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Topic: Jews in Space

Irene from Arlington, Virginia wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

My 5 year old son dreams of becoming an astronaut someday, and I'd like to encourage him that Jewish children can grow up to be what they want to be. But how will he keep Shabbat in space? For example, how does one determine the start and end of Shabbat in space? If the space program is unable to give Jewish astronauts a complete "day off" on Shabbat, what type of activities will he be able to perform? Are fewer activities considered forbidden because, in space, so much more needs to be done just to maintain one's safety?

Dear Irene,

When I was five years old and people asked me what I want to do when I grow up, I replied that I want to work in a zoo. People laughed at me, and pointed out that nice Jewish boys are doctors, lawyers, and accountants, not zookeepers. Besides, they said, it's not feasible to work in a zoo if you're Jewish, because you would need to work on Shabbat; the animals need looking after on Shabbat, too.

Well, lo and behold, I now work part-time in a zoo, albeit not as a zookeeper. Instead, my job is to teach about Torah perspectives on the animal kingdom, which happens to be more fulfilling than cleaning out paddocks. Since I am working in education, Shabbat isn't a problem. The message that I take from this is that you should never crush a child's dreams; they can come true in ways that you don't expect.

Shabbat in space wouldn't necessarily be a problem -- many space programs are only a few days long, and could operate during the week. And maybe things will be different twenty or thirty years from now, and robots will be able to operate the spacecraft on Shabbat.

Regarding when Shabbat would be observed in space, one opinion is that Shabbat in space is observed according to the times in the place of "blast off," e.g., Cape Kennedy. Most of the laws for Shabbat in space haven't been ruled upon yet, as the questions have not yet been asked. Maybe your son can become the first "Space Rabbi!"

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