Rachelle Burk’s picture book biography SPACE TORAH: ASTRONAUT JEFFREY HOFFMAN’S COSMIC MITZVAH (Intergalactic Afikoman, 2024), illustrated by Craig Orback, tells the story of Jewish astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, who took meaningful religious items with him on the space shuttle. The book describes how Jeffrey honors his Judaism in orbit by bringing a miniature Torah with him. SPACE TORAH follows Jeffrey’s journey as a young boy interested in space to his adulthood as an astronaut and even how he continues to influence youngsters today. I look forward to learning more about this interesting and inspiring book.

Rachelle Burk

What inspired you to write a biography about astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, who took Jewish items and a miniature Torah on the Space Shuttles?

Thank you, Barbara! I set out to write a unique Jewish-themed book, and wanted it to be fun and adventurous. Since I love space, I did a bit of investigating and found out that astronaut Jeff Hoffman spun a dreidel in space during the mission to repair the Hubble telescope. That was originally going to be my story until I discovered that, on his 5th and final space mission in 1996, he read from a miniature Torah on the shuttle Columbia and videotaped it privately for his Houston synagogue. I learned about this in 2020 when an independent film about the event was about to be released. I contacted the producer Rachel Raz, about writing a picture book, and the rest is history. 

Rachelle holding the Space Torah

Can you share a bit about your research process for this story? 

Rachel Raz introduced me to the astronaut, Jeffrey Hoffman, who is now a professor at MIT.  I was so nervous (okay, “starstruck” is more accurate) during our hour-long phone interview. We followed up with emails. I also communicated extensively with Shaul Osadchey, Dr. Hoffman’s rabbi during his time at NASA in Houston. He was instrumental in finding a Torah small enough to bring into space, and in raising the money to purchase it. Eventually I visited Houston, where I met with the rabbi. He arranged for me to see and hold the tiny Space Torah!

Reading the Space Torah

Were there any anecdotes about Jeffrey Hoffman’s life or experience that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

Many, in fact. He was part of the crew that repaired the Hubble Telescope. This mission was a defining event in his career. But I had to cut it from the manuscript. I did keep the part where he participated in the first unplanned spacewalk in NASA history. 

Also, when I met with Dr. Hoffman in Boston and shared with him the final draft, he expressed disappointment that I had not included the Jewish concept of “L’dor V’dor”– passing on traditions to generations, which we had discussed. To him, space travel represents the future, and taking the Torah into space affirmed this mitzvah. However, I simply couldn’t find a way to include it. Then I had an idea. “Would YOU like to write about that for the book?” And he did. What a thrill to have Jeffrey Hoffman himself pen the afterword for my book! 

the Afterward of SPACE TORAH

What do you hope young readers take away from SPACE TORAH?

The Space Torah symbolizes a connection with the past and a vision toward the future. I share the feelings of Jeff Hoffman, so I’ll quote from his afterword: “I am happy that this book makes the story of the Space Torah accessible to many other young children who do not have physical access to the Space Torah. The tradition continues . . . L’DOR V’DOR.” 

What were your thoughts when you first saw Craig Orback’s illustrations? 

Well, here is an interesting little factoid: Twenty or so years ago Craig was, coincidentally, the illustrator for a book about the second (and sadly, ill-fated) Torah in space: Tami Lehman-Wilzig’s book, Keeping the Promise. Our publisher chose him for his realistic style, perfect for the tone of the book. He’s amazing, and I’m fortunate to be working with him again as he illustrates my next non-fiction Jews-in-extreme-places book: PASSOVER ON EVEREST. Watch for it in March 2025!

Thanks, Rachelle!

Rachelle Burk writes fiction and nonfiction books for children. She also entertains kids as Mother Goof Storyteller and Tickles the Clown. Rachelle is a retired social worker who enjoys traveling and making mosaic art. Visit

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