Rosh Hashanah and the Jurassic Period

Reconciling Eden and dinosaurs

Rosh Hashanah and the Jurassic Period photo
A picture that should have gone extinct (left) and something that makes me say "How great are your deeds, Hashem" (right)

"You're better than Maryland," an ex-boyfriend said, speaking of the university I attend.

"Please stop psycho-analyzing me," I responded, with as much exasperation as a WhatsApp message can relay.

It is comments like this that one promises herself are inane, mistaken and above consideration, but it's also comments like this that fire a girl up at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday to read from the Halachah sefer (book on Jewish law) that's become a packing list priority. It ranks above socks. (Go ahead and call my bluff.)

Last month, my chevrutah (study partner) and I finally culminated another chapter, this one on Messianic lineage, and embarked on a more tangy and tangible topic. Just thinking about the holiday conjures oven smells of fresh circular loaves, succulent cuts of London broil and apples drowned in dollops of runny honey to ensure a sweet new year. Rosh Hashanah is approaching.

My chevrutah and I read a commentary that said crops, foliage, bodies of water and people are each judged before G-d during Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot and Rosh Hashanah, respectively. The commentator brought references of various sacrifices and blessings that supported his approach, at which I squinted and admittedly eye-rolled, but accepted nevertheless.

Then we reached a bit about the shofar, the ram's horn reminiscent of the animal that replaced Isaac in his act of selfless atonement. The shofar, traditionally blown during the coronation of an Israelite king, is blasted on Rosh Hashanah as the Jewish People renew our vows with G-d. Like the bass of a drum, shofar blasts pound the heart and echo through the ears, leaving a stamp-like impression intended to last a year.

The Torah commands that Rosh Hashanah be celebrated on the first day of the seventh month. Rabbis say Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of creation, which according to the Gregorian calendar would mark 5,777 years since the beginning of time.

I had to stop our learning to scratch my scalp, to reconcile the chronological roadblock of the Jurassic Period and Eden. I looked at my chevrutah and gave her the customary apology I typically insert before saying anything heretical.

"What exactly do we mean by 'creation' when we celebrate Rosh Hashanah?" I asked. "Are we celebrating the instant light was created on the "first day," are we celebrating the instant mankind was created on the "sixth day" or are we celebrating an Eden that occurred after hundreds of millions of evolutionary years?"

We didn't know.

In my initial research I found divergent and obscure opinions. One claimed that fossils are used as Divine ploys to test man. Another said that everything -- man, trees, animals -- were created in their mature forms, so why couldn't rocks also have been created to appear millions of years old, in their mature form too? And if so, how do scientists know that rocks age at the same rate each year? Could they not have aged quicker during a period of tremendous combustion, such as the time of the flood?

We didn't know.

What I did realize though was that something in my gut felt wrong. Something in my gut felt wrong to say that Rosh Hashanah is the exact sixth day of creation, when man was blown from dust. But then, how do I make sense of the Biblical command to celebrate on the first day of the seventh month?

I believe that Rosh Hashanah was arbitrarily assigned as a day to commemorate world existence and to reflect on our relationship with the world's Creator. I don't know if going back 5,777 years will drop me on Eden's doorstep, but personally, that doesn't affect my enjoyment of Rosh Hashanah, much like how I spent the fast of Tisha B'av this year watching biographies of Hitler, Anne Frank and reading through the journal I kept during my visit to Poland -- even though the Holocaust has nothing to do with the destruction of the Temples. It's a day subsequent generations arbitrarily linked to the Holocaust to remember persecution. Likewise, I guess, I consider Rosh Hashanah a day for humankind to reflect on its existence and to come together as a people to coronate their king, even if it may not be the definitive "day" man was created.

Thankfully, my chevrutah tolerates my borderline heresy and encourages us both to continue questioning -- not whether we sound like believing Jews, but how to make our belief more sound as Jews. And that's through questioning.

Eliana Block photo 375
Two truths and a lie: Eliana Block is a Zionist. She learned sex-ed really for the first time in college. She aspires to write her first novel while skateboarding around the world and sampling different peanut butter recipes. Lie: roller-blading*... Read More

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