We Jews do get about; during our 2,000-year exile from the Holy Land, we have reached every corner of the planet, sometimes peeving the locals with our stiff-necked, frugal ways. But one thing we don't do is proselytize, figuring that if the locals want to worship an anteater or a tree, let them. So, dear infidels, don't take the plan to fire a Torah scroll at the moon as religious coercion.
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Howl not, dear taxpayer. The Israeli government gets up to any number of expensive shenanigans but this is not one of them. The Torah moon shot is a private initiative by the French-Israeli businessman Haim Aouizerate, who's tapping the masses through Internet-driven crowd-funding, with the idea not of disseminating Judaism but of reminding the world about values.
'Torah on the Moon', or TOTM, is designed to "celebrate the ancient book’s innumerable contributions to morality, justice, education, culture, arts and sciences as well as refocus society on the core values it contains," Aouizerate says in a statement. Nothing says all that quite like firing a copy into space in an unmanned spacecraft.
"Individuals and groups can fund the unprecedented space mission by purchasing letters and phrases in the special Torah via the project's state-of-the-art website, TorahOnTheMoon.com," explains the press release, perhaps because somebody surmised that without a personal stake in the project, people might think there's a better use for their money.
Man is losing his respect for the written word, Aouizerate explains. "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,” Aouizerate accurately stated, adding: "To put it in the simplest terms, we are launching a Torah to keep our society grounded.”
The idea arose when Aouizerate observed his children flit from screen to screen – iPad to computer to TV, explains Elie Klein, the Jerusalem-based PR man for the project: "He felt there was something lacking in life when everything is about technology and 15-second soundbites." So he's sending a Torah to the moon
"It's somewhat of a stunt," Klein readily admits, and elaborates: "It's designed to make people stop and think. The whole idea of putting a Torah on the moon is to make it a focal point that can be seen from around the world the Torah contains all of the values upon which Judaism was built and which most of humanity follows. Buying letters in that Torah is also a legacy for the kids: one can point at the moon and say, I have a letter in that Torah that is on that moon."
Rabbinical reactions: From amused to bemused
The project is endorsed by the rabbinical Zomet Institute, a collection of observant Jews with rabbinic ordination who all, in addition, have advanced scientific degrees, says Klein.
Moving from the spiritual to the sensible, TOTM is has contracted with none other than the European Space Agency to advise it on how to design the capsule to protect the Torah in the moon environment - forever.
Torah scrolls are made of parchment, which are highly sensitive to environment. A scroll perched on a high shelf may be safe from floodwaters, say, but can succumb to mold from the damp. That isn't a problem on the moon, but the rabbis involved would like to know what the problems might actually be, Klein explains.
"The Torah is a different animal from anything that's been there before and it's supposed to stay there indefinitely. We have to plan for every circumstance," he points out, and discloses that the project is going to cost over $6 million.
The ESA by the way doesn't mention the project on its website and as of writing, hadn't answered an email inquiring what the hell.
In any case probably the Europeans won't be the ones actually launching the sacred scroll – Aouizerate is thinking about private groups. Klein notes that Aouizerate was inspired by the Google "Lunar X," an inducement prize space competition sponsored by Google. Perhaps one of the 18 teams vying there might get involved, or one of the teams getting organized in China or Japan, which particularly caught Aouizerate's eye.
So when might the word of God hit the land of nobody? Letters are being bought up on the website, and the actual launch could be anywhere from mid-2016 to 2018, says Klein, noting the multiplicity of parameters involved, which make setting a specific date at this time rather challenging.
So far the rabbinical attitude has ranged from amusement to bemusement, Klein admits – but insists it "makes people stop and think."
Some might stop and think it's an egregious waste of money. "I have heard that quite a few times. The truth is that more than anything, it is a declarative statement of values," Klein rebuts courteously. "You can say there are other ways to use the money: for orphans, sick children, the disabled, the hungry – there are plenty of missions around the world. But we can only stop looking inward, stop being selfish and see the global values of selflessness if we live the Torah lifestyle or are relating to those values in the Torah."
Put otherwise, Klein said – it's a "cart before the horse scenario. There are other things one could spend money on but unless one has the values to see that one won't get there."
Speaking of atmospheric travel and financial choices, this week we learned that a flying rat – sorry, a swift – had been saved by a transplant of feathers, which were transported thousands of kilometers. In that case, at least a life was saved, until some cat comes along.
Mind you, TOTM is a for-profit entity, Aouizerate clarifies, but it will "donate a portion of the proceeds to non-profit organizations that promote and facilitate education in Israel and around the world."