by Marta Segal Block, Oak Park Temple

No one understands the different ways that time moves better than a parent. “The days are long and the years are short,” says the cliché.

I felt that cliché intently this year. It was the first time in seven years that I did not go in to either of my kid’s classrooms to talk about the High Holidays. When I used to go in, I would start my presentation by talking about calendars and time, and guide the kids through different kinds of calendars that they know about: the regular calendar, the school calendar, football season, baseball season, and so on. I would explain why Jewish holidays seem to “move around” and why sometimes I was in their class at the very beginning of the year, and sometimes not until school had been in session for a while.

But this year, when I asked my 5th grader if I should ask his teacher to be put on the schedule, he said “Nah, I think you’ve done it enough.” It took seven long years of being a grade school parent to get to the one second where I knew my days as a grade school parent were over.

Judaism recognizes that time moves in different ways. And Oak Park Temple’s three-part symposium, Eternity and the Eternal: Jewish and Scientific Understandings of Time, helps us understand that both science and Judaism influence the way we think about time.

In Judaism time is seen both as an arrow, moving forwards, towards the messianic age, and also a cycle that mimics the Earth’s cycle. Every Sukkot is followed by a Pesach, which in turn is followed by a Shavuot.  But while we experience the cycle of the same holiday year after year, each time, we experience it differently as we move from the past to the present and into the future.

Even in science metaphors such as arrows and cycles are common in describing time because time is simply too large for us to understand. We’re used to thinking of the time it takes a child to get dressed, or the time it takes to wait in line at the grocery store as, “a long time,” which makes the millions of years the earth has been around difficult to understand without a metaphor.

Other everyday concepts of time can also be viewed through the prisms of both science and Judaism. The concept of SpaceTime, a phrase used to mean that space and time are not separate entities, but rather a four dimensional continuum is echoed in Judaism as well.  In Hebrew, L’olam means forever and ha olam means the universe. So, in Hebrew, the same word is used for both space and time. Anyone who has experienced the phenomena of walking in to their grade school or childhood home and feeling, for a brief moment, transported to childhood intuitively understands the connection between space and time.

Often when we talk about science and religion, we are looking for ways to reconcile the two. We are looking for ways to allow someone to believe both that the world was created in seven days and also that the world evolved over millions of years. But what if instead of focusing on reconciling faith and science we focused on using both science and religion as ways of understanding our world and our lives?

We all experience time and we all experience the strangeness of time. The way the Sisterhood announcements take forever when you’re hungry and services are almost over; the shortness of the years between a bris and a bar mitzvah; the links between years and holidays. What if Judaism and science could each provide a way to speak about these feelings and concepts?

(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. This post is from Oak Park Temple’s three-part symposium, Eternity and the Eternal: Jewish and Scientific Understandings of Time. The program was designed by Rabbi Max Weiss and scientists, Professor Roy Plotnick, UIC, Dr. Sam Bader, Argonne National Labs, and Dr. Adam Lyon, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.)