Shareef don't like it! He says it's not Kosher! ROCK the Casbah! ROCK the Casbah!
ASK the RABBI
I'm Jewish. All my life I've wanted to travel around in Outer Space. Does this present any special problems or conflicts?
Oy vey! You don't know the half of it! Got a few minutes?
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posted 17 January 2003
We're Jews, Jews in space...
Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, blasted off from Cape Canaveral yesterday aboard a 16-day space shuttle mission. This is a momentous event for Israel, but the halachically minded - which may or may not include Col. Ramon - will instantly see the difficulty: a sixteen-day period includes at least two Saturdays. When, exactly, does Shabbat begin in space - and is the picture complicated by the fact that "sunset" on the Space Shuttle will occur approximately every ninety minutes?
As luck would have it, this question was answered last June by Rabbi David Golinkin of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. (At the time, Ramon was scheduled to blast off in July, so the issue was a timely one.) In his Responsum Regarding Space Travel, Rabbi Golinkin noted the lack of prior authority on the subject:
In 1982, Rabbi Bezalel Stern of Vienna published a brief responsum regarding the proper time for prayer, Shabbat and festivals on a spaceship. He concluded by saying that "this is not currently an issue of halakhah l'ma'aseh (practical halakhah) but only of research for the sake of knowledge. Therefore, this brief note is sufficient for now." In 1980, Rabbi Solomon Freehof (1892-1990) also thought that this was a theoretical question. Twenty years have passed and this is now a question of halakhah l'ma'aseh.
Before he could get to Shabbat and festival times, however, Rabbi Golinkin had to determine whether space travel itself was permissible. He concluded that it was, "as long as the motive is research and investigation and not to challenge God's authority in the universe." (Prior discussion, not surprisingly, had centered on the fall of the Tower of Babel, which represented mankind's first attempt to "ascend to the heavens." Interestingly enough, though, there doesn't seem to have been any discussion of the significance of Genesis 1:28, which gives human beings dominion over the earth. I suppose that won't come into play until people start thinking about establishing space colonies, although the "research and investigation" requirement would also seem to rule out permanent habitations. Orthodox Jewish science fiction authors, take note.)
Rabbi Golinkin then made two conclusions: that kashruth was required in space (an obligation which, he noted, was made possible by the use of pre-packaged kosher foods in the military), and that Jewish astronauts are required to observe Shabbat and the festivals. But when?
The rabbi rejected the two most extreme positions - that space travel was entirely forbidden because of uncertainty about festival times, or that observance should be excused entirely. He also discounted the idea that each orbit should be counted as a day: "an astronaut who prays three times every ninety minutes and observes Shabbat every nine hours will indeed be exhausted... and unable to perform any of his duties [and] the purpose of Shabbat is to rest after six 24-hour days of work and not every nine hours!" His ruling, instead, was that "Jewish astronauts should observe Shabbat, festivals and daily prayer according to local time in Houston." His reasons:
1. Simple logic. All astronauts set their watches by Houston time. Otherwise they would spend all of their time in space changing the time on their watches as Rabbi Sheloosh would require.
2. Secondly, we have a classic source for dealing with a similar situation. We have learned in Shabbat 69b: "A person lost in the desert who doesn't know when it is Shabbat, counts six days and rests on the seventh". In other words, when you are in a place where normal time divisions don't exist, you arbitrarily adopt a method for observing Shabbat after six 24-hour days.
3. Finally, we have a clear precedent for Shabbat in space, as already hinted above. Since the eighteenth century, rabbis have discussed how to observe Shabbat in "inner America", Norway, Sweden, Alaska, Iceland and other areas where the sun does not rise or set for months on end. Polar days are unusually long; space days are unusually short -- but the general problem is similar.
Curiously enough, Rabbi Golinkin's ruling was somewhat inconsistent with the advice of an earlier and no less eminent authority: Sol the Answer Man of the Baltimore Jewish Times. In Do They Keep Kosher on Mars?, a collection of columns published in 1990, he discussed candle-lighting time on the moon:
Shabbat starts for Jewish tourists on the moon at the same earth time as it would start at their point of origin - Cape Canaveral, no doubt, since until recently, the Soviets have tended to fling their Jews into jail, not into space.
Rabbi Golinkin accepted the idea that Jewish astronauts should be guided by earth time, but used the Houston home base rather than Cape Canaveral as the point of reference. So the Answer Man didn't have the right answer about the halacha of space travel - but he should still get points for correctly guessing Col. Ramon's point of takeoff.
(Suggested by QS)
Posted by jonathan at January 17, 2003 08:27 AM
See what happens when we send Jews into space? The shuttles will blow up because "Yaweh" doesn't like the Jews going into space. After all, He did give humans dominion over the earth. He did not say that the Jews should be going into space.
Posted by: John Doe at March 19, 2004 11:13 AM