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Recently, I bought a book on the planets that begins with a description of the world as being 15 billion years old. Can I read that to my children and discuss with them the fact that there are people, even smart people, in the world who believe this, yet helping them understand that we believe that the Torah, which is emes, teaches us that the world is 5,766 years old? I want my children to know that there are people that incorrectly believe this, and I also would like them to hear this from me - and not someone who doesn't have proper hashkafos. At the same time, I understand that the theory of evolution is not accepted in the Torah world.
I hope that I am not putting you in an uncomfortable position by posing this question.
As parents, we all know the feeling of being asked jaw-dropping, excellent questions from our children. And we rarely get the opportunity to avoid answering them. So, I guess that once I agreed to do this give-and-take parenting column, I should play by the same rules, and not take a pass on challenging, excellent questions from parents on raising children in these trying times. So you need not apologize for posing your question.
Upon analysis, there are, in fact, two very important issues that you raise. Firstly, how to process and better understand (ourselves, as adults) issues where essential matters of our bedrock emunah, are challenged by scientific findings. (It is my strong feeling that many of the issues that we deal with in raising children are, in fact, issues that we as adults are struggling with.) Additionally, there is the question of how to (or whether to) impart this information to our children. Is it better to avoid discussing these challenging topics and hope that our children will be among the many who are not giving much thought to these matters, or is it wiser to be proactive and prepare them for the time when they may need to deal with them at a more vulnerable time in their lives - when we may not be there to guide them?
Regarding the first matter - our own understanding of things - the fact that there are objects in our world that appear to be more than 5,766 years old is not, in and of itself, a contradiction to our emunah. Hashem created a world that was mature and developed. The trees had rings and the stones appeared to be timeworn. In fact, the Midrash states that Adam was created not as an infant, but rather as an adult with the developed body of a thirty-year old. Thus, only two years after the world was created, Adam would have appeared to be thirty-two years old, when in fact, it was only two years after he was created. So, too, a tree may have appeared to be hundreds of years old during the second year of creation. The same line of reasoning would apply to stones, canyons, etc.
An important note: When I first took a job teaching general studies in a yeshiva nearly twenty years ago, I asked an esteemed Rov who was a close talmid of Hagaon Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky z'tl, if the above was hashkafically in line with our mesorah and appropriate to share with adolescent talmidim. He related to me that Reb Yaakov z'tl had explained this matter to him in exactly the same manner.
Therefore, the ages of the stones are not necessarily a fundamental conflict with our emunah. Many components of the theory of evolution, on the other hand, most certainly are, however. (You may wish to review an excellent series of articles by Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller s'hlita, Rosh Yeshiva, Telshe Chicago, in a recent issue of The Jewish Observer to gain the Torah perspective regarding evolution and 'intelligent design'.)
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