In 1969 Rabbi Menachem Kasher, one of the gedolim [= great Torah scholars] of the twentieth century, published a series of Torah thought essays related to the most amazing event of his time, or any time ever in human history: the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, this week I am presenting some translated (by me) excerpts of these essays. (The full text, in Hebrew, is available on HebrewBooks.org.)
For Part 1, the Introduction see here.
Now, for the greatest burning question related to the Moon Landing in the minds of all observant Jews…
Keeping the Torah on the Moon
The question: is it correct what was publicized in the name of one rabbi “on the moon there is no meaning to the Torah of Israel” and also that “one cannot keep it [ the Torah ] on the Stars.”
The answer: What was written in the name of Rav S. Goren, shlit”a, is not precise [i.e. not correctly quoted] for I have seen the body of his work and there he also delves into the question of keeping Shabbat on the moon; how one can calculate [when Shabbat occurs]? Hence he thinks that there is a requirement of keeping the Torah. And by his words “cannot keep it”, his intention is as he says there “there is no possible way to keep the Torah there.”
However I have seen that R. B. Firrer, shlit”a, who has understood this Rabbi in his article in Noam (above), and this is what he said: I have read the words of R. Shlomo Goren, [here is] a condensation of his words etc: “that they would be required to fulfill time-bound mitzvot according to the time and they kept on Earth”. “In my opinion there is no requirement on the moon of mitzvot even inside a closed sphere of Earth”. “And therefore there is no place for the Torah on the moon even for human beings.” ” It is possible to say that there is no requirement to keep the Torah or mitzvot on the moon”. “A person of Israel who uproots themselves from the Earth to the Moon without intention to return would be considered according to his new place and he would be exempt from the mitzvot”. I was stunned to read such a statement touching on the question of keeping of the entire Torah!
In my humble opinion it is clear without a doubt that the requirements of halacha is that the requirement to keep the mitzvot is a personal requirement and any Jew is required to keep the Torah any place that they live in the heavens above, on the moon, or in the water under the Earth; in the Arctic circle or the Antarctic circle, where half the year is daylight and half dark, or on an airplane – as long as they are alive and capable of keeping the mitzvot of the Torah they are required to keep them and it is forbidden to violate any prohibition and if they are unable to then [ones] rachmana patrei [lit. Heaven exempts those who are unable].
But for that which one is able, it is clear that he would be required to keep it and there’s no place whatsoever to say that a Jew could become exempt from the mitzvot of the Torah because we don’t learn halacha from words of agadda, as he himself said, and especially when there is a way to explain them – when it is impossible to keep the Torah – that we should not learn proof from them at all. And there is a lot more to be said about this about all the details that were mentioned but here is not the place to discuss it at length.
… I think that this important author, who wrote in his own article that it was merely “first thoughts”, will, when he arrives at “second thoughts” decide differently.
With respect to the calculation of time on the Moon I have dealt with this at length in other places and I have explained the matter. With respect to those places on Earth where there are a number of months of night or day, and there are Jewish soldiers from the United States. I wrote to prove that they are required to keep time according to the time of every day being 24 hours and the requirement is incumbent on a person to rest on the 7th day, and it doesn’t matter if the time is all day or all night. And they begin to count from that day on which the time changed. The same would be true for people on the Moon: they are tied to the Earth. They know exactly how many hours have passed for them, and on the seventh day of their trip – that is to say the seventh cycle of 24 hours for them – just like in the places where it is several months of daylight or darkness. Likewise with respect to holidays; because the day is not at all tied to the calculation of the Moon [Lunar cycle] but is according to the calculations that Hillel the Younger established. And since it has been accepted by Israel, until the redemption, we have an exact calculation and it does not matter to us at all where a person is even if he’s on the Moon or on Mars. If it is possible one is required to keep the mitzvot of the Torah and to not violate any prohibition and if not then ones rachmana patrei.
Rav Kasher has a lot more to say in this essay, but I will leave some for later.