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.”




Related Articles
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

NATO Exercise in Ukraine Coincided with MH-17 Shoot-down
2014 07 24
Rapid Trident was omitted from the flurry of coverage on the shoot-down MH-17. From the U.S. Army in Europe website: Rapid Trident supports interoperability among Ukraine, the United States, NATO and Partnership for Peace member nations. The exercise helps prepare participants to operate successfully in a joint, multinational, integrated environment with host-nation support from civil and governmental agencies. ...
Warning of ’imminent’ terror attack in Norway
2014 07 24
Norwegians were warned Thursday of the concrete possibility of a terror attack occurring in that country at the hands of people with connections to an extremist group in Syria. A press conference was called in Oslo, Norway on Thursday where an announcement was made of a "possible concrete threat" to national security in that country from terrorists related to an extremist ...
Judge says government can access everything in a Gmail account
2014 07 24
All your emails are belong to us. At least that’s what the latest court order from a judge in New York says. The warrant, granted on June 11, states that the government can access all the content and files contained in a Gmail account. Yes, this is a significant blow to privacy. The subject of this specific search relates to a money laundering ...
Scotland Yard Spied on Grieving Families: secret surveillance after police victim shot seven times in head ’by mistake’
2014 07 24
More terror from the ’anti-terror’ brigade. Undercover police gathered evidence on 18 grieving families By Rob Evans and Vikram Dodd | The Guardian Undercover police officers secretly gathered intelligence over two decades on 18 families fighting to get justice from the police, it was revealed on Thursday. The intelligence covering high-profile campaigns was collected between the mid-1980s and 2005, and affected grieving families ...
Air Algerie AH5017 with 116 onboard goes missing for hours, found crashed in Mali
2014 07 24
An Air Algerie flight carrying 110 passengers and six crew members has reportedly crashed in Mali after having disappeared from radar early on Thursday morning between Burkina Faso and Algeria. A French Ministry of Defense official told Fox News that the two French fighter jets located the wreckage of the plane, which had crashed in Mali. An airport official additionally confirmed ...
More News »