Dr Maurice Mizrahi – Judaism in Outer Space (Bereshit)


Dr Maurice M. Mizrahi B”H
D’var Torah on Bereshit Judaism in Outer Space This week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, “In the
beginning”, relates the creation of the universe. God said, “Let there be light!”, and there
was a Big Bang, and there was light. This conjures up images of stars and galaxies,
deep space and little green men. So it’s a good opportunity to ask the question: As Jews
go into space, how will they practice Judaism there? Many commandments are tied to the time
of day, the seasons, the human body, the Land of Israel. But, on a spaceship, there is no
day, no night, no seasons, no sun, no moon, no gravity, no Israel. On a planet, the days
may have different lengths and the seasonal cycles may be different. Finally, how would
aliens from outer space practice Judaism if their bodies are different? It is too early
for definitive answers, but some rabbinical responsa are available today. Only after lots
of observant Jews go into space will definitive customs and laws — minhagim and halacha — arise. Let me begin by pointing out that the issue
is no longer academic. There have been fourteen Jewish astronauts so far. The first was Boris
Volynov of the Soviet Union, who flew Soyuz in 1969 and 1976. The second was Judy Resnick
of the United States, who flew the Shuttle in 1984 and 1986. The third was American Jeffrey
Hoffman, who flew the shuttle five times from 1985 to 1996. Americans Marsha Ivins and John
Grunsfeld also flew five times. Others are Israeli Ilan Ramon in 2003, and Americans
Ellen Baker, Jerome Apt, David Wolf, Martin Fettman, Scott Horowitz, Mark Polansky, Garrett
Reisman, and Gregory Chamitoff. The Talmud advises to begin presentations
with jokes. Here are a few space jokes: -The first rabbi in space comes back looking
exhausted, and says, “We went around the earth every 90 minutes.
For us, a day was 90 minutes! Shacharit! Mincha! Maariv! Shacharit! Mincha! Maariv! No time
for anything else!” -Why were the nine little green men so happy
to see the first Jewish astronaut land on Mars? Answer: He made a minyan!
-A man returns from the first bar mitzvah on Pluto, disappointed. He says, “The band
was very good. The food was out of this world. But there was no atmosphere.”
-Finally, at beginning of the Torah service, we say:
Gadlu l’Hashem iti u’nrommemah shmo yachdav. [Ps. 34:4]
It is generally translated as: Declare the greatness of God with me and let us exalt
His name together. But this translation is wrong. The correct translation is: Declare
the greatness of God, E.T., and let us exalt His name together.
It is an invitation to extraterrestrials to join us in praising God! The Talmud has a twist on whether Jews may
take time from Torah study for secular subjects: Ben Damah, the son of R. Ishmael’s sister,
once asked R. Ishmael, “May one such as myself, who have studied the entire Torah, learn Greek
philosophy [chochmat yevanit]?” He [R. Ishmael] then read to him the following
verse [from the Book of Joshua], “This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth;
but you shall meditate on it day and night.” [Joshua 1:8]
Go then, and find a time that is neither day nor night, and then you may learn Greek philosophy.
[Menachot 99b] Now, Why did he phrase it that way, rather
than just saying “No”? Was he telling him to go off on a spaceship, where there is no
day and no night, to study Greek philosophy to his heart’s content?
A footnote: That view was not the last word. The Talmud continues:
This, however, disagrees with the view of R. Samuel b. Nahmani, [who] said in the name
of R. Yonatan, This verse is neither a duty nor a commandment, but a blessing… [God
was telling Joshua…:] Since the words of the Torah are so precious to you, [I assure
you the] Torah shall not depart from your mouth. [Menachot 99b] Now, let’s get more serious. First, is space
exploration religiously mandated? Let us look to the Torah for guidance:
God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.
Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature
that moves on the ground.” [Genesis 1:28] Some people interpret “the earth” as meaning
“the entire universe”, and conclude that space exploration *is* religiously mandated. Second, does humanity *have* to go into space?
Yes. Our understanding of the cosmos tells us that humanity will have to go into space
out of necessity. The Sun is an ordinary star, so it is expected to die in five billion years.
It does not have enough mass to explode as a nova, so it will turn its hydrogen into
helium, become a red giant, expand to engulf the earth, then contract and heat up. The
Talmud says that when that happens, God will grant us wings to escape the earth:
And should you ask, in those years during which the Almighty will renew his world [after
destroying it], as it is written [in Isaiah], ‘And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that
day’ [Isaiah 2:11], what will the righteous do? The Lord will make them wings like eagles,
and they will fly above the water, as it is written [in Psalms], ‘Therefore we will not
fear when the earth will be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the
sea.’ [Ps. 44:3.] And should you imagine that they will suffer pain, Scripture says [in
Isaiah], ‘But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall soar
on wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; and they shall walk and not faint.’
[Isa. 40:31] [Sanhedrin 92b] The Zohar, the Book of Jewish Mysticism, goes
one step further: The Holy One, blessed be He, will provide
them with wings as of eagles, enabling them to fly across the whole universe. [Zohar,
Bereshit 1, page 12b] The Midrash on Bereshit mentions that God
created other worlds before ours, and destroyed them because He did not like them:
R. Abbahu said: Hence we learn that the Holy One, blessed be He, went on creating worlds
and destroying them until He created [heaven and earth], and then He said: ‘These please
Me; those did not please Me.’ [Genesis Rabbah 9:2]
This implies there will be refugees, like Noah and his family, only this time they will
go into space. Even worse is the expected “heat death” of
the universe. The second law of thermodynamics predicts that entropy will increase until
all particles in the universe mill about in random, purposeless motion. Calculations show
that this will happen in about 10^100 years. Curiously, the popular liturgical song Adon
Olam foresees this, when it says: Ve-acharei kichlot ha-kol, levado yimloch
nora And after everything shall cease, God will
still reign in majesty. “When everything shall cease” is the heat
death of the universe. Science has no clue on what will happen after the Heat Death,
or what happened before the Big Bang for that matter. Now let’s address the question: How do we
observe time-bound mitzvot where time and seasons are different? The problem actually
dates back to the 18th century, when Jews started moving north, where daytime or nighttime
can last for days or weeks. The Talmud is our guide:
Rav Huna says: If a man is wandering in the desert and does not know when Shabbat is,
he should count six days [as weekdays] and keep one day as Shabbat.[Shabbat 69b]
Rava says…, “Every day he may do whatever he needs to survive, even on Shabbat.”
The final law says: A wanderer who lost track of time must keep
six “weekdays” followed by one “Shabbat”, but he may not do anything forbidden on Shabbat,
on any day, except to survive. He must act out of concern that the real Shabbat may be
on ANY day. [Shulchan Arukh, Orakh Hayyim 344]
That same logic was used to observe two holy days in the Diaspora, compared to only one
in Israel. When day or night lasts for six months, such
as near the poles, there are several opinions: -18th-century rabbi Jacob Emden said: Count
six days of 24 hours and keep the seventh as Shabbat.
-The Tiferet Yisrael [Mishnayot Yachin U’Boaz – Brachot: End Chap 1,(1782-1860)] said: Use
the times for prayers of the place from where you came.
-The 19th-century Ben Ish Chai [Teshuvot Rav Pa’alim – Sod Yesharim 2:4, Sephardic, 1832-1909]
said: Consider 6am to be sunrise and 6pm sunset. -The Moadim U’Zmanim [Chalek Bais (2) Siman
155 in the glosses]: said: -In summer, when the sun does not set, consider
that a day begins and ends when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky, usually around
midnight. -In winter, when the sun does not rise, consider
that a day begins when the sun is closest to the horizon, usually around noon. In space, there are two opinions:
-Rabbi Ben Tzion Firrer [5730 issue of Noam]: argues that mitzvot are only applicable on
earth, because the Torah says: These are the statutes and judgments, which
you shall take care to do, in the land [ba-aretz], which the Lord, God of your Fathers, gives
you to possess all the days that you live upon the earth [ha-adamah]. [Deuteronomy 12:1]
But note that the Torah does not say: Don’t do mitzvot outside the Land of Israel or the
Earth. -Rabbi Menahem Kasher [5730 issue of Noam]
argues that mitzvot are incumbent in every environment. The themes of the festivals,
of Shabbat remembering creation, of the daily prayers, are always relevant. So one must
apply the same rules on the moon and in space as for the North Pole. The second opinion is most likely to prevail.
Possible details are: -When orbiting the earth, use only the time
measured at the place from which you left the earth. Others are more lenient and say:
Keep Shabbat anytime it is Shabbat anywhere on Earth. -When going far from the earth, use the clock
on the wall of the spaceship, synchronized at liftoff with the time and place from which
you left the earth, and follow the Jewish calendar for that place after that. This makes
particular sense because observance can’t ever be truly simultaneous with the place
of origin, because of the relativistic twin effect: One twin stays on earth and the other
travels in space, and when the traveler comes back he is younger than his twin, and he has
actually experienced less time. -On Earth, Jews must pray towards Jerusalem.
So, in space, Jews must pray towards the earth. -Needless to say, one may do essential ship
maintenance on Shabbat and holidays, for pikuach nefesh, to save lives. -When on a planet in space, one might have
to pro-rate the length of the day or the year. Rabbi Azriel Rosenfeld says: On Mars, a “day”
is 24 hours and 39 minutes in earth time and a “year” is 687 days in earth time, so one
must modify observance of the calendar accordingly. Also, when on the moon, one need not bless
the full moon, a custom called Kiddush Levana, done at night outside between Rosh Hodesh
and time of full moon. The Lubavitcher Rebbe concurred. Next, how does the absence of gravity affect
halacha? For example, the Torah mandates building a parapet around a
roof for protection: When you build a new house, make a parapet
around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone
falls from the roof. [Deuteronomy 22:8] But what if there is no gravity? Do you still
have to observe the mitzvah? Can we say: This is one commandment stated
along with the reason for it, so when that reason does not apply, neither does the commandment? Also, can one keep kosher with recycled food?
In the TV space saga Star Trek, food replicators recycle everything on the ship and build food
from individual molecules. If they build pork chops, may Jews eat them? Halacha would say
yes. Pork is the flesh of pigs and may not be eaten. But the replicator product is not
the flesh of pigs. It is assembled from individual molecules, so it can be eaten. After all,
when you bite into a fresh apple, you are eating some molecules that once belonged to
a pig 100 years ago, and it’s OK. Nature recycles everything. But what if the Torah prohibition is for health
reasons? What if eating two strips of bacon a day will lower your IQ by one point a year,
and we are unable to detect that yet? Then the replicator pork chop and the flesh of
the dead pig will have the same bad effect on you, since they have the exact same chemical
composition. The apple above does not have enough bad molecules in it to hurt you, but
the replicated pork chop does. The answer is that the halacha of food is not chemically
based. It says, for example, that if water comes into contact with non-kosher food, it
must not be drunk even if boiled, evaporated and condensed in a new pot. So one may eat
the replicated pork chops, and if later evidence shows they hurt you, stop eating them. Some
food is known to be both kosher and poisonous. Don’t eat it. It is likely that all food restrictions, including
those of Pessah, will disappear if replicators become the only source of food. Now, what if we encountered intelligent life
outside the earth? Well, the Talmud states that the world was created for the sake of
human beings: The Holy One, blessed be He, [said]: My daughter,
I have created 12 constellations in the sky, and for each constellation I have created
30 hosts, and for each host I have created 30 legions, and for each legion I have created
30 cohorts, and for each cohort I have created 30 maniples, and for each maniple I have created
30 camps, and to each camp I have attached 365,000s of myriads of stars [one myriad is
10,000], corresponding to the days of the solar year, and all of them I have created
only for your sake. [Berachot 32b] Note, in passing, that the Talmudic number
of stars comes to about 10^18. The best scientific estimate today is 10^23 (not too far!), but
that follows from assumptions that may change. For example, before December 2010 it was 10^22.
So there is hope for a reconciliation once astronomers refine their estimates. 15th-century rabbi Yosef Albo, in his Ikkarim,
says that since the universe was created for the sake of humanity, no other creature can
exist possessing free will. So the Sefer Habrit (Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu of Vilna) concludes
that aliens may exist, and may even be intelligent, but they do not have free will. The existence of alien beings is consistent
with Judaism. The Song of Deborah, in the Book of Judges, says:
Curse Meroz, said the messenger of the Lord, curse bitterly its inhabitants. [Judges 5:23].
The Talmud reports the opinion that Meroz is a star or a planet [Moed Katan 16a], based
on this statement in the Book of Joshua: They fought from heaven. The very stars in
their courses fought against Sisera. [Joshua 5:20]
So the Sages imply that there may be extraterrestrial life. Also, in Ashrei, we say:
Malchutecha malchut kol ‘olamim Your kingdom is a kingdom of all worlds. [Psalms
145:13] The 14th-century commentator Hasdai Crescas
sees proof of extraterrestrial life in the line in Psalms:
The heavens declare the glory of God. [Psalm 19:2]
His Ohr Hashem has a chapter where he reconciles extraterrestrial life with Judaism. He cites
the Talmud, which says: God flies through 18,000 worlds. [Avoda Zara
3b] and argues: Surely God goes to these worlds
because they have inhabitants who need Him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that one who declares
that there is no life besides life on earth is limiting the Creator’s abilities. The kabbalistic
work Tikunei Zohar says that every tzaddik (righteous person) will rule over his own
planet. Now, would aliens be allowed to convert to
Judaism? Why not? But what if their anatomy is different? What do they circumcize? If
a Martian has no arms, how would he wear tefillin? The answer is: He doesn’t. The Talmud says
that a Jew missing arms is exempt from wearing tefillin of the arm. You only do what you
can. However, if we accept Rabbi Albo’s view, aliens have no free will and so cannot convert. In conclusion, Judaism has survived such upheavals
as the end of Temple worship and the Exile from the Land, and has adapted, and thrived.
So it is safe to say that it will adapt to space travel and life outside the earth as
well, and continue to thrive. Shabbat shalom.

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