Thursday, February 19, 2009

Did Rambam Fake the Moon Landing?

Since we just discussed Sefer Madda, I thought that it would be appropriate to mention a great anecdote invloving: Rambam, R. Yaakov Kaminetsky, and Buzz Aldren (as can be seen in the photograph).

Rambam states in Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 2:4 that not only was the moon never made of green cheese, it is not even made of earthly matter.

כל מה שברא הקדוש ברוך הוא בעולמו, נחלק לשלושה חלקים:  מהם ברואים שהם מחוברים מגולם וצורה--והם נהווים ונפסדים תמיד, כמו גופות האדם והבהמה והצמחים והמתכות.  ומהם ברואים שהם מחוברים מגולם וצורה, אבל אינם משתנים מגוף לגוף ומצורה לצורה כמו הראשונים, אלא צורתם קבועה בגולמם לעולם, ואינם משתנים כמו אלו--והם הגלגלים והכוכבים שבהן, ואין גולמם כשאר גלמים ולא צורתם כשאר צורות

Everything that God created in His world can be placed in one of three classifications. Firstly, there are those creations, such as the bodies of men and animals, plants and the molten images, which have a shape and form which always exist and can be spoiled. Secondly, there are those creations which have a shape and form which does not vary from body to body or in appearance, like those in the first category do, but their shape is fixed by their form and can never change. These are the spheres and the stars contained therein. Their form and shape are like none other. Translation taken from Jonathan’s Little Corner.

It is clear from this halakhah that Rambam believed that the planets and the moon were made of a different type of matter than the Earth is made of. (You can also read Perek 3 for a more in-depth description of the metaphysical nature of the planets.) Thus, according to Rambam, it would be impossible for a moon landing to happen. So what would be the halakhik outcome of the first moon landing on Parshat Chazon - July 16, 1969?

R. Nosson Kaminetsky told the following story about his father, R. Yaakov Kaminetsky, and the moon landing. (It is a great lecture and well worth listening to if you haven’t already. Here is the link to Of Bans, Earthquakes and Tsunamis, ) When they were broadcasting the moon landing on TV, R. Yaakov went to a neighbor’s house to watch the moon landing. He wanted to see whether or not Rambam was correct about the moon being different from the Earth. After seeing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldron on the moon, he concluded that the in fact Rambam was mistaken. In this instance his halakhah followed Aristotle and did not follow Chazal.

However, the story is not over - apparently there are a number of Jews who do not feel comfortable with the idea that Rambam could have been incorrect. They had discovered the small but persistent group of conspiracy theorists in America, who believe that the moon landing was a fraud. The proof for the forgery is that the flag (shown above) is standing straight and is not sagging. How could the flag stand straight on the moon with no atmosphere! It must be a fake. The answer to the conspiracy is that the flag is held up by a rod, because it would be disgraceful to have the American flag sagging at this historic moment. If you look closely at the picture, it seems obvious that indeed there is a rod holding up the flag.

To me, it is frustrating that some people’s belief in the Mesorah and Emunath Chachamim is so rigid, that they need to believe in a conspiracy theory. I would hope that most of the Gedolim would agree with R. Yaakov that the Rambam is incorrect. Back over here in Modern Orthodox land, I use this story as chizzuk for one of the strengths of MO versus Charedi Orthodoxy.

One final footnote to this story, one of my Rebbeim at Yeshiva told me another story about R. Yaakov and the moon landing. Apparently in the first version of the Emet l’Yaakov (R. Yaakov’s perush on the Chumash) he described watching the moon landing on TV. In the second edition of the sefer, there was a blank space where that description used to be. Finally in later editions there were no hints to the idea that R. Yaakov had watched the moon landing. Now my question is: which is the bigger danger - watching television, or stating that Rambam made a mistake?


  1. wake up! when was that moon landing?
    ...hmmm...half a century ago, thats right! and we still can not repeat this landing? -I rest my case.

  2. BS"D

    Perhaps R’ Yaakov Kamenetzky Zt”l should have prayed to Hashem for extra guidance and sided with RaMbaM?

    Then he might have sensed that the "Chazon" - television broadcast,images, etc.,- was more than likely "faked" - part of Alma de Shikra.

    MoonFaker videos, etc.
    (Enjoy the show)

    “The spirit of G-d will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of G-d. He shall be inspired with fear of G-d, and he shall not judge with the sight of his eyes nor decide according to the hearing of his ears..." (Isaiah 53:10)