Acclamation for Methuselah

In the book and movie Jurassic Park, scientists extract DNA from the blood in ancient mosquitos trapped in amber to produce modern versions of long dead dinosaurs. The results, predictably, are disastrous as the previously extinct beasts rampage and kill. It’s a fascinating idea, science reviving the dead, and now researchers in Israel have done just that. They didn’t bring back the T Rex, but instead the noble date.

15 years ago, scientists at Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel grew a date tree from thousand year old seeds found in an archaeological dig, which they named Methuselah. Since then they have grown more trees from ancient seeds, enough to pollinate a female palm in order to produce dates.

Appropriately, the first tree to grow dates for harvest is named Hannah, in the Bible the mother of Samuel. This Saturday, in the Haftarah for the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of how Hannah was infertile but desperately wanted a child. She prayed to God and was blessed with becoming the mother of one of the greatest prophets in Israel.

The scientists were looking to revive the ancient Judean date, long extinct but noted in literature for being one of the best varieties in the world. It now appears that they have done it and the result, according to the New York Times, is a “chewy texture and a subtle sweetness”. Who knows, perhaps someday we will be able to purchase them in the supermarket labeled, as the kibbutzniks joked, “the dates that Jesus ate”.

In Jurassic Park, author Michael Critchon uses the story as a metaphor to warn of the potential dangers of science. Just because you might be able to revive dinosaurs does not necessary mean that you should. Technological advances always come with unintended consequences.

There is probably little to fear of these new-old dates. They are not likely to go on a rampage through the desert. Instead they are a beautiful metaphor for the State of Israel, the revival of the Jewish people’s sovereignty in our ancient land. They are also a compelling story for the High Holy Days, which is why we read about the births of Isaac and Samuel on Rosh Hashanah. Even in dark times, when all seems lost, there is hope. Nothing is gone forever. Instead, each year we are given the possibility to fulfill our dreams, to “renew our days as of old”.

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