By Maayan Jaffe/JNS.org
“The Torah is going to the moon.” It sounds like a phrase straight out of a Jewish fairytale or children’s book, but the real-life Torah on the Moon initiative is not as pie in the sky as one might think.
French-Israeli entrepreneur Haim Aouizerate is calling on the Jewish people to help fund a project that aims to send a Torah scroll to the moon to celebrate the ancient book’s innumerable contributions to morality, justice, education, culture, and more.
The idea was launched about three years ago, when high-tech wiz Aouizerate saw technology ravaging his children. They would come home from school, throw their bags on the floor, and go from screen to screen, he recalls.
“To Aouizerate, it seemed like they were living their lives entirely based on 15-second sound bites and videos, with no depth to them,” says Elie Klein, a spokesperson for Torah on the Moon. “It is not easy for children—or anyone—to connect unless they have the correct foundation and the correct push in the right direction. He knew he needed to do something big, a big stunt, to help people refocus their lives away from technology and more on their culture, heritage, and the legacy they should leave the next generation.”
Inspired by the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million competition to land a privately funded robot on the moon, Aouizerate determined to catch the Torah a ride on one of these vehicles.
“Modernity has brought the significant blessing of technology to humanity,” Aouizerate tells JNS.org. “However, with this blessing, comes a loss of respect for the written word. Our goal is to reconnect people of all faiths with their identities, values, and roots by allowing the Torah, the world’s oldest code of conduct and law, to take center stage in a way previously thought unimaginable: a one-way, crowdfunded trip to the Moon. To put it in the simplest terms, we are launching a Torah to keep our society grounded.”
Since then, Aouizerate has been in contact with the European Space Agency (ESA), which has agreed to take on the project, working closely with the Zomet Institute, an Israeli non-profit public research institute that is well-versed in the synthesis of Torah law and modern life. A crowd-funding initiative has also taken off. Outside of Aouizerate’s private funding, the project is being paid for through the purchase of letters or phrases in the Moon-bound Torah scroll.
“[Aouizerate] didn’t want to just send the Torah to the moon, he wanted people involved,” Klein says. “He set up a website where people can purchase their own letters in the Torah scroll. They can buy one letter, a phrase. They can purchase a portion that speaks to them, can find one that relates to their name, choose according to numerical value.”
To date, around 200 letters in the Torah have been purchased. There are 600,000 total letters in a Torah scroll.
Rabbi Dan Marans, executive director of the Zomet Institute, says there are halachic (Jewish legal) considerations that need to be addressed with the Torah on the Moon project. For example, a Torah is written on animal skin parchment, which would explode in outer space. Working closely with the ESA, Aouizerate’s team is working to design a glass or plastic space encasement to protect the Torah.
Even if the special case protects the Torah, Jewish tradition intends for the scroll to be read. Can this Torah survive in space outside of its protective gear?
“I asked a representative of the ESA, ‘If we put it in the encapsulation, will we be able to take it out?’” Marans says. “He responded, ‘By the time you plan your personal vacation to the Moon, I will give you a way to get it out.’”
The Torah will need to be flown to its launch point, accompanied by someone who can ensure it is shown proper respect. It will also be a priority to ensure that the Torah is not dispatched on Shabbat.
Marans admits that when he first heard about the project, “I thought it was crazy.” But as his involvement has grown, he has seen the impact it is having and the possibility that it will touch hundreds of thousands of less-religiously connected Jewish lives. Since word got out, he says he has heard from people from all walks of life who are “so excited about it.”
“People used to buy trees in Israel and the joke was that people would come to Israel and look at every tree to find the one with their name on it. But it was inspiring. This is a little similar,” Marans says. “If you buy a letter, you could look up at the Moon and feel a connection with that Torah and with creation.”
Torah on the Moon is projected to cost upwards of $6 million to complete. Klein says the Torah will need to be written in micro-calligraphy after all the letters are purchased, which could take a few months. The hope is to launch the Torah sometime between the summers of 2016 and 2018.
“This sticks with you,” says Klein. “I understand the passion and the desire, and I think this is something inspirational that people can get behind.”
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