Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Astronaut Spins More Than Telescope

December 13, 1993
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The formerly malfunctioning Hubble Space Telescope wasn’t the only thing spinning in the stratosphere.

Astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, among the crew that repaired the telescope, was playing a nationally televised game of dreidel Saturday night aboard the space shuttle Endeavor.

This was not the first voyage of Judaica in space.

Hoffman, 48, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., took mezuzahs into space and said special blessings during his first launch, on the shuttle Challenger in 1985.

For this trip, Hoffman also took a menorah and observed Chanukah on the shuttle, but he could not light candles for obvious safety reasons.

The dreidel belongs to Hoffman’s synagogue, Congregation Brith Shalom of Houston. The menorah is his own.

Rabbi Shaul Osadchey of the synagogue had called the Johnson Space Center to inquire if the dreidel-spinning would get any television coverage and time was made for that event, said space center spokeswoman Barbara Schwartz.

“It was something Jeff wanted to do,” said Schwartz, adding that “Jeff is very active in community affairs and in his synagogue.”

When Hoffman made the first of his four trips into space, he took along a specially designed mezuzah, which orbited the Earth 109 times.

The mezuzah, which was donated to the Jewish Museum in New York, contains an inscription from Psalms: “When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou has ordained.”

At the time of his first flight, Hoffman was an active member of Congregation Shaar Hashalom outside Houston, where he moved in 1978 to be close to the space agency.

The astronaut asked his then rabbi, Arnold Stiebel, to fashion a short prayer for him to recite during his first flight. The prayer, recited in Hebrew, was drawn around “Aleinu”:

“Praised art thou, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who stretches forth the heaven and lays the foundation of the Earth, whose glory is revealed in the heavens above and whose might is manifest in the loftiest part.”

Hoffman studied astronomy at Amherst College, astrophysics at Harvard, and worked on X-ray astronomy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Leicester University in England.

Recommended from JTA