Haya Mehalech Bamidbar – Shabbat in Outer Space. Astronaut Ilan Ramon’s question: “When Should I Observe Shabbat on the Columbia?” (Shabbat 69b).
Colonel Ilan Ramon, of blessed memory, posed the following halachic question to Rabbi Tzvi Konikov, the rabbi of Cape Canaveral: When should I observe Shabbat while I am on the space shuttle Columbia?
The forty-eight year old Ramon was a veteran Israeli fighter pilot before he was picked to be Israel’s first astronaut. Since Ilan Ramon considered himself to be representing the Jewish people and Israel, he asked NASA to provide him with kosher food during the flight, and arranged to keep the Sabbath while in orbit.
The Space Coast, Florida rabbi posed the question to some leading halachic authorities, including Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Halperin, the director of Jerusalem’s Institute for Science and Halacha. This Thinking Gemara shiur is based on Rabbi Halperin’s presentation. He claims that we can learn about this issue from the halachic literature about keeping Shabbat in areas near the Arctic Circle, where the sun does not set for months. That discussion, in turn, draws from a passage in the Talmud about a desert wanderer who forgets which day Shabbat is.
Here are some of the key questions this shiur will deal with:
- Is a Jew in space obligated to observe the mitzvot?
- If he is, when should he keep the Shabbat?
- When does a Jew observe Shabbat in areas where the sun does not set for months?
- What should someone do if he or she is detached from civilization and forgets when Shabbat is?
- What do these extreme situations teach us earth-bound Jews living in places with conventional latitudes?