Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Rav Bar Hayim On Birkath HaHamah

13 of the First Month 5769

Machon ShiloBirkath HaHamma


Rabbi, I have heard different opinions regarding Birkath HaHamma (said once in 28 years), including some who say one should not say this B'rakha. What is your view?


This is a very complex issue, and it is quite impossible to explain the matter in this forum. Therefore I shall limit myself to the following:

1. The text before us in the Talmudh Bavli (B'rakhoth 59b) is corrupt. The statement attributed to Abbaye - the supposed source of this B'rakha - was never said by him, and was interpolated into the text at the beginning of the period of the Rishonim. None of the G'onim knew of Abbaye's statement. Some, such as Rav Sa'adya Gaon (p. 90), contradict it. It follows that the notion of saying a B'rakha once in 28 years (and on something one cannot see) was never mandated by the Sages. This entire issue is based on an error in the text.

2. The statement is almost certainly based on a sectarian solar calendar, such as that mentioned in the Book of Jubilees. Thus the entire concept contradicts Hazal who worked with a lunar calendar.

3. Even if Hazal had mandated such a B'rakha once every 28 years, the calculation used today, based on the T'qupha of Sh'muel which assumes a year of 365.25 days, is inaccurate. The real figure is 365.24219 days. Over 2000 years, the discrepancy adds up -today it amounts to over two weeks. If anything, the B'rakha should have been said on the day of the vernal or March equinox (March 20), the astronomical event supposedly referred to by Abbaye. On Nissan 14th this year no astronomical event will take place, and saying the B'rakha then cannot be justified.

4. This B'rakha is mentioned in the Talmudh Y'rushalmi (B'rakhoth 9:2) and in WaYiqra Rabba (23:8). According to these sources (which also know nothing of a 28-year cycle) the B'rakha should be said whenever one sees the sun and is moved by its power and majesty, something which happens occasionally. When one internalizes the fact that this is a manifestation of HASHEM's wisdom and power, one makes the B'rakha. Further one should say it if the sun was not visible for three days (such as consecutive stormy or cloudy days). This is what I recommend doing. According to Rav Sa'adya Gaon one recites the B'rakha annually on the summer or June soltice (June 20-21). This too is possible.

5. Unfortunately we have here another example of the rabbinic establishment burying its head in the sand, unwilling to tackle real issues of science and knowledge. This does the Jewish people a great disservice, and paints the Tora in a very negative light.

6. The Tora world must formulate an intelligent and viable conception of Tora in keeping with objective knowledge and realities. We cannot and must not live in the Dark Ages; this was not HASHEM's intention.

Hagh Same'ah

David Bar-Hayim


Rafi G. said...

so what is his point? we should say it? we should not say it?

Ben-Yehudah said...

On Sunday night, he told me personally that he would not be saying the B'rakha.

He wrote the article in part due to my pressure. He wasn't planning to write anything now, but I guess he changed his mind.

I believe he thought that the conclusion was obvious, and thus did not feel the need to say not to explicitly.

רפאל said...

Why is the attribution to Abaye wrong? Because Rav Saadya Gaon would have known it? And if it is a later addition, based on a tradition that Rav Saadya Gaon did not know? And if the attribution would indeed be wrong, does that invalidate the statement? Would the Rav invalidate every falsely attributed statement? Does the Yerushalmi convincingly explain the meaning of "Tekufa" in the Braita?

I think the Rav should consider the following. There is something that could be called "Jewish astrology". Ein Mazal L'Yisrael if we merit, but if we do not merit there are things known about the development of history. Who knows does not necessarily speak, let alone write. Chazal knew these things. I assume Rav Saadya HaGon did not. The Yerushalmi probably did not want to write about it. Perhaps only rather late someone added this to the Bavli. It would make excellent sense. But it is still true Halacha, and a very ancient one, from the time that Halacha was still paskened like Moshe Rabbeinu did.

muse said...

Here are pictures of Birkat HaChamah in Shiloh.

רפאל said...

Rav Bar-Hayim claims that the statement by Abaye in Talmud Bavli Berachot 59b, regarding Birkat HaChammah is a late addition to the Talmud from the time of the early Rishonim. His proof is that none of the Gaonim make reference to it. He concludes that Birkat HaChammah should not be said.

Rav Bar-Hayim refers to the Talmud Yerushalmi. The statement of Abaye in Talmud Bavli comes to explain a Braita, which says that we should say the Beracha "Baruch Oseh Bereshit" when we see the Sun it its Tekufa. The Yerushalmi has the same Braita, but does not explain anything similar to what Abaye says. Instead, after bringing the Braita, the Yerushalmi brings the teaching that we should say a blessing when after three days of rain, the sky clears up and we can again see the Sun.

Rav Bar-Hayim brings Rav Saadia HaGaon's interpretation of the Braita. Rav Saadia suggests that we should say Birkat HaChammah every year at the Summer Solstice. Rav Bar-Hayim interestingly contends: "The statement [of Abaye] is almost certainly based on a sectarian solar calendar, such as that mentioned in the Book of Jubilees. Thus the entire concept contradicts Hazal who worked with a lunar calendar."

I think the Rav says many truths, but misses one insight. It seems to be true that the statement of Abaye was added after the Gaonim. However, this does not make this statement a corruption. The final redaction of the Talmud only occurred at the time of the latest Gaonim. Also, it seems to be true that Birkat HaChammah is the remnant of something apparently extraneous: Jewish Astrology.

My view is the following. The Braita records a Takana from the beginning of Bayit Sheni. After the Churban, it was written down as a Braita, without explanation, intended for those who understood Jewish Astrology. The masses never knew this subject, and the Sages would not write about it. Therefore, the Talmud could initially not explain the Braita. We see this in the Yerushalmi, which brings the Braita, and then in fact not explain it. The statement about the Sun appearing after three days is not an explanation, but an independent teaching. It seems to me that Rav Saadia Gaon understood that the Yerushalmi does not give an explanation of the Braita, as it does not explain what is the Tekufa of the Sun. This is why he suggests his own interpretation.

For a very long time, the proper explanation of the Braita was left an oral tradition among those who engaged in Jewish Astrology. It was added to the Talmud very late indeed. It is not correct to conclude from this that the Takana itself was late, or Chas V'Shalom a corruption. I would like to suggest to the Rav that the Takana of Birkat HaChammah is self-dating, because the year of Rav Shuel is not accurate. As history progresses, Tekufat Nissan, and therefore Birkat HaChammah, shifts towards the Summer, one day for every 128 years. In our days we say Birkat HaChammah on April 8, approximately 18 days after the Spring equinox. Tekufat Nissan coincided with the Spring equinox in the very beginning of Bayit Sheni. The Takana was issued by prophets.

רפאל said...


Ben-Yehudah said...


Thank you for your comments.

Please email me or Rav Bar Hayim privately.

I have forwarded your response to him.

He can be reached at harav@machonshilo.org

joshwaxman said...

see my response here:

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