Friday, December 10, 2010

Jewish Time Travelers

In honor of "Pretend to be a time traveler day" which was yesterday (but I'm pretending it is today), I have compiled a list of Jewish time travelers. This list is in order by which good Jewish boys are expected to believe in the element of time travel.

  • Erika Strange - A Canadian show with a Jewish time traveler. I'm afraid that I've never seen the show, and so can't really comment on it. Due to the obscurity of being "Canadian" this only gets to open the list.

  • Captain Kirk - In star trek IV captain Kirk travels back in time to the 20th century to find some whales. Since William Shatner is Jewish we are willing to make Captain Kirk a Jew too. This would have had a higher place on the list, but there is some doubt to its canonical status.

  • Honi the circle drawer - According to the Talmud, Honi the Circle Drawer goes to sleep for 70 years. When he wakes up no one recognizes him. He is so disturbed by this, that he prays for his own death. This would have made a higher place in the list, but the method of time travel is slightly primitive. If we accept hibernation as time travel, we would have to add some bears of the Jewish faith to the list. For a different account of Honi's death you can check out this post.
Moshe Rabenu - According to this famous Midrash : 
R. Judah said the name of Rav: When Moses ascended on high he found the Holy One engaged in affixing coronets to the letters. Said Moses, “Lord of the Universe, who stays thy hand?” He answered, “There will arise a man, many generations from now, Akiva ben Joseph by name, who will extract from every tittle heaps and heaps of laws.” Said Moses, “Lord of the Universe, permit me to see him.” He replied, “Turn around.” Moses went and sat down behind eight rows [of R. Akiva’s students] and listened to the discourses on the law. Unable to follow their arguments, he was ill at ease; but when, coming to a certain subject, the students said to the master, “How do you know this?” And the latter replied, “It is a law given to Moses at Sinai.”

The time travel element is fairly straightforward. This midrash must be one of the better quoted ones, and so it gets a fairly high place in the list. We will add that Moshe Rabenu seems to have been taught quite a bit of the future at Sinai, even possibly learning the Halacha of wearing Crocs on Yom Kippur. 

  • Ya'akov Avinu, Eliezer the slave of Abraham and Avishai ben Tzuria -  All three supposedly experienced the miracle of "קפיצת הדרך" - Literally the shortening of the road. Though this is more of space-travel rather then time travel, I think today most people would classify the two together. The high place in the list, is since at least in the famous case of Ya'acov, some people believe it literally.
תנו רבנן שלשה קפצה להן הארץ אליעזר עבד אברהם ויעקב אבינו ואבישי בן צרויה. אבישי כדכתיב (ברמה) ישבי בנוב. אליעזר דכתיב ואבא היום אל העין למימרא דההוא יומא נפק אלא מלמד שקפצה לו הארץ. יעקב אבינו דכתיב ויצא יעקב וכתיב ויפגע במקום וילן שם אלא כי מטא לחרן אמר אפשר עברתי על מקום שהתפללו בו אבותי ולא התפללתי בו כיון דהרהר בדעתו למיזל מיד קפצה ליה ארעא ו 
ילקוט שמעוני חיי שרה
  • Eliyahu - Taken from the earth while still alive, and prophesied to return towards the end of days, Eliyahu seems to be the eternal time traveler. Jewish stories are rife with Eliyahu coming and going through time. Additionally Eliyahu is rumored to travel every Passover to every Seder going on, all of this for a cup of wine. Clearly Eliyahu is the master of the time-space continuum.  He probably would have captured the number 1 spot, but the biblical account of him being taken to the sky on a chariot of fire, and returning  does not actually explicitly call for time travel.

  • Joshua and all of the Israelites - As told in chapter 10 of the book of Joshua:
"12At that time Joshua spoke to the LordLord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, in the day when the
“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies."
This gets the prestigious number 1 spot for several reasons. The first is that it is a biblical story as opposed to a midrashic one. The second is that the pshat seems to be time travel (and only Ralbag ruins the fun). The third reason is that it seems to have involved the entire nation of Israel, rather then just a single man.  

Additional notes:

There are numerous Hassidic stories involving some element of "Kfitzan Haderch" which I didn't include.
Stuff I remember exists but couldn't find - I'd love some help with these:
1. A misrash where Jeremiah meets Aristotle.
2. I have a strong memory of there being a Yerushalmi stating that R. Meir believes that a Sota is punished even if she will only betray her husband in the future.

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