So watching footage of the shuttle launch this week got me to thinking about two things: first, how somewhere near the top of my list of things to do before I die is see a shuttle launch in person; and second, how I still have an outstanding promise to my brother that if there is commuter space travel (I think to the Moon was the deal) when he turns 70, iy”H, I would buy him a ticket to the moon as a birthday present.
So then the concept of commuter space travel (which is not that far away, imho) got me to thinking about keeping the torah in outer space, specifically when living on the moon. Assuming some time in the future we accomplish moon colonization, and only shortly thereafter, the Young Israel of the Sea of Tranquility starts taking donations for a new building, would Jews be allowed to live on the Moon, and would the mitzvot apply?
Now, before you get all jumpy on me that Judaism is a personal thing and the mitzvot apply whereever you are, and you can’t take a vacation from being a Jew (not even if you’re in Cancun or Acapulco), consider this:
There is a concept in Judaism of mitzvot hat’luyot ba’artez, i.e. certain commandments that are dependent on being in Israel to fulfill them. They are mostly agricultural, but for whatever reason, holiness or whatnot, they don’t apply anywhere else. So, there is your first sign that there is a concept of geographical dependence. Second, and this is very Brisker (but what the Hell, it’s hot out, we could use a little chill…it’s not cold, it’s Brisk), but there is also the concept of mitzvot on the cheftza (the thing) and on the gavra (the person). So, while you may not be able to take a vacation from Judaism, you can certainly take one from, say, ma’aser (tithing) by moving out of Israel (maybe into Gaza…ooh…political reference…that’s right, I don’t think Gaza is Israel…whatcha gonna do?)
Which now brings me to my final point. Since the moon (and all other planets) rotate differently than the earth, how do you measure days in order to ascertain shabbos? How do ascertain dates to know when yom tov is? How do you measure sunrise and sunset to know when to put on tefillin? You don’t. I know that there are plenty of teshuvos (responsa) on the issue of space travel, and I remember learning that one of the answers was, “when in space, choose your place of residence on earth, and do what they when they do it.” Now, that answer never satisfied me, because it is essentially a legal fiction aimed at avoiding a complex issue. (You just know the first Board meeting of the YIST would be contentious, deciding whether to use New York or Jerusalem as their Earth-time) My problem is this: are shabbos and yom tov, for example, Mitzvot HaT’luyot B’Cadur Ha’Aretz, or commandments that are dependent on planet earth? Just like you can’t possibly keep ma’aser in America, maybe you can’t keep shabbos on the moon.
(The thing about shabbos and the moon is, philosophically, to me at least, shabbos is universal, because G-d created the entire universe in six days and rested on the seventh. So what does that mean? You have to keep shabbos on Jupiter? What about a planet orbitting Sirius? How do you measure days? Is it by where you are or by where the Torah was given? How did G-d measure days in the creation story? Yom Tov, on the other hand, is a little easier to get. Holidays to celebrate accomplishments on Earth, maybe, just might be dependent on Earth for performance. Imagine the mark up for esrogim on the moon!)