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Is the Universe 13.8 Billion Years Old or 5782 Years Old?

Now that we are approaching Elul and the Yomim Noraim period, we start thinking about Rosh Hashanah and the new year of 5782. It is a good time to consider what this really means. In the Hebrew calendar this represents the time since creation in Bereishit. However, scientists begin their counting of the age of the universe from the “Big Bang,” and their best estimate is that an interval of about 13.8 billion years has elapsed until today. Fortunately, even as a scientist I have never had any problem with the great disparity between the Torah’s description and age since creation, and the scientists’ accounts developed 3,000 years later (“How Torah and Science Mesh,” Jewish Link, January 17, 2019), and consider them merely as a difference in definitions.

The calendar used in the Western world, the Gregorian Calendar, is a mix of solar and lunar components. A day is defined as the interval of time it takes for the Earth to undergo a full rotation in its orbit around the sun (approximately 24 hours); a month is the time it takes the moon to complete one full rotation in its orbit around the Earth (approximately 29 days); and a year the time it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun (approx. 12 lunar months or 365 solar days). Some, but not all, societies periodically adjust their calendars to bring agricultural seasons into alignment with calendar seasons.

It is interesting that even in our society, expressions using the word “days” often refer to an indefinite period of time, such as “someday” “there will come a day,” “back in the day,” “at the end of days,” etc., which all connote an indefinite period of time, not a specific 24-hour period.

Similarly, the Torah starts with Bereishit, “the beginning,” and starts each of the six “days” of creation with the phrase “vayechi erev vayechi voker yom… ” We translate the word “yom” as “day,” which is the way we normally use it. However, the word “yom” in the first three days of Bereishit cannot possibly be the same 24-hour solar day we use now, for the simple reason that there was no sun yet. Hashem didn’t make the sun and moon until “Day Four.”

Hence, the “days” of creation were actually much longer periods of time, possibly corresponding to ages or eons lasting billions of years. As some might say, “A billion years to man may be like a day to Hashem.” Thus 5782 may in fact represent the number of years since creation. With this redefinition of “yom,” or “day,” the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars may come much more into agreement, and their apparently wide discrepancy between Torah and science may actually disappear.

Max Wisotsky
Highland Park
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