NEW YORK, Jul. 21 (JTA) – 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, Goren had already stepped down from this post in 1968 but retained his fame as chief rabbi of the IDF long afterward. 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:
כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאֲנִי רוֹקֵד לְנֶגְדֵּךְ. וְאֵינִי יָכוֹל לִיגַּע בָּךְ.
כַּךְ לֹא יוּכְלוּ כָּל אוֹיְבַי לִיגַּע בִּי לְרָעָה:
As I dance before you and cannot touch you,
so my enemies will not be able to touch me.
It now reads:
כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאֲנִי רוֹקֵד לְנֶגְדֵּךְ. וְאֵינִי נוגע ביך
כַּךְ אם ירקדו אחרים כנגדי לא יגעו בי.
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 Masekhet Soferim [מסכת סופרים], chapter 20 [section 2].
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.”
Over in the Open Siddur Project’s Facebook group, Rabbi Arthur Waskow added:
In 1997, I circulated in Jewish-renewal circles the following emendation to Kiddush Levana. (I did not know till now of Rabbi Goren’s emendation of 1969. What I suggested takes a very different tack from his.)
The traditional Kiddush Levana ceremony says:
“As I dance toward you [the Moon], but cannot touch you, so shall none of my evil enemies be able to touch me.”
Since the first part of this statement is no longer true (for the human race in general), I wrote, and some communities have substituted, this passage:
“Just as at last the children of Adam can touch you, so can all my enemies touch me. May therefore all the children of Adam cease being enemies to each other and turn themselves and each other into friends, so that all human beings will feel their hearts touched by each other’s pain.”
(It is indeed factually true that our ability to reach the moon is consonant with our ability to fling a missile half-way around the planet — and therefore our need to make at least a rudimentary global community. The process of increasing distance of weapon-throwing that began when a fist became a rock and a rock became a spear, the process that required us to expand our community as well, has at last reached the level of the planet as a whole. Since Kiddush Levana is a Messianic ritual, you might say its traditional hope has caught up with its traditional language. )
As we say in Kiddush Levana, “Shalom aleikhem!! — Aleikhem shalom!!”
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center
|1||Hat tip, Adam Soclof for digging up the 40+ year old story from the JTA archives. Original Hebrew liturgy added by Aharon Varady. Thanks to Efraim Feinstein and Rabbi Rallis Wiesenthal for their transcriptions.|
|2||Goren had already stepped down from this post in 1968 but retained his fame as chief rabbi of the IDF long afterward.|
“An Emendation to the Ḳiddush Levanah after the Moon Landing, by Rabbi Shlomo Goren (1969)” is shared by the living contributor(s) with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International copyleft license.
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