Jews and Judaism in Outer Space

Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman and the Torah in space. (courtesy)
Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman and the Torah in space. (courtesy)

Can you imagine celebrating Rosh Hashanah in outer space? How about Hanukkah, Passover or Shabbat? What do you think it might look like to do so?

Living Jewishly in outer space is not just an aspirational futuristic goal. MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics professor Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman grappled with these questions more than 40 years ago when he first began his journey to become a NASA astronaut. Throughout his long career, Dr. Hoffman spent several Jewish holidays in outer space. Once, during Passover, he asked permission to bring matza on board, but was told, “It won’t fly!” The mission mechanics knew the crumbs would float everywhere, potentially causing a hazard. Yet, for a flight during Hanukkah, Dr. Hoffman was allowed to bring a hanukkiah (menorah) and dreidels. Watch him playing dreidel here: link.

The most moving Jewish experience Dr. Hoffman remembers happened in the early 1990s. His spiritual leader from Houston, Rabbi Shaul Osadchey, suggested he take a Torah scroll with him on his next flight into space. Dr. Hoffman initially dismissed the idea, acknowledging that most scrolls are too large and heavy to bring aboard the shuttle. Rabbi Osadchey persevered and, using his connections and financial support from members of his synagogue community, discovered the existence of an authentic miniature Torah that could easily be read within the tight quarters of the shuttle. The “Space Torah” was born!

Indeed, Dr. Hoffman read from that Torah in 1996, on his fifth and final space mission. Today, the Space Torah is still used in Houston, continuing to inspire new generations of dreamers and Jews.

(Courtesy)

I was privileged to meet Dr. Hoffman three years ago, at a conference at Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts. While he is lauded in his field for numerous successes, including being the first astronaut to log 1,000 hours in space, and fixing the Hubble telescope, it was surprising to learn his fascinating Jewish journey in outer space is not widely known in the Jewish community.

Inspired by his story and the visuals he shared at the end of his presentation, I suggested we collaborate on an educational documentary film. Thus, the “Space Torah Project” was born! Since then, we have raised some funds from the Jewish community to enable us to work with a talented production team. As we look forward to finishing the movie by early 2020, we now seek additional financial support to preserve and share this uplifting story on the screen.

We are excited to announce that Dr. Hoffman will be a guest speaker at the upcoming Israeli-American Council/IAC 2019 Summit in Florida, December 5-8, 2019. For those interested in a piece of history, he is putting up for auction a mezuzah he took with him into space in 1996. All proceeds from the sale will go to the “Space Torah Project” – the forthcoming documentary. (An online auction will take place October 10-17 through RRAuction.)

To learn more about the movie, auction and his presentation at the IAC summit, please visit: http://spacetorahproject.com/

If you would like to partner with us, please contact: Rachel Raz, Executive Producer, Space Torah spacetorah@gmail.com.

(Courtesy)
About the Author
Rachel Raz is a consultant, speaker and educator. She is the executive producer of the forthcoming documentary about the life of Jewish astronaut Dr. Jeff Hoffman and his Jewish journey in space over five space missions, a journey that included the taking of the first Torah scroll to space in 1996. Rachel works at the Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education of Hebrew College (Newton, MA) where she is the Director of the Early Childhood Institute and Chair of the Annual Jewish Education Conference. In addition, Rachel directs the Boston-Haifa Early Childhood Educators’ Connection (a program sponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies - CJP). Rachel serves on the Israeli American Council (IAC) advisory committee of KESHET. She is a board member of UMass Amherst Hillel and the author of the children's books, ABC Israel and The Colors of Israel. She can be reached at spacetorah@gmail.com
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