Ask the Expert: Is There a Jewish Blessing for Seeing a Solar Eclipse?

Solar eclipses have traditionally been understood by Jewish tradition as bad omens.

Question: Is there a Jewish blessing for a solar eclipse?

— Anonymous

Answer: The simple answer is no, there isn’t a specific Jewish blessing (bracha in Hebrew) that should be recited upon seeing a solar eclipse. That is because traditionally, Judaism and most ancient cultures have understood solar eclipses as dangerous omens. The biblical prophet Amos, for example, predicted a solar eclipse as a way of warning the people that God was angry and would punish them for their evil ways:

“I will make the sun set at noon; I will darken the earth on a sunny day. I will turn your festivals into mourning and your songs into dirges …”

(Amos 8:9-10) 

The Talmud declares a solar eclipse as “an evil sign for the whole world” (Sukkah 29a). The rabbis further illustrate their point with a parable featuring a king who invited guests for a lavish meal. The king became angry with his guests and told his servants to take the light away so that his guests would have to sit in the dark. Get it? God is the king, and we’re the guests who sit in the dark. 

But since when are we satisfied with the simple answer? Today, one could argue, we don’t really see the solar eclipse as scary or a bad omen, but rather as an amazing demonstration of the awesome, divine wisdom which manifests in creation. I know people who will travel across the country to get a better view of an eclipse. Our tradition has blessings over many awesome and wondrous things that we see in the natural world, including heavenly events. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Hayim 227–8). 

The blessing that is prescribed for seeing a comet/shooting star, lightning, strong winds, awesome mountains, valleys, oceans, rivers, or deserts, for example, is:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֳלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם עוֹשֶׂה מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, oseh ma’aseh v’reishit.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Author of Creation.

We might argue that the above list — lightning, mountains, oceans, etc. — is not meant to be exhaustive but rather demonstrative and that, in our day, we should add solar eclipse to it.

Alternatively, one can also say this blessing for remarkable natural phenomenon:

 בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם שֶׁכֹּחוֹ וּגְבוּרָתוֹ מָלֵא עוֹלָם

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shekocho ooh g’vuratoh mahlay olam.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, whose strength and glory fills the universe. 

If you’re uncomfortable changing the time-honored custom of not saying a blessing on a solar eclipse, there is certainly precedent in Jewish tradition to interpret the eclipse as a bad sign. I have found experiencing a total solar eclipse to be awesome but also strange and somewhat disturbing. There are certainly enough crises in our world today — the climate being only one of them — to justify taking the opportunity of seeing the sky grow dark to think about our actions and what more we can do to help the natural and human world to return to health and harmony. Amos wanted the people to feel in their bones that they must change their actions before it was too late. If the solar eclipse in our day can help to do that for us, it would be a blessing! 

Rabbi Natan Margalit is the founder and president of Organic Torah and the Interim Dean of Faculty for the Aleph Ordination Program.

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