The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has been removing information on the age of the geological features at prime tourist spots so as not to risk losing ultra-Orthodox visitors who believe a literal biblical account that the world is less than 6,000 years old.
The practice came to light after Lior Tal, a visitor to the Soreq Stalactite Cave in the Judean hills, noticed that the age of the cave had been scrubbed off the signs there and there was no reference to the millions of years over which the unique formations formed. He asked the guide if this was deliberate and was told that it had been done in order not to offend the ultra-Orthodox visitors to the caves, he said.
Tal posted of his experience at the site on Facebook and received hundreds of comments, including by others who had found similar issues at other nature sites, including the famous Rosh Hanikra grottoes in northern Israel.
A reporter from Channel 2 returned to the site on Sunday and discovered that the English-language video explaining the site said simply that “the cave was formed many years ago.”
Stalactites grow at a rate of centimeters over thousands of years. Some of the stalactites in the cave are four meters (13 feet) long and have been dated as 300,000 years old. But the English brochure simply says that the process of forming a stalactite “takes thousands of years.”
The cave itself is thought by scientists to be some 20-30 million years old and the sign originally said that the stalactites began forming 5 million years ago. The five million had been partially erased.
The Parks Authority, a government organization that runs Israel’s 200 nature reserves and more than 70 national parks, acknowledged that ultra-Orthodox sensitivities were a factor in the content of its educational material.
“The Nature and Parks Authority offers its sites to the public in all its diversity, regardless of religion,” they said in a statement.
“The ultra-Orthodox visit the sites in large numbers and it is important to allow them to visit the national sites as part of their connection with society. The Parks’ Authority must also be sensitive to the needs of the ultra-Orthodox population,” it said.
Although many Orthodox Jews find no contradiction between the biblical narrative and scientific dating, some ultra-Orthodox Jews believe that the universe is 5,778 years old, based on a literal reading of the biblical account of creation.