Oz Torah: Divinity & the dinosaurs – Ask the Rabbi.


Q. How can Judaism say the universe is 5778 years old when science proves that dinosaurs lived long before this?

A. There is a widespread view that science and religion are eternal enemies. However, the scientists themselves don’t think so.

One scientist after another has pointed to the incredible orderliness of the universe and confirmed that only because the universe is one and orderly – a fundamental teaching of religion – is it possible for science to operate.

Albert Einstein said that, given time, science will be able to understand every aspect of the universe. He went so far as to say,

“The incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is so comprehensible”.

I can’t speak for other religions, but Judaism has no problem with these assertions, though the task of Judaism is to teach spirituality and ethics, not to purport to be a science text book.

The exact date that the elements of the physical world began is not known, nor could it be. When our tradition uses figures like 5778 some people think it refers not to the physical universe but to the history of human civilisation.

The Bible itself does not attempt to give a date for any of these events. Chronology is not spelled out in the early chapters of the Torah, and indeed the art of chronology only developed later.

The idea that this year is 5778 is not a principle of belief (the dating of the years only began in the 9th century) and there is no doctrinal error in rejecting or amending it.

How long ago the dinosaurs appeared on the earth has nothing to do with being a believer.


Q. Why do synagogues all look so different?

A. First let me agree with you before questioning your basic assumption.

We have synagogues that look like Byzantine churches, Islamic mosques, Italian opera houses, European town halls, British railway stations, and even aircraft hangars and cinemas (one congregation I know used to say they had a cinemagogue).

Synagogue architecture is often imitative, trying out every possible design and sometimes an eclectic combination of styles.

Architects have tried to find a uniquely Jewish design for synagogues, but without much or lasting success. This cannot mean that architecture is too difficult for Jews, since there are amazingly talented Jewish members of the profession.

In any case, some synagogues are designed by non-Jews who have researched their commission carefully, and it is hardly possible to accuse them of having an artistic blind-spot when it comes to synagogues. So I agree with you that there is a vast range of synagogue exteriors.

Internally, however, synagogues all have the same configuration, an inter-relationship between Ark, “bimah”, “amud” and congregation.

The lesson to be learnt is that a synagogue does not have to be massive or, as has been said, “meshugothic”. Big or grandiose is not necessarily better.

The Torah puts into the Divine mouth the words, “B’chol hamakom asher azkir et sh’mi avo elecha uverachticha” –

“In every place where I cause My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you” (Ex. 20:21).

Even a modest one-room shtiebel is a fully fledged synagogue.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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