Jewish Views on The Age of The Universe
Judaism is not frightened even by the hundreds of thousands and millions of years which the geological theory of the earth’s development bandies about so freely. Judaism would have nothing to fear from that theory even if it were based on something more than mere hypothesis, on the still unproven presumption that the forces we see at work in our world today are the same as those that were in existence, with the same degree of potency, when the world was first created. Our Rabbis, the Sages of Judaism, discuss (Midrash Rabbah 9; Chagiga 16a) the possibility that earlier worlds were brought into existence and subsequently destroyed by the Creator before He made our own earth in its present form and order. However, the Rabbis have never made the acceptance or rejection of this and similar possibilities an article of faith binding on all Jews. They were willing to live with any theory that did not reject the basic truth that “every beginning is from God.” In fact, they were generally averse to speculations about what was in the past and what will be in the future, because, in their view, such questions transgressed the limits of that which is knowable to man, or, at best, they did not enhance man’s understanding of his moral function. In the view of our Rabbis, the Book of Books was intended to be mankind’s guide for life on earth as it is at present, to teach man to recognize God, in the here and now, as the everlasting Creator and Master of the universe, and to worship Him by faithfully obeying the laws by which He governs mankind.
Source: Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch #7 p.265
…As regards the past, Rabbi Abahu states at the beginning of Bereishet Rabbah that the words “and it was evening, and it was morning” (in the apparent absence of the sun) indicate that “there was a series of epochs before then; the Holy One created worlds and destroyed them, approving some and not others.”
The Kabbalists expanded upon this statement and revealed that this process is repeated seven times, each Shemita achieving greater perfection than the last…They also tell us that we are now in the midst of the fourth of these great cycles of perfection…[Editor’s note: Interestingly, many paleontologists also consider there to have been four eras: the Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic.]
We are enabled to appreciate to the full the wonderful accuracy of our Holy Torah when we see that this secret doctrine, handed down by word of mouth for so long, and revealed to us by the Sages of the Kabbalah many centuries ago, has been borne out in the clearest possible way by the science of our generation.
The questing spirit of man, probing and delving into the recesses of the earth, in the Pyrenees, the Carpathians, the Rocky Mountains in America, and the Himalayas, has found them to be formed of mighty layers of rock lying upon one another in amazing and chaotic formations, explicable only in terms of revolutionary transformations of the earth’s surface.
Probing still further, deep below the earth’s surface, geologists have found four distinct layers of rock, and between the layers fossilized remains of creatures. Those in the lower layers are of monstrous size and structure, while those in the higher layers are progressively smaller in size but incomparably more refined in structure and form.
Furthermore, they found in Siberia in 1807, under the eternal ice of those regions, a monstrous type of elephant, some three or four times larger than those found today…
Similarly, fossilized remains of sea creatures have been found within the recesses of the highest mountains, and scientists have calculated that of every 78 species found in the earth, 48 are species that are no longer found in our present epoch.
We also know of the remains of an enormous creature found deep in the earth near Baltimore, seventeen feet long and eleven feet high. These have also been found in Europe, and have been given the name “mammoth.” Another gigantic creature whose fossilized remains have been found is that which is called “Iguanadon,” which stood fifteen feet high and measured ninety feet in length; from its internal structure, scientists have determined that it was herbivorous. Another creature is that which is called “Megalosaurus,” which was slightly smaller than the Iguanodon, but which was meat-eating.
From all this, we can see that all that the Kabbalists have told us for so many years about the repeated destruction and renewal of the earth has found clear confirmation in our time.
Source: Tiferet Yisrael, in Derush Ohr HaChayyim, found in Mishnayot Nezikin after Masechet Sanhedrin