Shabbat - the Jewish Sabbath is observed by Orthodox Jews from sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday, a total time of about 25 hours.

What does one do in Space?

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Jeffrey Hoffman, a Jewish astronaut who made 5 flights on the Space Shuttle between 1985 and 1996, speaking in my Synagogue. And while not an Orthodox Jew himself, he is a very committed Jew who wanted to have some observance of Shabbat while in space. So he asked some Rabbis what to do. And, of course, in great Jewish tradition, he got a number of different answers!

  • Essentially, keeping Shabbat is based around G-D creating the universe in six days, and resting on the seventh. The Shuttle orbits the Earth (roughly) every 90 minutes, and therefore goes through what is effectively a night/day cycle in 90 minutes. Therefore, every seventh orbit should be observed as Shabbat. Of course, this isn't practical.
  • The commandments in the Torah are given to be observed on the Earth. Therefore, while in space, they don't apply at all. Perhaps he should have used this opportunity to have a bacon-double-cheeseburger? However, this is easily refuted by putting the point that much as the Shuttle is in space, it is 100% dependent on things it has brought with from Earth (Food, water, air), and therefore the rules still apply.
  • Finally it was suggested he keeps Shabbat when it is Shabbat on the ground - either at the launchpad or at mission control. This is what he chose to do.

Is this something that's incredibly useful to know? No. However, it does show a key point, that Judaism can move with the times. People often criticise Orthodox Judaism for never changing.....

How does a Rabbi change a lightbulb? CHANGE???????

And it's true that once a law is decided, the general view is that it can't be changed. However, Judaism can adapt to new situations. A more practical case is that of electricity. Lighting a fire is prohibited on Shabbat, but what about turning on a lightbulb? These decisions were made around the start of the 20th century when electricity became widespread. Decisions made by learned Rabbis who could adapt the laws of the past to the situations of the present and the future.

This WU was inspired by yerricde's WU on Ramadan, concerning fasting for Ramadan in the Arctic.

unperson says "Interesting WU. Actually my first thought as I started reading was that what to do in Antarctica seems like a more interesting and practical question.". And yeah, it's fair to say that there's probably more Jews that have been to Antarctica than to Space. But I've met one that's been to space, and not to Antarctica!

A number of people have raised the general question of what an Orthodox Jew would do when something happens on Shabbat that would be breaking Shabbat if (s)he did it - such as the thrusters firing. Here's some points to consider on this.

  • Something which happens that was scheduled beforehand isn't a problem. Many Orthodox Jews around the world use timeswitches to turn their house lights on and off on Shabbat.
  • There's no problem with a non-Jew doing something on Shabbat for you, as long as 1) you don't ask him to do so directly and 2) he gains benefit himself as well. So you can't ask a non-Jew to come into your house and turn the lights on, but if he happens to be there, you can hint "hmm, it's dark in here", as long as he then stays and "enjoys the light" as well.
  • Performing actions to keep the spacecraft in orbit I would think are a matter of life and death! To take a more relevant situation, a religious Jewish Pilot wouldn't fly (in a plane) on Shabbat. But say he's cut it a bit fine on Friday afternoon and due to delays in the air he lands on Shabbat. He can still do what's necessary to keep safe in the air (but shouldn't break Shabbat once he lands). I say "delays in the air", because if the delays were so bad that he knew before taking off that it would land on Shabbat, he shouldn't board in the first place.
  • Finally, Mr Hoffman, while a very traditional Jew, isn't 100% Orthodox himself anyway. I don't know what he does and doesn't observe, but (for better or for worse) every Jew picks their own levels.

mr100percent says "a more interesting question is how do muslims pray in space? There was an interesting fatwa online about it somewhere". I can guess the Jewish answer would that you pray in line with your time keeping as you do for Shabbat, and you pray facing Jerusalem as always - ie facing the earth. There's a quote from Psalms "Mah rabu ma'asechah Hashem" - "How great are the works of G-D". Surely this is no more spectacular to say when looking at the Earth from hundreds of miles up.

Rikmeister says Hey hey, the answer to the antarctica question (I asked a Rabbi about this a few weeks ago) is that you go by the timings used by the nearest Jewish Community, which I guess would be one of the ones in South America. I suspect this is similar to the idea of going by Mission Control when in space. It wouldn't be practical to go by the nearest community, as this is changing continuously, but "logically" Mission Control is the nearest as this is the one the shuttle is in link with.

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