Thoughtful Jews have speculated about the impact on Judaism’s religious outlook that would be made by man’s successful exploration of space. In a small way the answer began to emerge within hours of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing and exploration by Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Col. Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.
The word came from Israel where Gen. Shlomo Goren, the Armed Forces’ Chief Chaplain, issued instructions about a change in the prayer for the blessing of the new moon which is said each month. The old blessing was worded: “As I dance before you and cannot touch you, so my enemies will not be able to touch me.” It now reads: “As I dance against you and do not touch you, so others, if they dance against me to harm me, they will not touch me.” The new version of the prayer is actually an old one found in the Talmud in Masechet Soffrim, chapter 20.
Commenting on the scientific-technological achievement, Dr. Gilbert Klapperman, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said: “The Apollo 11 astronauts who were the first humans to walk on the moon have brought pride and glory to America and to all mankind. Their towering accomplishment has put a new construction on the Psalmist’s observation that “the heavens are the heavens of the Lord; and the earth hath He given to the children of men,” for now the moon, too, has become an extension of earth.
“But man is still only on the threshold of infinity, and far from taking God out of the heavens, the astronauts have uncovered new dimensions of His dominion. The predictability of the laws of nature that made this scientific miracle possible has reaffirmed our faith in the existence of God’s order in the universe. The astronauts’ accomplishment reveals man’s limitless potential for constructive creativity. It must convince Americans that their nation is capable of solving the daily challenges of disease, poverty, anger, frustration and senseless hates, and wars as well.”
Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum, director of the American Jewish Committee’s inter-religious affairs department, said: “From the perspective of classical Judaism, this triumph over nature is cause for great spiritual satisfaction. Among the religions of antiquity the moon was worshiped as a divinity. The Book of Deuteronomy expressly forbade idolatrous sacrifices to the moon, or the sun, or the hosts of heaven, under pain of death. It was the radical monotheism of the Hebrew Bible, and the Jewish Prophets, that undefined nature and freed man to explore, investigate, and subdue the natural forces to human service.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.