Sorry for the click-bait-y title. In the light of recent rumblings and rumours from NASA and SpaceX, people are once again thinking about the possibility of putting a man on Mars. And if they can send one, why not lots?
Granted, the idea of a self sustaining colony is for now firmly in the realms of science fiction, but that’s where I’m comfortable, so let’s discuss this a bit. I’m sure there are a million implications but the first religious one I thought about was time. Imagine for a moment a successful human colony on Mars (and it doesn’t have to be Mars, or even in our solar system) where humans live happy lives under the clear red sky, send kids to school and dream of making it big in the Martian dust-skiing Olympic team. In this colony there is a congregation of religious Jews (or Muslims would work well for this discussion too). How do they pray?
I don’t mean which direction do they pray, although that might be an interesting discussion too, I mean when and what? Mars has a day which is (in Earth terms) about 24 hours and 40 minutes long. It’s really pretty close to our day, and there is a sunrise and a sunset which make sense to people. One can imagine that people living on Mars would be happy to call a Martian day a “day” and be done. (In The Martian, Mark Watney distinguishes the Martian day as a “sol” – that’s fine too). It’s reasonable to assume people would wake up in Martian morning and go to sleep in Martian night.
If you are a religious Jew, would you consider time for shacharit (morning prayers) is simply worked out by using Martian hours and Martian days? It sounds kind of reasonable initially, because Judaism anyway deals with variable length days and nights (in summer and winter) by simply dividing the day or night (whether sunrise to sunset or dawn to dusk) into 12 periods and declaring those hours for today. 3 hours into the day is the end of the time for reciting Shema. 4 hours in is the end of the time for morning prayer et cetera. But does this follow through?
The first wrinkle is that you will be continuously sliding out of sync with anywhere on Earth. If today your morning prayers lined up with Jerusalem, tomorrow they will be 40 minutes out of sync, and within a couple of weeks you will be on New York time.
Slightly worse than that is what do we mean by “weeks”? Do seven “sols” make a Martian week? Will we keep Shabbat on Mars every seven sols? Or will we try to keep track of what’s happening back on Earth and have a 6 and a bit sol week? And what happens if we lose track? There’s a gemara in Shabbat (69b)
R. Huna said: if one is travelling on a road or in the wilderness and does not know when it is the Sabbath, he must count six days [from the day he realises he has forgotten] and observe one. R. Hiyya b. Rav said: he must observe one, and then count six [week] days. On what do they differ? One master holds that it is like the world’s creation. The other holds that it is like [the case of] Adam.
It sounds to me (you may disagree) that we would count six days as we see them (sols) and make Shabbat. That’s good – and the implication is that you do the best you can, and when you get back to civilization (or Earth) you readjust your clock. But it leads me to my next question.
Assuming we are keeping seven-sol weeks, what do we do about months? Nobody every suggested we keep months according to how we feel or keep count. Mars’s moons Phobos and Deimos are tiny, one orbits Mars 3 times a day and one in slightly more than a day. We’re not getting any useful months out of them. All we can sensibly do is count the months as they are on Earth. But how? Do we keep a clock going tracking what day and time it is on Earth now (out of sync with the weeks we are observing). Here’s where I see a problem. Our current Jewish calendar is specifically set out so that certain festivals cannot fall on certain days of the week. It’s a fixed calendar now, but it seems clear that the same rules where in force when the sages would declare each new month on the fly. They would still make sure to work things out so that festivals would work out right.
Basically – Yom Kippur, where we are restricted like Shabbat such that we cannot cook or light a flame can’t be allowed to work out on a Friday or a Sunday. If it does you will have 2 days without food (if it’s a Friday) and/or light (if it’s a Sunday). So, ok, nowadays we have lights which last longer than a few hours, and food which will stay good for a few days, but the rule hasn’t changed. In addition, Hoshana Rabba, the seventh day of Sukkot (Tabernacles) cannot be allowed to work out on a Shabbat because that would make us unable to do the “custom of the prophets” and beat a willow branch on a Shabbat. This is also still in force today. Since Yom Kippur and Hoshana Rabba are both in the month of Tishrei, the rule is that this month cannot start (first day of Rosh Hashana cannot be) on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. This is abbreviated by saying “Lo Adu Rosh” (לא אד”ו ראש).
So, if I’m counting weeks according to local Martian time, and months according to Earth, it’s only a short matter of time until I end up with the first day of Rosh Hashana landing on a “wrong” day. Will we make out own adjustments then pull back to be more in keeping with the Earth calendar? Or will we make our calendar completely independent and then leave things to sort themselves out when we get back to Earth?
I’ve mentioned hours, days, weeks and months. Years seem to me less worrisome, but sure, why not ask – how old would a kid born on Mars be when we count his barmitzvah? How long would a tree grow before we could eat its fruit?
My knowledge of Islam is minimal, but I imagine you could ask some questions about when the 5 daily prayers are, when you have Ramadan, and what times to fast during Ramadan. When to have Eid el-fitr and Eid el-adha? Excuse my ignorance and expound on anything you know about.
Please comment and tell me what you think.
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