By Rabbi Zvi Solomons
The first official British astronaut has made it into space. What an extraordinary moment!
Of course there have been other British and Jewish astronauts. The halacha of living in space has been amply explored. If you orbit the earth at a rate of once every 45 minutes, then when do you say your prayers?
The generally accepted answer is you follow the location from which you launched. Presumably, for those who are frum, the space equivalent of Hermolis available, dehydrated kosher cubes, or whatever takes your fancy.
I suspect you could probably even get kosher space fish balls!
Space travel, however, has other implications. It is incredibly dangerous to launch human beings into space. Even a very reliable craft like the Soyuz rocket has had accidents.
It is forbidden to risk your life for a venture which is not in itself necessary. Even if one’s life was at risk because you were set on fire or suffering a severe disease, where there is a significant chance of failure treatment is not mandatory.
Furthermore, the effect of weightlessness on the body causes damage to one’s skeleton and rehabilitation is necessary once the astronaut has returned to earth. Major Tim, naturally, does not have to take account of such considerations.
When our own children dream about coming astronauts, perhaps it will be impolitic to remind them about the extreme dangers and problems of being a space Jew. There would, for sure, be no opportunity to pray with a minyan, and although I know that one Jewish spaceman (Garrett Reisman) took a mezuza up with him, that was the exception, not the rule.
Yet where would we be without the pioneers and explorers? What would have become of the Jewish people, had Columbus and the other nine Jews who travelled with him across the Atlantic, decided that it was safer to stay at home?
Naturally, theirs was a very different situation. But with the population of the world increasing so alarmingly, perhaps we should be dreaming of setting up home on the moon, Mars or even in other solar systems.
We can but dream.