Since a spaceship orbits the earth once every 90 minutes, is an astronaut required to pray three times in each rotation, and observe Shabbat for an hour and a half after every six orbits, or nine hours?
Though they sound like details in a work of half-baked Jewish science fiction, they’ve become real questions as the first Israeli astronaut prepares to lift off on a NASA Space Shuttle mission.
Tel Aviv-born Col. Ilan Ramon, 48, will soon take off on the upcoming mission, originally scheduled for July 19. It has been postponed because of a problem with the shuttle’s fuel line. No new launch date has yet been set. Of the seven crew members, the Israeli Air Force veteran is the only one who is not American.
Though not particularly religious, Col. Ramon told ABC News he feels he’s "representing all Jews and all Israelis" in his new role. As a result, he’s keeping kosher during the 16-day mission.
Going back to 1962, rabbis have considered religious responses to questions related to space travel. Until now, however, they have posed only theoretical challenges to Jewish law.
Now that they are about to enter a "this-worldly realm," Rabbi David Golinkin, of Israel’s Masorti (Conservative) movement, has developed a teshuvah, or formal ruling, on how Col. Ramon and future space-traveling Jews should observe kashrut, daily prayer, Shabbat and the festivals.
Citing sources from the 16th century to the Lubavitcher rebbe to liberal Rabbi Solomon Freehof, Rabbi Golinkin concludes that a Jewish astronaut is required to keep kosher, along with anyone "whether … on a boat or a plane, a submarine or a spaceship." Col. Ramon’s kosher fare is being provided by an Illinois company that makes kosher food, including rehydrated chicken and noodles, in self-heating sealed pouches for the army.
On the question of when Col. Ramon and future Jewish astronauts should observe Shabbat, festivals and daily prayer, Rabbi Golinkin examines rabbinic opinions relating to Jews lost in the desert who don’t know what day it is, and Jews located so close to the North and South Poles that day and night stretch on for long periods of time.
Rabbi Golinkin concludes that astronauts should observe time-bound Jewish commandments according to the clock in Houston, which is their home base. "After all, the watches in the capsule will keep earth time," he notes.