Jewish Groups Prepare for Rare Blessing of the Sun
2009 02 24
By Ben Harris | forward.com
As sunrise broke over New York City on the morning of April 8, 1981, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi — at the time he was known just as Zalman Schachter — stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and sounded the shofar.
For more than two hours after, Shachter-Shalomi led some 300 mostly young adults in an obscure Jewish ritual known as Birkat Hachamah, or blessing over the sun, a prayer recited once every 28 years when, the Talmud says, the sun reaches the same spot in the firmament as when it was created.
According to an account of the service in The New York Times, participants raised their hands in prayer, asked for healing for individuals and the earth, and released 70 balloons. At the conclusion, some worshipers joined in the singing of a Hebrew version of “Let the Sun Shine In” from the rock musical “Hair.”
The rite, Shachter-Shalomi told the Times, “helps us renew our relationship with the solar system and increase our awareness of the sun as a source of energy.”
Twenty-eight years later, Jews across the denominational spectrum are gearing up again for the observance with a range of planned celebrations, many of them environmentally focused. The sun prayer will be said, as it will several times in the 21st century, on April 8, which this year falls on the eve of Passover.
In the northern Israeli city of Safed, an eight-day festival is planned featuring several environmentally and kabbalistically inspired events, including the ceremonial burning of leavened bread on the morning before Passover by concentrating the sun’s rays through an optic lens.
“Over the last 28-year cycle, we have suffered from pollution and the depletion of natural resources,” said the festival founder, U.S.-based artist Eva Ariela Lindberg, in a news release. “Let us use this extraordinary opportunity to co-create the next cycle by seeking alternative solar energies and a purer environment, recharging ourselves and learning how to honor the earth, our neighbors and ourselves. This is a time to renew, and bring fresh blossoms to our world for the next 28-year cycle.”
In the United States, 14 Jewish organizations have joined to launch BlessTheSun.org, a Web site with links to various educational materials and ideas for April 8 activities. The site asks users to sign a Covenant of Commitment in which they “pledge to hasten the day of environmental healing, social justice and sustainable living for all.”
Five of the groups also are sponsoring an art competition for works “interpreting aspects of the sun and exploring the relationship between Judaism and the environment.” And the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism has designed a 68-page study text on the prayer emphasizing environmental themes.
“Growing up, there was almost a fear in recognizing that our holidays and calendar are indicative of an earth-based religion,” said Nati Passow, co-founder of the Jewish Farm School, one of the groups behind BlessTheSun. “That doesn’t necessarily mean idol worship or earth worship, but it means that the calendar and the cycles were a reflection of people who lived with a greater awareness of natural cycles than we have now. And so any time you can teach people about elements of our tradition that are earth-based, and especially the ones that are hidden and not as well known, it’s a way of bringing people into Judaism.”
The prayer, whose origins lie in the Talmud, blesses God “who makes the work of creation” and is the same blessing said over other rare natural phenomena, like lightning or a meteor.
Its Talmudic origins mean that the sun blessing is hardly the sole province of liberal Jewish environmental groups.
ArtScroll Publications, an Orthodox publishing house, has reissued an updated version of Rabbi J. David Bleich’s seminal 1981 book “Birchas Hachamah,” probably the most definitive English-language treatment of the subject. And Canfei Nesharim, an Orthodox environmental group, is working on a number of initiatives, including a sun-themed mishloach manot — the food baskets traditionally given on the holiday of Purim, which falls about a month before the sun blessing.
Bleich’s book includes a rigorously detailed discussion of the evolution of the Jewish calendar and the complex calculations of lunar and solar cycles that determine the dates of Jewish observances.
“The blessing on this occasion, it would seem, is evocative rather than responsive,” wrote Bleich, a professor of Jewish law and ethics at Yeshiva University. “It is designed to arouse man from his lethargy, to force him to reflect upon this cosmic phenomenon, to summon him to contemplation. Marking yet another solar milestone in the calendar of eternity, the occasion calls out to man: Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?”
Despite the complexity of the Talmudic discussion, the determination of April 8 is almost certainly inaccurate, Bleich told JTA. But the sages of the Talmud ordained the blessing not as a precise astronomical commemoration, Bleich said, but as a pedagogic device to impress upon future generations God’s continuing role in sustaining the universe.
Asked about Jewish groups that want to infuse the blessing with an environmental message, Bleich said, “I wish them luck.”
The Electric Glow Of The Sun
Spiritual and Astrotheological Motifs Related to Light
Sun's next 11-year cycle could be 50% stronger
A Case For The Sun to Be Alive
Solar System Secrets as told by the Sun
Ancient Solar Observatory Discovered in Peru
Red Ice Radio - Michael Tsarion - Lucifer & The Dark Side of the Sun
Latest News from our Front Page
Nelson Mandela Family Finally Gives Up Charade and Admits Mandela Dead
2013 12 12
Funeral was planned a year ago
The Nelson Mandela family has finally given up their charade and admitted that Nelson Mandela is dead by announcing today that the former leader of South Africa is no longer with us.
The charade began in June of 2013, and Guardian Express has maintained Mandela has been deceased since we were informed of his passing in ...
Scientists Identify a Piece of the Planet Mercury for the First Time in Human History
2013 12 12
Talk about a precious stone — the largest piece of the only known meteorite from the planet Mercury has found its way to Yale, where it is now on display at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Known as NWA 7325, the fist-size, greenish space rock is a rarity among rarities: there just aren’t many verified planetary meteorites. Scientists know ...
US general who opened Guantanamo prison says shut it down
2013 12 12
The US general who opened the notorious US-run Guantanamo prison says it was a mistake and it should be shut down because the prison complex "validates every negative perception of the United States."
"In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong," Marine Major General Michael Lehnert wrote in the Detroit Free Press on Thursday.
Lehnert was the first commander of ...
BioSuit: The Future of Space Gear
2013 12 12
New materials and designs could allow outer-space travelers to move more freely.
One day, moving around in outer space—and walking on Mars—could become a whole lot more comfortable for astronauts, thanks to the innovative techniques being developed by an aeronautics professor at MIT.
“The BioSuit—the one that gets a lot of media coverage—is a concept no one has seen before, and we ...
Cassini spies mysterious object named ’Peggy’ at edge of Saturn’s rings
2013 12 12
Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft has spotted an object located right at the edge of Saturn’s A ring that is confounding scientists. Its name? Peggy.
This strange something was spotted by accident on 15 April when Cassini’s cameras were aimed at a tiny moon named Prometheus that orbits just inside another of Saturn’s rings. A member of the mission’s imaging team, astronomer Carl ...
|More News » |