Shabbat in Outer Space

January 13, 2017

For someone who strictly observes Halacha (Jewish Law), technology always raises issues on Shabbat.  In this modern world of increased technology, there are questions which would have seemed impossible to the Talmudic rabbis of two thousand years ago. Use of high tech, computers, timers, electronic hotel keys, even modern warfare bring about new and complex issues which make observing the Sabbath challenging, to say the least. One of the most intriguing: How can you observe the Shabbat in outer space? A question like this one for a hundred years was considered only theoretical – but now so many people have already traveled in outer space, including Col. Ilan Ramon, the Jewish astronaut on the tragic flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. So what’s the problem? Shabbat observance begins and ends with sunset, and occurs every seven days. How does that work in an orbiting satellite or space shuttle which might orbit the earth as often as every 90 minutes? Would a religiously Jewish astronaut be required to observe the Shabbat every seventh orbit (every 10 ½ hours)?  According to the foremost expert on Halacha and Science, Rabbi Levy Itzchak Halparin of the Institute for Science and Halacha in Jerusalem, the answer is simple: A Jewish astronaut should observe the Shabbat at the same time that it would occur at the launch pad.