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30 July 2005

Shareef don't like it! He says it's not Kosher! ROCK the Casbah! ROCK the Casbah!


ASK the RABBI

Dear Rabbi,

I'm Jewish. All my life I've wanted to travel around in Outer Space. Does this present any special problems or conflicts?

Sincerely,
"Flash" Merkin
Ciudad Vleeptron

===========================

Dear "Flash",

Oy vey! You don't know the half of it! Got a few minutes?

The Rabbi

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

posted 17 January 2003
to http://headheeb.blogmosis.com/archives/015066.html

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

Comments

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


7 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Olson said...

Fascinating.

I have a serious question tho. If the space travellers are relying on a terran time zone for the calculation of the sabbath, why wouldn't they use Jerusalem as the default time, rather than the place of departure?

If and when it happens that there is extended or permanent settlement on planets or moons that do not have a 24 hour, 7 day week (give or take) would the local time be calculated, or maybe the Jerusalem solution would be best?

23:24  
Anonymous Huckleberry Finnstein said...

Do I look like an Orthodox rabbi to you?

You're in a Very Big City, and you're in the Religion Industry. Can't you set a cruelty-free trap for an Orthodox Rabbi, and after you catch him, ask him? (After he answers, make sure you release him again.)

Ordinarily Vleeptron is very careful to de-gender things and to always say "him or her." Unfortunately that wish fails pretty badly with "Orthodox rabbi." If you think the answer to "When is Shabbat in orbital or outer space?" is an Orthodox thing, the rabbi with the answers is going to be male.

But if you don't want to exclude women rabbis from your Quest for Answers, try the Reconstructionist Movement -- I think in the USA they were the first to have women rabbis -- or the Reform movement.

Northampton has one synagogue, and as a small college town, it's a "One Size Fits All" synagogue -- in other words, all the Jews who want a place to worship on Shabbat have to go there, whether they're Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or Who the Heck Knows What Else. You can't even begin to imagine the fistfights in the parking lot this causes. Imagine a small-town church that tried to cater simultaneously to the spiritual needs of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Unitarians, Copts, Quakers, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and members of the Moravian Church. (I imagine the little room designated as a chapel they built into the research building at the South Pole has a similar challenge.)

*******************

ONCE UPON A TIME A SHIP AT SEA was passing a very remote island and saw a signal fire. The ship stopped and the captain and a small crew took a rescue boat to the island. There they found a shipwrecked man who said he'd been on the tiny island for five years, and was thrilled finally to be rescued.

The captain started to lead him to the rescue boat, but the man said, "Listen -- can I just ask for a little favor first? I've been like Robinson Crusoe here for five years, and I'm very proud of all the things I've made to survive and even make myself comfortable. May I show you and your crew around my island before we leave?"

The captain understood and they began the guided tour.

The man showed them his residential compound, his pen for the wild goats, his lovely, comfortable tree house, his outhouse, his vegetable garden, and then he showed them a very handsome large wooden building with a Star of David on it -- "I'm Jewish," he said, "and this is my Synagogue." The man showed them a few other remarkable hand-built things, his system for piping fresh water to his compound, his elaborate contraption for catching fish, and then said he was ready to leave his island.

The captain said, "Listen, sir -- that's amazing, all the things you've built for yourself to survive here. But I noticed another big building over there that you didn't say anything about. It has a Star of David on it, too, and it looks a lot like your Synagogue. What is it?"

"Oh, that?" the shipwrecked man said. "That's the congregation I don't belong to."

11:22  
Anonymous Jim Olson said...

OY.

Indeed, Rabbi Josef Polak is the Hillel Rabbi here at BU. I owe him some scotch and a cigar, and this would be an interesting question to ask him. He's Orthodox, so I am sure he will come up with a good answer.

I'll tell you about the Hillel/Chabad controversy that rages on the BU campus some time...

19:08  
Blogger pat's pub said...

Stupid Idiot Protestant Question:
1. What is halakhah or halakhah l'ma'aseh ?
2. What is meeant with "duties to be performed on schabat"?
3. Has anyone asked Col Ramon yet ? Given the tight schedules of these missions I doubt that he even has tome to think about this stuph.

More Stupid Idiot Protestant Questions on request

21:40  
Anonymous Huckleberry Finnstein said...

"duties to be performed on schabat" -- Shabbat, the Sabbath -- you're supposed to do absolutely Nothing which could be Work, but you are supposed to do a whole bunch of things surrounding worship and religious observation that are special on the Sabbath. Many of these things are Work to prepare for the coming day of No Work -- like cooking the day before so the food will be ready to eat during Sabbath. Also on Sabbath (for the Observant) no car-driving or taking motorized transportation, only walking.

Israel (as I understand it) is sort of screwy -- it's thought of (not by all Jews) as the Central Holy Place of Judaism, but actual Jews who were born in Israel ("Sabras" -- nickname from a type of Middle Eastern desert cactus) have a long tradition of being quite "informal" and "casual" about Jewish religious observance. They might say, "Hey, we're building a nation here, we're busy, we don't have time to do all this religious stuff." These days, the ultra-Orthodox Israelis tend to be fairly recent immigrants who did come specifically for the Holy associations.

I certainly can't say anything about Col Ramon himself, but speaking more generally, an Israeli Air Force pilot would tend to be very "casual" and "informal" about the minutiae and multiple obligations of traditional Jewish observance. Such a fellow would pay much more attention to his Air Force officer career, and let very little else get in the way of that.

Add to that the desire to hitch a ride into space with the NASA Shuttle -- this is not the kind of guy who stops many times every day for religious obligations. My guess is, during his high-publicity space trip, he didn't want to offend the folks back home, so he asked NASA for "easy" kosher rations -- easy means mostly vegetarian, because vegetables are always safely kosher, a broccoli couldn't violate Kosher laws if it tried.

Halakah (as best as Huckleberry Finnstein knows without Googling) is just the Hebrew word for Jewish religious law, starting with the Old Testament, but constantly evolving as the world evolves -- in this case, Space Travel generates new religious questions, and rabbis try to use established techniques of Halakah dialogue and analysis to come up with answers.

Ah, fooey, I'll Google and see how close I got:

from http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/h1/halakah.asp

(both: hälä´khä, häläkhä´) or halacha [Heb.,=law], in Judaism, the body of law regulating all aspects of life, including religious ritual, familial and personal status, civil relations, criminal law, and relations with non-Jews. Halakah is the term used to designate both a particular ordinance and the law in the abstract. The adjective halakic means “of a legal nature.” The plural, halakoth, designates a collection of laws. It usually refers to the Oral Law as codified in the Mishna and, in particular, to those statements of law that appear in categorical form without immediate regard for scriptural derivation. The most authoritative codifications of these laws are the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides and the Shulhan Arukh [the set table] by Joseph Karo. Halakah was the important unifying force in world Jewry until modern times, when its authority was challenged by religious reform and secular conceptions of a Jewish nation. Contemporary problems in halakah revolve around its application to technological change, especially in relation to medical issues and Sabbath observance ...

(there's more. lots more.)

Oh, and they weren't dumb questions at all. I barely know the answers. And my answers might be wrong.

But I got a question for you: How come I never even heard that Napoleon did invade and occupy Switzerland? Now I feel dumb.

If you can direct me to an English-lingo site about the history of Switzerland under Bonaparte -- or if you could write a few paragraphs about that era of Swiss history, I'd be grateful. Why did he invade Switzerland? The Swiss were already a democracy, they had no monarch, and the whole point of the French Revolution was to defend itself from the European monarchies (I thought).

01:02  
Anonymous Huck Finnstein said...

Oh, Maimonides -- the Greek form of Moshe (Moses) ben Maimon. (Tons of Jewish terms are Greek words, like Synagogue and Philacteries, from the first great Jewish community outside Israel/Palestine/Holy Land, Ptolmeic Greek Alexandria, Egypt.)

Maimonides was the chief rabbi of Cairo, but he was also physician to Saladin (1138-1193), the great Muslim leader who whomped ass against the Christian forces during the Crusades. That Crusade ended as a stalemate -- the Christians got the Mediterranean Coast, but the Arabs kept control of Jerusalem (the whole point of the Crusade, for the Euro-Christians.) Saladin was born in Tikrit, Iraq (he was a Kurd), and his military career made him ruler first of Syria, then Sultan of Egypt. He died in Damascus; his tomb can be seen there today.

Those were the Good Times in the history of Arabs/Muslims and Jews -- a thousand years of peace, respect, mutual prosperity, brotherhood. Jews and Arabs/Muslims hating each other is a very modern and largely atypical, unnatural thing -- a product, sadly, of Euro Colonialism and its system of "divide and conquer" among the ethnicities and religions of Asian and African colonies. Still today all over Asia and Africa are ancient Jewish communities within Muslim/Arab nations, the Mosque peacefully across the street from the Synagogue. Turkey in particular (Muslims but not Arabs) has been a cordial and protective host to the Jews exiled from Spain in 1492.

01:38  
Blogger pat's pub said...

Thanks for the info, I appreciate that very much. Things are a bit clearer now
There are not that many Jews in Basel, and they do not appear in public apart from a few chassidim I see every now and then on the tram. so I cant't just go upt to a rebbe and ask him these questions. Poor guy would have a heart attack.
Switzerland was not yet a democray at the time of the french invasion. I'll dig out some stuph 4 u on this
According to Steven Runcinan's History of the Crusades these times were not all that fun but that's a completely different story I reckon

08:28  

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