Some two millenniums ago, Jewish priests were not allowed to be near dead people or even cemeteries. This ancient law evolved into religiously forbidding people carrying the last name of, say, ‘Cohen’ (Hebrew for ‘Priest’) from entering cemeteries. But what is the extent of a cemetery? It appears that the Jewish god also regards the small piece of universe above the cemetery as formally being a part of it. In October 2001, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (one of the most influential rabbis in Israel) discussed the problem of certain flights leaving Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, passing over the nearby Holon Cemetery. Considering the method of burying the dead, he ruled that the “impurity of the dead” reaches the sky, and thus Jews of priestly heritage should not fly over there. Another aspect of this verdict (whether by Rabbi Elyashiv himself or others – this was later in debate) allowed the Cohens to fly the problematic road segment inside sealed body bags. This actually took place, at least in one case.
And we’ll finish this saga, telling the intriguing story of Kiribati.
As you know very well, when we travel eastward we lose some hours, as the Sun seems to travel in the opposite direction. However, when we travel westward, we gain some hours because we now move in the same direction that the Sun seems to move. Since our planet is round, this means that somewhere far to the east (or west), there must be a line where the time changes drastically between its two sides. This line indeed exists and is called the International Date Line. The U.S. Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department, states on its web site:
The International Date Line is the imaginary line on the Earth that separates two consecutive calendar days. That is the date in the Eastern hemisphere, to the left of the line, is always one day ahead of the date in the Western hemisphere. It has been recognized as a matter of convenience and has no force in international law.
Without the International Date Line, travelers going westward would discover that when they returned home, one day more than they thought had passed, even though they had kept careful tally of the days. This first happened to Magellan’s crew after the first circumnavigation of the globe. Likewise, a person traveling eastward would find that one fewer days had elapsed than he had recorded, as happened to Phileas Fogg in “Around the World in Eighty Days” by Jules Verne.
The International Date Line can be anywhere on the globe. But it is most convenient to be 180° away from the defining meridian that goes through Greenwich, England. It also is fortunate that this area is covered, mainly, by empty ocean. However, there have always been zigs and zags in it to allow for local circumstances.
Over the years, the exact position of the International Date Line has changed several times. The most recent change happened in 1995, when the island country of Kiribati (in the Pacific Ocean) decided to move the International Date Line, so that the line wouldn’t divide their country as it used to. During the change, large parts of Kiribati skipped a whole day in a one-time six-day week. Older similar changes included other places such as the Philippines and Alaska.
So, when should Sunday school be conducted in Kiribati nowadays? And when should Muslims pray the holy Friday prayers? And when should Jews keep the Sabbath? Should Jews still count periods of seven days, which will result in keeping all Sabbath rituals now on the local Sunday? Or should they obey the local calendar, as used to be the case before? In short, does God follow man’s authorities and decisions on the International Date Line? Or is God’s week always and unconditionally seven days?
Quoting Richard L. Fix from his Internet web site:
Is the Sabbath so trivial that man can place it on the Earth where he wills, so that he can worship at his convenience, in a manmade time frame? As recently as 1994, we could have had brethren in Midway Island (US) and Phoenix Island, Kiribati, both keeping the Seventh Day Sabbath together, at exactly the same time, down to the very hour of the same day. Then in 1995, the brethren of Kiribati began keeping the Sabbath twenty-four hours earlier than the brethren on Midway Island! This was a man made convenience. Furthermore, does it even matter whether there were brethren there or not? Even if there were no brethren on either island then, if one were to go there now, when would you keep the Sabbath, the “old” way or the “new” way? Better yet, if YOU were to go there now, which day would YOU keep as the Sabbath? Who decides? Man? God? The Church? The Jews? So far, it would seem that the answer has been man. Man continues to modify the International Date Line to please “his” own needs, and whims.
You may want to consider a somewhat similar issue: Millions of Jews fast every year during the holy day of Yom Kipur. Towards the end of the day, the gates of Heaven are allegedly closed and prayers (asking God for forgiveness) find it more difficult to break through. There is of-course an exact known minute when God is no longer accepting new calls. Yet, the day of Yom Kipur may once every few years be postponsed by a whole month, due to the old complex calculation of the Jewish calendar, inherited from the ancient Babylonians and Greeks. It’s truly amazing how God seems to have adapted the management of Heaven’s gates to this early remarkable man-made invention of Babylonian and Greek astronomy.
The above topics, as well as thousands of others, occupy religious books full of discussions and instructions. What do you think people learn in years of religious study? How do ultra-Orthodox Jews, for example, spend their time in Yeshiva for Bible studies? Do they keep praising Moses and the State of Israel all day long? Not really. They spend most of their time discussing these very fine details, from picking one’s nose to crossing the date line on Saturday. And there is always an answer for everything. There ought to be one. God cannot leave the small things unanswered. God is in the details.