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For the week ending 18 January 2003 / 15 Shevat 5763

Shabbat in Space

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Shabbat in Space

From: Judy in LA

Dear Rabbi,

I imagine that being an astronaut is very taxing (I mean on the astronauts efforts, not just the taxpayers money). I recently saw a beautiful IMAX production on the Space Shuttle. But I imagine the cramped quarters, physical stress and the psychological fears of being in a seeming endless "space" must be difficult on the astronauts. My question: Would a Jew also be obligated to observe Jewish laws in space, such as keeping Shabbat, eating kosher and praying at the correct times?

Dear Judy,

Colonel Ilan Ramon is scheduled to become the first Israeli, and the third Jew, scheduled to leave Earth's atmosphere as part of the NASA crew on the next shuttle in January 2003. He has requested kosher food and NASA has agreed to provide. I wonder the other astronauts will react to him biting into lox and cream cheese on a garlic bagel?

Regarding Shabbat, NASA cant do much to help the Jewish astronaut, besides giving him Shabbat off, if doing so would not endanger life. I hope lift-off does not need to take place on Shabbat. The big question is how to count days and know when its Shabbat. Since the shuttle orbits the earth every 90 minutes, each orbit would seem to constitute a day for the shuttler, since because the sun has risen and set during that time from his perspective. But perhaps Shabbat should be calculated in a different manner.

This question has been theoretical for some time, but now its a 7,6,5countdown to Shabbat, and the answer doesnt seem to appear in the Code of Jewish Law. So what else would a Jew do in such a case but Ask the Rabbi!

I read yesterday that the astronaut has found a spiritual mentor in Cape Canaveral where most of the training has taken place and is the site of the planned lift-off. The astronaut views himself as "representing all Jews and all Israelis" as he describes his mission, and has asked questions about kashrut and Shabbat observance with apparent intent to observe the law. There is an overriding principle in Jewish law that saving life would require not observe Shabbat, but the assumption is the colonel will not be involved in life-saving activities non-stop.

A scholar reportedly consulted is a Jerusalem rabbi renowned in "Science and Halacha (Jewish law)." This rabbi is said to have ruled that the colonel should be relieved of his obligation to observe Shabbat because he will not be experiencing Earth time.

However, the consensus of opinions received so far is that he should keep Shabbat according to his last place of residence on Earth, Cape Canaveral. There is a precedent for this the ruling of basing his Shabbat observance on his previous geographical location. A Chassidic Rebbe travelled one summer to Leningrad. At that time of year there was no visible sunset in Leningrad. The Rebbe kept Shabbat according to the times for Shabbat in Petersburg, his previous city.

The colonel is planning to recite the Friday night kiddush over a closed bottle of wine, with a straw inserted, since the zero-gravity environment would allow the wine to spill in all directions from an open goblet.

It how often been said that keeping Shabbat is an experience "out-of-this-world" in this case lierally! He is also planning on reciting the traditional travellers prayer (tefillat haderech), and our prayers join his that G-d allow him a safe, successful and glatt-kosher trip.

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