THE AGE OF THE WORLD.
Question. How can we square Jewish tradition, which says the world is 5774 years old, with the scientific view that posits a vastly longer period?
Answer. There is definitely a problem, which was already recognized in Tanach itself, especially in the Psalms. It was widely debated in the Aggadah (for example in Midrash Bereshit Rabba). As we expect, the medieval philosophers (e.g. Maimonides) addressed it in a sophisticated way.
The crucial issue is how to interpret the units of time – the seven days of creation – listed in Genesis 1-2. Do we interpret such units literally – or allegorically? If we take them literally, we have seven times 24 hours and a relatively short period of history – millennia and not eons – thereafter.
If we read them allegorically, which Jewish commentary tends to do, learning from Psalm 90:4 that “day” can denote a thousand years, then Genesis 1-4 becomes a long, majestic poem of beginnings. In that case, the expressions of time need not be taken literally and Genesis 1-2 is not a scientific analysis but (to use Aboriginal-type language) a “narrative of the dreamtime”.
But problems remain, for example:
* The material is not mathematically verifiable, since mathematics was not yet developed.
* When did time begin? The Creation story happened before the science of time, though it was recorded in an age of time.
* If we can treat the “Creation” parts of the Tanach allegorically can we do this anywhere, regardless of the consequences? Not if we distinguish between poetical (“Aggadah”) and legal texts (“Halachah”), and insist that halachic material may not be allegorised.
Whatever our theory as to the age of the world, the really important verse is Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning, God created”, which says there is a God, a creating God, and His wish for His world is that His creatures should live by His moral law.
FISH ON FRIDAY NIGHT.
Question. We have the custom of eating fish on Friday night. Does this have a historic basis?
Answer. Friday night is said to be a special time for marital relations, hopefully leading to procreation; fish are a symbol of fertility. Some people read Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) on Friday night; as a love story it awakens thoughts of love. Lighting Shabbat candles is thought to be rewarded by producing children dedicated to the Torah (cf. Talmud Shabbat 23b).
CAN ANYONE BE A SHOCHET?
Question. Can anyone be a shochet?
Answer. Shoch’tim are more than mere slaughterers. Over and above a knowledge of animal anatomy and the skills of the profession, they must be scrupulously religious and learned people who are constantly aware of the seriousness of their task.
He must derive no pleasure from taking animal life and must avoid every possibility of unnecessary suffering on the part of the animal. He commences his work by saying a b’rachah which implies that were it not for Divine permission to eat meat, there would be no animal slaughter.
No shochet may be a coarse or cruel individual, though he has to be able to handle being in the slaughter-yard, which not everyone would be able to deal with. This is why women are not employed in this capacity even though a woman is in theory allowed to be a shochetet.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. Now retired and lives in Jerusalem.
Paintings by Martina Shapiro are posted with her permission. http://members.shaw.ca/martisart/