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Birkat Hachamah FAQs

Birkat Hachamah FAQs


What is Birkat Hachamah?

Birkat Hachamah literally means "the Blessing on the Sun." Its text: "Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who reenacts the works of creation." (Though it is traditionally accompanied by a few brief prayers and Psalms.)

This blessing is recited once every 28 years, when the sun reaches the point where it was at the time of its creation—at the same time of day and on the same day of the week.

Where and when is this blessing performed?

This blessing will be recited on Wednesday morning, April 8, 2009, after sunrise and before a quarter of the day has elapsed. If one missed this time, the blessing can be recited until midday. Click here to find out these exact times for any location.

Technically, you can say this blessing anywhere the sun is visible (preferably while standing outdoors). Ideally, though, try to join up with others; celebrate this special mitzvah amongst throngs of fellow Jews!

How long is the Birkat Hachamah service?

The actual blessing and accompanying prayers take no longer than 5-7 minutes. Add in some words from the rabbi, and still it shouldn't take longer than 15 minutes—especially on this super-busy Passover eve day.

Will we witness an unusual solar phenomenon on this date?

From an astronomic point of view, nothing unusual will happen. The sun, moon, planets and stars will not be aligned in any specific pattern. The arrangement of the heavenly bodies will not even resemble the way they were at the time of creation. Birkat Hachamah marks the sun reaching a specific (and not unusual) position – the same one it occupied at the moment of its creation – at the same time of the week when it was created.

I won’t be able to make it to my synagogue, can I do Birkat Hachamah at home?

Technically, there is no requirement to say the Birkat Hachamah in the presence of a congregation. So if you can't make it to your synagogue, print out the text of the service and say it wherever you may be.

However, due to the momentousness of the occasion, it is customary to make a big public to-do out of the ceremony. So make every effort to attend the service—and bring along your spouse and kids too!

Is Birkat Hachamah any different this year because it falls on the morning before Passover?

The ceremony will be no different than any other Birkat Hachamah. However, because of the day's many other Passover-related responsibilities – such as finishing and burning the chametz and preparing for the night's Seder – it will probably be time-efficient and brief.

Additionally, your local Chabad Center will likely combine this service with the customary Passover Eve Firstborn Feast and/or provide those attending with the opportunity to sell and burn their chametz.

What if the sky is obscured by cloud cover?

The blessing can be recited as long as the sun can be seen, even if not clearly, even if only its outline is visible through the clouds.

If the sun is completely obscured, then one should wait until right before midday, with the hope that perhaps the sun will appear. If that does not happen, then right before midday the blessing should be recited—while omitting G‑d's name ("Blessed are You who reenacts the works of creation").

Why does Birkat Hachamah take place once every 28 years?

According to tradition, the sun was created at the moment of the spring equinox which coincided with the first moment of the fourth day of creation. When the sun reaches this starting point again at the same time of day and on the same day of the week, we recite the Birkat Hachamah.

According to the astronomical calculations of the 3rd century sage Shmuel, the length of a solar year is 365.25 days, or 52 weeks plus 1¼ days. It thus follows that precisely one year after creation, when the sun returned to its original position, it would be 1¼ days (one day and six hours) later in the week. After two years, it would be 2½ days later in the week. Only after 28 years, would the sun return to that position at the same time—at the onset of the "fourth day," Wednesday.

Why is Birkat Hachamah on the 8th of April when the equinox falls 19 days earlier?

This has to do with the fact that the length of the "tropical year" used to compute the date of Birkat Hachamah is slightly longer than the actual tropical year. See Calculating the Date of Birkat Hachamah for an extensive discussion on this issue.

I thought the sun was created on Rosh Hashanah?

Though we celebrate the anniversary of all of creation – including the sun – on Rosh Hashanah, approximately six months before the spring equinox, there is actually a debate in the Talmud whether the world was created in Tishrei or Nissan. The consensus reached is that with regards to the counting of years we count from Tishrei, but in all areas of Jewish law that pertain to the calculations of seasons (and equinoxes falls under this category) we calculate from Nissan (click here for more on this topic).

Is there any connection between Birkat Hachamah and Passover?

There is no connection between the two. The timing of Birkat Hachamah is related to a solar event, whereas the Jewish calendar – and the date of Passover – is determined by the lunar orbit. Birkat Hachamah always occurs on a Wednesday morning in the beginning of April, which will always be around the time of Passover—but could be before, after, or even on Passover.

Is there also a blessing recited on the moon?

Yes, on a monthly basis, a few days after it begins to wax. For more information on this blessing, see Thank G‑d for the Moon!

Is this related to ancient sun-worshipping rites?

The blessing is addressed to G‑d, the creator of the sun—and all else. Jewish tradition absolutely forbids worshipping or praying to any entity other than the one G‑d—and numerous times the Bible singles out the sun as one of those entities we may not worship!

Is this biblical, rabbinic, or kabbalistic?

It is a rabbinic ordinance – first mentioned in the Talmud – as are virtually all the blessings recited according to Jewish tradition.

Do Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs differ on this?

Yes, slightly. The blessing and core prayers are the same, but different communities will say different Psalms and prayers based on their ancestral tradition.

Can this phenomenon be proven scientifically?

The phenomenon that prompts the Birkat Hachamah is the vernal equinox—definitely a scientifically verifiable event. As for the timing of the Birkat Hachamah ceremony (which is several days after the equinox), see Calculating the Date of Birkat Hachamah.

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Someone Riverdale, NY April 7, 2009

Blessing on the Rain Yes, every day during the amidah (shmonah esrei) when we say Mashiv haRuach u'Moreed haGeshem. Reply

Richard K Sherman Oaks, CA April 7, 2009

Thanking for the Sun I was never aware of this ordinance, but I will, nevertheless, pray tomorrow to God, as I do every day, to somehow wake us humans up to the need to take immediate steps to preserve God's wonderful Creation from the abuses that we are committing to prevent the end of this Creation from the rapid climate changes we are responsible for. God help us protect your beautiful world! Reply

Antonino G. Vetrano Harrisburg, PA/USA April 3, 2009

Rain Is there a blessing on the rain? Reply

Barry Katz L.A., Ca./USA April 2, 2009

Birkat Hachamah This is a beautiful tribute to the power of G-d. The scientific accuracy of the exact time is irrelevent and I am sure G-d will forgive us if we are a bit off. I think this is one event we can all rally around and be thankful for especially in this threatening period of global warming. G-d help us. Reply

AY April 1, 2009

sun salute I greet the sun every morning, the stars every night, and my loved ones everyday.
I never worship anyone. I only love.
Hugs, Reply

Duval April 1, 2009

Re: Reenacts Pesach,

"Makes" what? How would you translate the following words?

Considering the ending of the blessing, it seems that "reenacts" is actually the best translation. Reply

Pesach Newmark Bet Shemesh, Israel April 1, 2009

reenacts - why this translation? Doesn't make sens Why do you use this word? It makes no sense and is a deviation from the Hebrew. Use the word "makes" in the present tense. This is the true meaning.

Enjoy. Reply

Yakov Khanin March 31, 2009

Vs. Science The one who does not like the time the sages defined to celebrate birkas hachama, probably did not bother to read teh chassidic explanation given on this site from a talk of the Rebbe, indicating, that we are marking a spiritual phenomenon, not physically astronomical (starting with the fact that the initial event took place half-a year before actual physical creation) Reply

Jerrold Landau Toronto, ON March 30, 2009

erev pesach To the poster who notes that this has occurred 3 times on erev Pesach -- this is simply not true. It occurred in 1925 on Erev Pesach (and I shudder when I think of what ensued to the Jewish people during the 28 years following that birkat hachamah). Furthermore, since it occurs on a 28 year cycle, it will always occur on motzaei shemita (at least the way we count shemitta nowadays without the yovel). DOn't read too much into it -- just do it and relish the moment. Reply

Anonymous nachliel, israel March 29, 2009

birchas ha chammah Even though the blessing is said once every 28 years, this year is very very special, because it is said on the 14th of Nissan. This occurs only 3 times in the 6000 years: 1) at the exodus itself, 2) the night king Achashreirosh's sleep was disturbed by the dream, 3) this year . Of course it will be said again in another 28 years, but never again on the 14th of Nissan! Another very special thing is that this year is "motzei shemittah" )the year following the sabbatical year) and according to tradition isn't it said that moshiach will come on motzei shemittah! Reply

Peretz March 29, 2009

Re: Last time the date for the last Birchas Hachama was: April 8th 1981.

(Calculating the Date of Birkat Hachamah, section: Birkat Hachamah vs. the Actual Date of the Spring Equinox). Reply

Anonymous March 29, 2009

Torah/Science (lack of) conflict To Jeff G: If you are truly interested in the topic, might I suggest good reading material - "Mind Over Matter", a collection of letters and talks by the Lubavitcher Rebbe collected by Professor Herman Branover.
In brief the answer to your problem lies simply in your ignorance of modern science - that based on the theory of relativity, no specific central point can be determined, and any theory of centrality is possible. In other words anyone who claims that modern science vindicates a system where the earth revolves around the sun (and the galaxy around itself etc.) more than a geocentric one, is living pre-twentieth century (or more accurately before the 1920's when the beginning of the theory of relativity was developed).
Being so, it is perfectly scientifically feasible to say that the sun returns to its original position (and that what we observe is the entire galaxy moving around the earth).
Children are taught differently for the sake of simplicity... Reply

Anonymous l.a., ca. March 27, 2009

last birkas hachama was april 8 Reply

Anonymous Postville, IA March 20, 2009

Um, but I thought . . . It's so tiring to read posts from people who think that by denying the validity of the Torah they can feel intellectually superior to those of us who don't. Even the title of the post, beginning with "Um, . . . " is condescending; and to claim that "[I] don't want to butt heads with tradition, but . . ." is such a patently false statement that If I had written it I would be blushing at its disengenuity. Not at all sorry to burst YOUR bubble, but many Ultra Orthodox people have advanced degrees in science, including the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z'ztll. Don't define us with your limited understanding. Reply

E Rena Skokie, IL March 19, 2009

Um,Science tells us now..... The Torah's perspective does not change depending on "what science tells us now " We can say "for halachic puposes, this is calculated in such and such a way "
( geocentricty is a perspective of many Torah sources). That doesn't deny a scientific premise. As a computer program is only as good as the programmer, empirical science is only as good as the observations and perceptions collated. no one who is blessing G-d for the creation of the heavenly hosts is making a "scientific" statement. And remember- regarding the placement of the celestial spheres-for G-d nothing is impossible! Reply

Shoshana March 19, 2009

last time What was the secular date on the last birkas hachama? Reply

Robert Levine Brookline, MA March 19, 2009

Re: Um, but I thought More precisely, it's when the Sun returns to its original position in relation to the earth & the moon. That is, the original position it appears (or would have appeared to us) here on earth. Even more precisely, since it's the earth that's doing the orbiting, it's when the earth returns to its original position in relation to the Sun. But we perceive the cycle by observing the sun. Thus, there's no conflict w/the fact of the universe expanding. Reply

Jeff G. Springfield, MO/USA March 18, 2009

Um, but I thought... ...The star we call The Sun is moving continuously through space just as the Milky Way galaxy does. As our galaxy rotates, all the billions of star which make up this particular galaxy all move en masse relative to one another. And the galaxy as a single unit too is moving through the rest of the universe. It doesn't seem likely the Sun or any other star could ever return to where it was created, let alone every 28 years.

Hate to butt heads with tradition but if this is a rabbinical thing then perhaps it's time we adjust it in the face of what science now tells us. Reply

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