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.