 2.5 billion years is very close to the scientific estimate as to the length of time that life has existed on earth. If we assume that the seventh cycle began with the Biblical account of creation, then this would have occurred when the universe was 15,340,500,000 years old. This is very close to the scientific estimate that the expansion of the universe began some 15 billion years ago." - Taken from Sefer Yetzirah, commentary by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, published by Weiser- 1997, page 186.

The concept of the world being some 6,000 years old comes from Christianity, and Priests. These sentiments, for some reason unknown by anybody, have been adopted by modern day Charedim as the 'Torah True' view... despite the fact that nobody has ever suggested that the world is only 6,000 years old until some Christian priest decided to make that claim despite the scientific findings of Darwin and early Paelontology. The Tiferes Yisroel wrote:

In the year 1807... they found in Siberia... a great elephant... whose skelteon now stands in the Zoological Museum in Petersburg... We already know of a giant creature found in... the city of Baltimore... bones of this creature have been found in Europe, too. This creature had been named mammoth... they have found... iguanodon... whose height was 15 feet, and whose length was as much as 90 feet...there is yet another creature called megalosaurus... from all this it is clear... [citing kabbbalists, Gemarahs, RAbaynu B'chaya, the Ramban, and Ibn Ezra's] that the world has been destroyed and renewed over and over again as many as four times --- Drush Ohr Hachayim, Tiferes Yisroel (Rav Yisroel Lipschutz)

In 1857 Philip Henry Gosse (A Non Jew who had no Jewish sources) was the first person to ever suggest that the world was close to 6,000 years old! He made this suggestion in his book Omphalos: an Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot. And now, that Christian book, is somehow touted as 'Torah!' You'd have to ignore at least 6 Gemoras, half the rishonim, a few achronim and your own eyes to say the world is less than 10,000 years old!

To summarize: A debate exists regarding the age of the world, because it is something which we can not know, and are instructed that it is not worth knowing. Despite this, we have many different Agadatas which give us a large variety of options for the age of the world. On top of that, we have a strong influence from Christian scholars convincing certain sects of Judaism, that a literal reading of both Seder Olam and the chumash is the only true answer to the question (despite the Torah Sh'baal peh which tells us otherwise!)

  • 5
    how about the Gemara in Avodah Zarah 9a-b, which explains that the world is destined to last 6000 years, and goes on to calculate some dates (including that of the Destruction) on that basis?
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 18:11
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    It says the Torah was given in 2448. It also says that Avraham began to make converts (thus initiating the "Era of Torah") in 2000. The latter statement is in keeping with Tana Devei Eliyahu's statement about how long the world will endure; I'm not seeing where you get that the Gemara rejects this answer. At any rate, certainly no one there is arguing that the world is (much) older than TDBE makes it. As for 4231 - I'm well aware that Moshiach didn't come then, but the point is that this figure is said to be לבריאת עולם and to be 403 years after the Destruction, whose date is known.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 20:53
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    And I could cite other examples too. For example, the midrash (quoted in Rashi to Gen. 11:1) that the builders of the Tower of Bavel claimed that "once every 1656 years [the length of time from Creation to the Flood] the firmament collapses; let us make supports for it." Now they'd have no reason to date this from the creation of Adam; presumably they would be counting from the second day of creation, when the firmament was created. We thus see that according to this midrash the seven days of creation are just that, not seven eons or whatever.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 20:58
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    (And yes, I'm aware that not all midrashim are meant to be taken literally. My point is simply that you can't just dismiss the idea that the world is literally 5771 years old as just being based on some goy's idea from less than a century and a half ago! It does have deep roots in Jewish tradition.)
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 20:59
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    I'm not sure how "שתא אלפי שנין הוי עלמא" is "vague." (If your argument is that the Gemara in Avodah Zarah seems to be refuting it - why, then, it's also cited as an uncontested statement in Rosh Hashanah 31a and Sanhedrin 97a; in the latter sugya there are also other statements indicating that the Amoraim considered the world to be in its 5th millennium in their time.) Your quotations from Kabbalistic literature are interesting in themselves, but WADR to R. Kaplan, the Ari (who lived long before 1857) makes it clear that these are talking about spiritual worlds, not our physical one.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 22:48

Comparing the traditional Jewish age of the universe with the scientific age of the universe is like comparing apples and oranges.

To explain, let's start with a question: What makes our universe real, as compared to a universe described in a science fiction fantasy novel?

To answer, we can draw a distinction that our universe is real because it is observable, as opposed to a sci-fi universe that, although we can conceptualize it, we cannot observe it in any way. Granted, it is possible that the sci-fi universe exists somewhere and is observable by the inhabitants of that universe, in which case, it would too be real. However, if there is no being that is able to observe any effect of its existence than indeed we can define it as not real/ not existing.

(The concept of an "unobserved real" is a, possibly semantic, topic of interest debated by philosophers, however, for our purposes, from the perspective of a Creator creating the world we can define existence based on observability.)

If so, when we picture our universe during the 13 billion years or so while stars were forming and the universe was cooling, there was no observer and therefore it was just as real as a sci-fi novel universe.

To this, you may, correctly, respond and say: But we can observe the universe and the effects of what went on during those 13 billion years (background radiation, galactic structure, fossils) and therefore it is real. This is correct, however, when did it become real? Only when it was first able to be observed.

So, when did the universe first become able to be observed? With the existence of conscious beings. There is by no means any scientific consensus on the question of when conscious beings came into existence or the harder question of how it is possible for conscious beings to develop from a non-conscious universe.

To this, Judaism maintains the tradition that the first conscious beings capable of observing the universe came into existence 5779 years ago. Only then, did the entire 13 billion years of universe come into existence.

When scientists say that the universe is 13 billion years old, they mean: If there was an observer observing the universe from the beginning, 13 billion years would have elapsed until today. Although this number may or may not be useful in conceptualizing certain aspects our universe today it ignores the fundamental problem of existence without observation, as well the fact that time itself is poorly defined without consciousness.

The question that remains is what, then were the six days of creation? יש לישב

  • Finally, a fresh look! Thank you. But isn't God an observer, He's conscious, seemingly.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 6:38
  • True, but He is above time and therefore the concept of God alone observing the universe for 13 billion years is meaningless. I have a longer explanation, that addresses your question more clearly and directly, that perhaps I'll add to the answer when I get a chance.
    – Silver
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:17
  • Does the observer have to be within the system he observes?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:32

The lubovitcher rebbe would answer people when they would ask this question 1) science is constantly changing and what they say now may be disproven in 5 years from now so don't be so sure. But more importantly 2) Hashem created an "old world" trees fully formed, fossils already fossilized, Adam as an adult. So Hashem created the world as if it was billions of years old

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    So for all intents and purposes, we can act as if the world is actually 15 billion years old. After all, what's the difference between an object from 100 years ago and an exact replica made yesterday? Nothing.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 19:47
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    @DoubleAA he said 1. dont be so sure it's 15 billion years old. 2. even if it looks like it, doesnt mean it is
    – ray
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 21:57
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    @ray why are you telling me that again?
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 23:31
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    If creating a world that is mature necessitates including an old history, are you not admitting that all the evidence before us is that of a naturally developed old earth? In which case, on what evidence and reasoning would you say that it is not old in reality? This answer smacks of Last Thursdayism and failed to include a rational to justify a distinction.
    – A L
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 2:18
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    @A L. The entire question is a theoretical question. What's the difference either it was created "old" or it was created and allowed to develop. Both ways it is exactly the same now. If G-d created the world is a totally different question. The only reason for saying so is because it is indicated in Torah that the world is only 5776 years old.
    – mroll
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 2:41

See https://judaism.stackexchange.com/a/134606/24285 The answer is clear that the world was created 5,783 years ago. When a person wants aged wine or anything else aged, he has to wait for it to age. Hashem however can create aged wine right away. It's not any harder than creating something new. We can't create anything. We can only use what we have and develop it. Since there are advantages to aged things, it would actually be weird if Hashem would NOT have created anything to be in an aged state on the day of it's creation. Because it's not any harder for Hashem to create aged things. Also, see https://dafyomi.co.il/zevachim/insites/zv-dt-113.htm Last two paragraphs of the article.

SEFER HA'CHINUCH Mitzvah #132 says that Hashem hides his miracles somewhat, because of the "greatness of the Master, and the lowliness of the receiver." It appears that the Sefer ha'Chinuch means that Hash-m does not want to make His miracles obvious and revealed to all either because of the unworthiness of man, or because doing so would make man more accountable for his actions. (See CHAYEI OLAM 1:19, and YOSHEV OHALIM, Parshas Tzav).

Based on this concept, it is understandable why Hash-m allowed the most powerful person or people to survive the Mabul. The fact that someone survived would give people the opportunity to doubt that perhaps Hash-m is not all-powerful. Although such a notion is obviously ridiculous, as the Mabul was foretold in a prophecy and caused unprecedented and unrepeated destruction, the fact that someone survived the Mabul provides sufficient grounds for the disbeliever to deny Hash-m's omnipotence, just as the wind at the Yam Suf and the fire brought by the Kohanim to the Mizbe'ach provide opportunity for the disbeliever to deny Hash-m's omnipotence. This makes people less responsible for their sins and, as the Chayei Olam writes, allows Hash-m to apply His attribute of Erech Apayim, letting the world survive without being punished for its sins. (See also Insights to Nidah 61:2.) (Y. MONTROSE) The same can be said for why the world was created aged. And with a history. Although it makes more sense that Hashem made recent things look old, rather than carbon 'evidence' of fiction things that never happened. Even if there is something flawed with the carbon dating system, the fact is that many people claim to believe in it. So you have to come on to a reason why Hashem would make it look like this to us. Because even if we are stupid, the fact is that this is how it looks to us.


God told us in the torah He would send us false prophets performing signs and wonders telling us to leave the torah.

In Deut.13:

If there will arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of a dream, and he gives you a sign or a wonder. and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke to you happens, [and he] says, "Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us worship them" you shall not heed the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of a dream; for the Lord, your God, is testing you, to know whether you really love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul.

So one could say perhaps the scientific evidence pointing to the torah's account as being false is simply a test. God already told us in the torah He would test us and He certainly has the ability to make the universe look older than it is. One who knows and believes the torah is true, will give its account more weight than the conclusions of scientists which is based on circumstancial evidence and naturalistic assumptions.

hence maybe the torah's account is literal and the universe is <6000 years old looking much older or maybe it is not literal and the universe is billions of years old. teyku.

  • care to explain the downvote?
    – ray
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 21:55
  • 2
    I will explain mine. We generally hold that science is G-d's general providence, as He made the laws by which the Universe is working. And those laws are consistent. Why do we call the sea splitting a miracle? because G-d's laws says it could not naturally happen. This question of the age of the Universe addresses G-d's two different approaches - one natural and one miraculous. So we want to know if the creation was a miracle (the Torah does not say that, unlike the splitting for example) or it was natural (by G-d's physical laws). It has nothing to do with observing Torah or testing us.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 14:00
  • Maybe you're The False Prophet! Commented Feb 27 at 5:52

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