Earth-orbiting Torah to be stationed at Houston synagogue

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NEW YORK — Men have been there; women have been there. Even monkeys have been there.

Now the Torah has joined the growing list of earthly objects that have traveled in space.

"Wherever Jews have wandered, they have taken the Torah with them," said Jeffrey Hoffman, a Jewish astronaut who carried the holy scrolls during the space shuttle Columbia's voyage Feb. 22-March 9.

"Astronauts are human beings and when we travel, we take with us our culture and heritage," he said. "It is important to me to take my Jewish heritage with me as well."

On other space-shuttle missions Hoffman carried a dreidel, a pendant inscribed with the Jewish prayer for a safe journey, a mezuzah, Torah pointers and a breastplate.

"Hoffman is a very observant Jew and has taken several Judaic objects on his four previous space missions," said Rabbi Shaul Osadchey of Congregation Or Hadash in Houston, Texas.

The astronaut's reading in Hebrew from the opening chapter of Genesis while orbiting above Jerusalem, the rabbi recalled, "was of particular significance to Jews here and around the world."

The Houston congregation, of which Hoffman is a member, donated the Torah he carried on his last shuttle trip. He carried the Torah wrapped in his grandfather's childhood prayer shawl.

The "space Torah" is 7 inches long by 4 inches wide, but legible.