The Age of the World - Universe
Simcha Tzvi Koretz
[The article relects the
author's opinions, based on his research.]
One of the age-old questions of the
world concerns its age, and is a matter that involves great social controversy.
Some theologians, often lacking a background in the physical and biological
sciences, take literally the Biblical text and state that the creation
of the universe took place in a six 24-hour time period, bringing the
total amount of years from creation to date, 5760. Scientists, on the
other hand, rejecting Biblical texts, date the Earth at 4.6 billion
years and the surrounding universe at approximately 15 billion years.
Some religious scientists, trying to resolve apparent contradictions,
state the reinterpretation of the Biblical day as phases or epochs.
Midrashic and Kabalistic sources also hint at an older universe in terms
of "Divine years", whether they be in physical or spiritual
terms (1). Seemingly paradoxical Biblical and scientific positions like
these are not contradictions, but rather, on the contrary, are reconcilable
through modern science.
From a philosophical standpoint one
might have considered the creation of the universe as having taken neither
15 billion years, nor six 24-hour time periods. An all powerful and
all omniscient creator should not have to be locked into any frame of
period of time at all. G-d spoke it, and the universe came into being,
instantaneously, without any elapse of time intervention involved. This
cannot be, for Chazal makes mention many times in the Gemorah, that
"The Torah speaks in the language of man." And the universe
is described in the Torah explicitly as having taken place in the time
span of 6 creation days (2). Alternatively, the notion of the "Eternity
of the universe", mentioned many times in Moreh Nevuchim, and known
as the primary opinion of most early Greek philosophers, states that
the universe always has been in existence without any point of creation.
This again is as easily rejected when we consider the first word of
the Torah which is written "In the beginning", which states
clearly a starting point of creation.
Before answering this question concerning
the age of the universe, let us first examine a related aspect of this
topic. We will then begin to see the importance of correlating two or
more reference frames that seem to oppose one another completely, but
are actually all equally true, only viewed from different standpoints.
Which of the following two opinions is truer to say? According to a
perspective based on modern observable astronomy, is the earth revolving
around the sun, with the sun having a fixed, unmoving position in relation
to the earth, or according to the Rambam who discusses at length in
the Mishnah Torah (3), a more Aristotelian approach to the makeup of
the universe, that the earth is in a fixed unmoving position at the
center of the universe, with the sun and other celestial bodies circling
in orbit around us?
The answer is not surprising, in fact
it will be perfectly understood, when we will recognize the proven aspects
of the General and Special theories of relativity that concern us with
the notion that there is no such thing as absolute rest in the universe.
Everything in the universe is in motion including the fabric of space/
time itself. Science proves this. How? Almost all of what we see in
the sky, including the galaxies, and even the quasi- stellar light formations
at the most distant reaches of our observable universe, display a red
or Doppler shift that suggests that they are in motion away from us,
or we from them, or both (4). The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in one of his letters
(5), explains clearly that the answer to this question, concerning the
sun and the earth, is that they are both equally true statements one
with the other. Indeed, the Lubavitcher Rebbe gives a third equally
true opinion, that they are both circling each other. With no stationary
reference point for observation, it is impossible for an observer in
a third inertial reference frame to make any absolute conclusion based
solely on his own observation point. The Rambam was not in error when
he explains the geocentricity of the universe with the earth at its
very center. We will explain shortly, another way to harmonize two seemingly
Let us now return to our first question
concerning the age of the universe. However, it is imperative to understand
first a few basic foundation points that will be the basis for our answer.
Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh writes in a letter of his: "One must understand
the generalization of Chazal that there is true science from the viewpoint
of "gavra", which is how the issue appears to man on earth,
as well as true science from the viewpoint of "cheftza", which
is how the issue appears from without." In other words, there is
subjective science (as seen from the observer standing within a reference
frame looking out), and objective science (as seen from the observer
standing outside of a reference frame looking in).
Professor Cyril Domb of Bar Ilan University (6) quotes Rabbi Shimshon
Raphael Hirsch, of blessed memory, as saying: "The bible does not
describe things in terms of objective truths known only to G-d, but
in terms of human understanding
The Bible uses human language
when it speaks of the "rising and setting of the sun" and
not of the rotation of the earth, just as Copernicus, Kepler, and other
such scientists, in their words and writings, spoke of the rising and
setting of the sun without thereby contradicting truths they had derived
from there own scientific conclusions. Loshon benei adam, "human
language", which is also the language of the Bible, describes the
processes and phenomena of nature in terms of the impression they make
on the human senses, without thereby meaning to prejudice, in any manner,
the findings of scientific research." (7)
Professor Gerald Schroeder illustrates in his book "Genesis and
the Big Bang" a model of the creation of the universe to describe
how the two positions, of six 24- hours and 15 billion years, are unified.
Let us imagine ourselves standing outside
the four- dimensional universe at the point of creation. We speak of
a four- dimensional universe, three being of space and one being of
time, because they are an integral and interwoven continuum one with
the other, as much as transparency is to silicon. No one would consider
taking a glass and separating the clearness to one side and the silicon
to the other. Silicon in its natural state is clear; that is its molecular
and physical make up and structure. So to, time cannot be excluded or
discussed separately when dealing with the integral interwoven fabric
of space/ time, as mentioned before. According to the Midrash and the
Rambam (9), time was a separately created entity on the first day, along
with the space of the physical universe encompassing it. Even though
one could distinguish between time and space, science considers them
as a unified entity.
So if indeed, we were outside of the
universe during the moment of creation, where again time is not in existence
and not a relevant concept, from our "objective" frame of
reference, the development of the creation of the universe would have
appeared to us as having taken six 24- hour time periods, in literal
accordance with the text of our Torah. And if you prefer, a "subjective"
observational reference frame, as viewed from man from within, where
time is a relevant factor and now an influence on our perception, then
the universe may have appeared to develop over a period of time consistent
with the estimations of modern observable sciences. There is no differentiating
between two or more space/ time reference frames. Time dilation, which
is the refraction or bending of time, is a scientifically accepted part
of the physics that govern our observable universe (10). Thus it is
equally true to say that the universe is 6 days or 15 billion years.
What is the age of the universe? It depends on where you stand and is
Many contradictions in Torah, like
the variance between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel on the "heavens
and the earth", are unified when we discover the words of Chazal
when they state" Aylu V`aylu Divrei Elokim Chaim"- These and
these are the words of the living G-d. It is the emphasis and main objective,
in reconciling the two ages of the universe, to recognize a principle
in Torah, that whenever we have two or more seemingly contradictory
matters opposing one another, in many cases, they may be brought together
using the means and technique stated above.
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.
(2) The Ramban, in his commentary on Beraishis 1:3, quotes the verse
"To you G-d is the Greatness and the Might
commentaries on the possuk: I Chronicles 29:11.
(3) See Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah, chapter 3, Halacha 4.
(4) Note: A red/ Doppler shift is when a light frequency is stretched
from one point in the electromagnetic spectrum to another, because of
its motion away from the observer.
(5) Emuna U'mada; Iyar 25, 5719 (1959); page 103; chapter 40 entitled
- The certainty movement of the sun. Also see Igrot Kodesh, volume 18,
(6) In the publication: B'or Hatorah, #11 - 1999, page 174.
(7) S.R. Hirsch. Collected Writing, volume 7 (New York: Feldheim, 1992),
(8) Read "Genesis and the Big Bang" - Professor Gerald Schroeder,
chapter 2 entitled "Stretching Time". See "Time Dilation"
(9) Beraishis Rabbah 3:7. See Moreh Nevuchim, section 2, chapter 13.
Gemorah Chagigah 12a - and Maharsha there. Also see Rav Ovadia Soforno,
Beraishis 1: 1. Likutai Moharan, section 2: 61. The Ramban 1:5.
(10) Note: There are many examples of instances, especially in the times
of the Gemorah and antiquity, where individuals had the ability to transpose
the boundaries of time. - See Midrash Rabbah; parsha 3, section 9.
Simcha Tzvi Koretz
415/1 Ibikur, Zefat