Rabbi, What’s The Blessing for a Solar Eclipse?

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, March 31, 2024

On Monday April 8th a solar eclipse will be visible in most of North America. During a total solar eclipse, the moon passes between the sun and the earth, completely blocking the sun. A total solar eclipse is the only time that the corona, the sun’s outer atmosphere is visible. This rare phenomenon can happen only when the sun is 400 times farther away from earth than the moon. This is because the sun is 400 times wider than the moon. When the sun is 400 times farther from earth, the two spheres appear to be the same size, resulting in the total eclipse.

Where we live in the Eastern part of Canada, the eclipse will begin just after 2pm, and last about two and a half hours. In Canada, Niagara Falls is the best place to view the eclipse. There, from approximately 3:20-3:25pm EDT, it will be possible to see almost 3 minutes of total eclipse. In Hamilton, starting at 3:18pm it will be possible to see a total eclipse lasting less than 2 minutes. People in this direct path of the eclipse will see totality, during which the sky goes dark for a few minutes, the stars come out, and the only visible part of the sun is the wisps of the corona. If you stay home in our part of the GTA, while you won’t see a total eclipse, you will be able to see a partial eclipse, in which the moon covers one part of the sun.

If you decide to stay home with the blinds drawn, you’ll have to wait 20 years until the next time that a solar eclipse will be visible in North America, on August 23, 2044. (There will be total eclipses sooner than that, but you’ll have to travel to other parts of the world to view them.)

So, what bracha, what blessing do we say on seeing this amazing phenomenon? Judaism seems to have a bracha for all of our experiences, from ordinary to wondrous. There are blessings to say from the time we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night and everything in between. We have blessings for the beauty of nature, for reaching the ocean, upon smelling fragrant grasses and spices. When we see something beautiful like a tree or an animal, we say Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheynu melech ha’olam, sheh-kacha lo b’olamo (Blessed is the Source of wonder, Ruler of the cosmos, that such things are in the world). And there are blessings for similar natural occurrences. When we see a comet or lightning, the bracha is Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheynu melech ha’olam, oseh ma’aseh v’rei-sheet (Blessed is the Eternal One, Sovereign of the universe, maker of the works of creation). There is even a blessing to say upon witnessing an earthquake.

You might be surprised to find that there is no traditional blessing prescribed for seeing a solar eclipse. It is also surprising that eclipses are not mentioned directly either in the Torah or in the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible), even though eclipses are mentioned in early written records in Mesopotamia (1375 BCE) and Chaldea (now southern Iraq) (800 BCE).

When we do see references in Jewish texts, it is much later, and often in the context of seeing an eclipse as a bad omen. Why? According to the Talmud, it has something to do with the fact that the Jewish people calculate our calendar primarily based on lunar cycles and other nations base theirs on the solar cycle. In Talmud Sukkah 29b we read “Our Rabbis taught: When the sun is in eclipse it is a bad omen for the whole world. To what can this be compared? To a flesh and blood king who made a banquet for his servants and put a lamp in front of them. When he got angry with them he said to his servant, “Take the lamp away from them, and let them sit in the dark.” From this the rabbis conclude that since the eclipse is a cursed event, no blessing should be said.

Today, however, we recognize that eclipses are natural, predictable phenomena. They are part of the structure and order of creation, and not a response to human failures, or divine punishment.

One who witnesses an eclipse should ideally recite the blessing:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheynu melech ha’olam, sheh-koh-choh u’gvurato malei olam.
(Blessed is the Eternal One, Sovereign of the universe, whose power and strength fill the world.)

Or, the more general blessing:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheynu melech ha’olam, oseh ma’aseh v’rei-sheet
(Blessed is the Eternal One, Sovereign of the universe, maker of the works of creation).

In addition, one may certainly add personal meditations or readings.

*Note that Judaism requires us to take care of our bodies and to protect our health. To protect your eyes and vision, never look directly at a solar eclipse, even through regular sunglasses. Only special eclipse-rated glasses or pinhole camera should be used.


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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