Astronaut Ilan Ramon’s question: “When Should I Observe Shabbat on the Columbia?”


Jewish educators often teach how relevant Judaism is to real life by addressing the latest news, trends and technological innovations. One arena that has grown from fantasy to reality is the exploration of outer space. Students grow up with the Star Trek notion that space travel is the “final frontier,” actualized by missions to the Moon, space stations and Mars. In this spirit, the latest NLE Thinking Gemara shiur, Shabbat in Outer Space, introduces students to Talmud study through Israeli astronaut Colonel Ilan Ramon’s dilemma of when to observe Shabbat aboard his January 2003 space shuttle Columbia mission.

Ilan Ramon posed his question to the rabbi of Cape Canaveral, Tzvi Konikov, who in turn directed the query to some leading halachic authorities, including Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Halperin, the director of Jerusalem’s Institute for Science and Halachah. Rabbi Halperin penned a responsum, and eventually published a pamphlet entitled, “Im Esak Shamayim (If I Fly up to Heaven),” on how to keep Jewish law in outer space. This Thinking Gemara shiur is based on Rabbi Halperin’s presentation. He suggests that we can learn about this issue from the halachic literature about observing 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.

Some of the key questions this NLE Thinking Gemara shiur will address include:

  • 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?

This shiur can assist you by introducing students to Talmudic analysis and discussion. Moreover, students can gain a deep appreciation for the importance of Judaism through Ilan Ramon. He believed that as an Israeli and a Jew, he represented the Jewish people, and therefore brought along a small Sefer Torah that had survived Auschwitz and observed Shabbat and Kashrut on the ill-fated mission.

>> Click here to access the NEW NLE Thinking Gemara Shiur – Shabbat in Outer Space

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