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Modified Copy of Question of Time

Modified Copy of Question of Time

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Published by Dovid Kornreich
Rav Moshe Meiselman's abridged chapter from his upcoming book on Torah and Science regarding the topic of dating and measuring time
Rav Moshe Meiselman's abridged chapter from his upcoming book on Torah and Science regarding the topic of dating and measuring time

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Dovid Kornreich on May 29, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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A Question of Time
©Copyright Rabbi Moshe Meiselman
One of the outstanding areas of contention between the Torah’s teachingsand current mainstream scientific thinking is the subject of dating. Theperceived conflicts associated with this multifaceted topic seem to be,
 prima facie
, irresolvable.
1. Creation versus a world with no beginning
The issue is not a new one. It was first discussed in our sources in medievaltimes. Ever since Aristotle science had claimed that the world had nobeginning. His attitude was that the world has always existed just as we seeit today. In more recent times Newton’s laws together with Laplace’s work seemed to have proven this conclusively.Neither the philosophic/scientific proofs of Aristotle, however, nor thescientific proofs of Newton and Laplace moved our
. None of the
chachmei haMesorah
who confronted the issue ever suggested that thereceived position be reevaluated. Creation
ex nihilo
has always remained afundamental belief. The scientific approach has always been simply rejected,even in the face of so called proofs.
2. The scientific view changes
This is a shortened version of a chapter in my forthcoming book. The technical bases for much of what iswritten here are expanded on there in great detail.However, there are two issues that the context of a journal article does not allow to be expounded on indetail.The first is that I show in great detail that the Rambam, Ramban, Rashba and Rabbeinu Bachye,among other rishonim, adopt a dual concept of time. Time as we know it came into existence withCreation; however, there is an extra-cosmic concept of time which is operative independently of scientifictime. This operates at times when scientific time is not applicable. When the world operates according toregular scientific norms, the two concepts overlap. However, at times when Divine Providence suspendsnatural law, we measure time by the extra-cosmic clock. A detailed analysis of the above mentionedrishonim is a necessary part of the ideas in this chapter.The second is the fact that we show in great detail that just as there is such a thing as an halachicruling (
 psak halacha
) in practical areas of daily life, so too there is
 psak halacha
in issues of Torahideology (Hashkafah). Adopting singular opinions is as wrong in hashkafa as it is in halacha. The technicaldetail that supports this position is expounded on in my book as well.
The scientific view changed radically in the middle of the twentieth centuryso that today the overwhelming scientific opinion is that the universe didindeed have a beginning. It is believed, however, that this occurred somefifteen billion years ago, which is still completely incompatible with Biblicalchronology.
3. The age of the universe is not a scientific question
It is the opinion of this author, however, that there are seriousmethodological problems both with the scientific approach to this subjectand with the critique of the Torah based upon it, as I hope to demonstrate inthe present chapter. Therefore just as there was no reason to change ouroutlook on account of the “proofs” to the earlier view of the world’s eternity,so is there no reason to modify our understanding of the Torah in light of the“proofs” to the current view.The age of the universe is an issue to be determined by the internal dynamicsof the Torah itself. From our perspective it is not a scientific question at all.
4. The problems of chronology
Another source of conflict is the discrepancy between the impliedchronology of the Biblical narratives and the dates established througharcheology and the dating of artifacts. This lack of compatibility hasprompted some to opt for non-literal interpretations of various Biblicalepisodes.However, the same methodological problems alluded to above with regard tothe age of the universe apply in this area as well, very often rendering thesupposed conflicts spurious. There are, in addition, many othermethodological problems connected with the discipline of archeology thatare beyond the purview of this work. Therefore once again there is no reasonto change our reading of the Torah in response to mistaken science.
(a)The Meaning of Time
1. Sequence and duration
Before we begin, an important observation must be made. Time can beviewed in a number of ways. It can be thought of, for instance, in terms of sequence – i.e. event A happened
event B – for example, the Torahwas created before the world. But it can also be viewed in terms of durationand passage – i.e. event C lasted
twenty minutes or alternatively, event Doccurred two hours
. For example, the Jewish People wandered in thedesert for forty years; the Torah was created two thousand years before theworld.It is this second way of looking at time that we have in mind when we treat itas an object of measurement, but we will have cause to refer to the firstaspect as well in the course of the following discussion. Therefore it isimportant to take note of which aspect we are speaking of at each juncture.
2. Measurement requires stability
One of the main points of this chapter will be that all current tools formeasuring the passage of time presume stability in the relationships betweennatural processes, similar to what we observe today. In fact, our entireoutlook on time reflects this presumption.Later on in this chapter we will cite the views of a number of 
, aswell as those of certain non-Torah personalities, regarding the measuring of time during periods when these stable relationships did not exist. Clearly insuch periods the means by which time is measured must be very differentfrom those in use today. Nevertheless, we see that Torah sources continueapplying the same terms as they move seamlessly from one period toanother, making no mention of any disjuncture.
3. Dual conceptions of measurement
It is evident from this situation that these sources are employing two distinctconceptions of time measurement – one paralleling our own for use whencurrent relationships are operative and another completely differentconception to be used when they are not –
both expressed in the same terms
.In order for them to work complementarily, however, the existence of aunifying conception applicable in
epochs must be posited. It is this thatserves as the true measure of time.
I would like to thank Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottleib for pointing this out to me.

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