"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly


1) Jews now serve on scientific and military projects in Antartica. Others work with oil companies in northernmost Alaska. During summer there are periods when it is light all day, and in winter there may be only a few moments of daylight. Under these conditions, when does Sahbbat begin and end? Would it be appropriate to use Jerusalem time, or to just select a convenient middle latitude time?

2) There is great scientific interest in space stations in earth orbit. Acknowledging biological need, these facilities would have artificial day and night. These cycles might be 24 hours in length, or 32, or anything. Would the observant Jew link daily, Shabbat, and holiday observance to the station's earth base, e.g., Houston Texas? The same question would apply to Jews living on the moon or on other planets.


I have no official answers for your questions, just another opinion for your collection.

1) Jews from north England and from Alaska have told me that at the extreme poles of the year they use the times of the nearest established Jewish community.

2) The spaceman would probably use Jerusalem, or perhaps Houston, as you said. This has to be qualified, however, in the light of a recent rabbinical decision that takes account of a factor that very few of us would ever have thought of. I heard that Rabbi Levy Yitzhak Halperin, director of the Jerusalem-based Institute For Science and Halacha, was recently asked by an observant astronaut assigned to the space shuttle program how to determine the times for prayers, Shabbat, etc. while in orbit around the earth. He ruled that the calendar from "down here" applies only to someone orbiting in the same direction as the earth as it turns on its axis, and only if he is travelling no faster than the speed of the earth! What if he is going faster or in the oppposite direction? First choice: "Don't go." Second choice: "Consult his rabbi."


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