Galileo, Stalactites, and Orthodoxy

Were Galileo Galilei alive today, he would no doubt be bemused by the actions of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority in removing information as to the age of the geological features at prime tourist spots so as not to risk losing ultra-Orthodox visitors.

Soreq Cave is a case in point, where references to the stalactites being some five million years old have been removed. Given that the world is held by ultra-Orthodox Jews to be less than 6,000 years old, there is obviously no room for such an assertion.

It is told that the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was once asked how the world could possibly be less than 6,000 years old when geologists had discovered fossils dating back millions of years. He is reported to have responded that a God who could create the world could also create fossils!

The assumption, then, is that, where there is a prima facie contradiction between scientific findings and traditional religious belief, then the latter is clearly correct and the former needs to be explained away.

Pope Paul V instructed Galileo to abandon the opinion that the sun stood still at the center of the world and that the earth moved. As a result of his views, Galileo was tried in 1633 and found guilty of heresy.

Nearly 500 years later, the sensitivities of ultra-Orthodox obscurantists are, it would appear, more important than presenting scientific fact and telling the truth. While that may have been understandable in medieval Europe, one would have hoped that the “Start-Up Nation” would not settle for such nonsense.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.