Here comes the blessing of the sun

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

“Rabbi Arrested for Observance of an Ancient Talmudic Ceremony in Tompkins Square.” That was the headline from the April 8, 1897 New York Times. Hundreds of Jews had gathered for the celebration of Birkat Hachamah, the Blessing of the Sun. Unfortunately, nobody thought about obtaining a permit for the event, which was required by city ordinance. The rabbi tried to explain the meaning behind the gathering; however, it required a complicated explanation and the rabbi spoke limited English.

On Wednesday, April 8, the St. Louis Jewish community along with Jews all over the world, will be celebrating the same rare event that occurred in 1897. However, no local arrests are anticipated.

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“We have permission from University City,” said Rabbi Yosef Landa, Chairman of the St. Louis Rabbinical Council.

Birkat Hachamah, the Blessing of the Sun, happens only once every 28 years when the sun returns to the same position, on the same day of the week, where it was when it was created on the fourth day of creation, 5769 years ago.

The background and basis for Birkat Hachamah is very simple and yet, very complicated.

It is traditionally believed that the first moment of the fourth day of creation — when the moon, sun and other heavenly bodies were created — coincides with the spring equinox. While the anniversary of the creation of the world is celebrated on Rosh Hashanah, events having to do with the seasons are computed from the Hebrew month of Nissan. Birkat Hachamah occurs every 28 years when the spring equinox falls on a Wednesday, which was the fourth day of creation, at the beginning of the day.

It is traditional for Jews to come together in large public gatherings to recite the special blessing since the opportunity to celebrate this occurrence is so rare. The blessing thanks God for “reenacting the works of creation.” The service also includes a selection of prayers and Psalms.

This year the St. Louis Rabbinical Council organized a community-wide event to celebrate this rare occurrence.

The council planned an event at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 8 on the grounds of the former McNair School on Groby Road in University City. “It is a wonderful opportunity to part of a unique celebration,” Rabbi Landa said.

The ceremony is brief and a musical program will be part of the celebration.

Some local congregations will include the blessing of the sun as part of their regular Wednesday morning (shacharit) services. Central Reform Congregation is observing the mitzvah at 7 a.m. with participants meeting at the corner of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards in Forest Park. Congregation B’nai Amoona will be gathering at the synagogue at 324 South Mason Road in Creve Coeur following its 6:45 a.m. service. United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road in Creve Coeur, will host a Birkat Hachamah celebration at 8 a.m. in its Messing Garden. Tpheris Israel Chevrah Kadisha, 14550 Ladue Road in Chesterfield is also planning a ceremony.

The St. Louis Rabbinical Council’s community-wide “Blessing of the Sun” will take place at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 8th on the grounds of the former McNair School building, 8136 Groby Road in University City. Participants should use the entrance to the area from Blackberry and should not park on school grounds. For more information call 314-725-0400 or visit www.showmechabad.com/sun.