Rabbis on the Moon

Sue Rosenfeld

 

At many points throughout history, the fellowship of scientists has transcended the boundaries of time and nationality. Scientists who shared a thirst for knowledge were not always bound by prejudice when they encountered wisdom, techniques, or tools that aided their quest; at times they displayed a remarkable generosity of spirit in recognizing and rewarding the contributions of their fellow scientists by giving their names to lunar craters. Three years after Colonel Ilan Ramon z”l, the first Israeli astronaut, was killed in the Columbia space shuttle accident in 2003, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) named a lunar crater after him, thereby adding Ramon to an elite group of Jews for whom craters on the moon have been named. The craters that are named for Ramon and for certain medieval Jewish scientists testify to the spirit and passion for discovery that united people of disparate languages and faiths in times that were not known for tolerance. This article first presents a brief overview of the history of the discovery of lunar craters and then introduces the Jewish scientists whose contributions to the field of astronomy earned them places on the moon: Mashallah ibn Athari, R. Abraham ibn Ezra, R. Levi ben Gershon, and R. Abraham Zacuto.