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Blessing of the Sun

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Birkat ha-hammah

drawing of the blessing of the sunOn the morning of April 8 (Nisan 14) Jews will gather around the world to observe something which happens only once every 28 years. Just as it is customary to mark the new moon with blessings, since Talmudic times, it has been customary to mark the return of the sun to the place in its cycle Jewish tradition says it occupied during the week of creation. According to the rabbis of the Talmud (Berakhot 59b), every twenty eight years this happens "on the evening of Tuesday, going into Wednesday". Tractate Berakhot instructs that the blessing appropriate to be recited on the anniversary of this event is: Barukh oseh Vereshit, or in English: Blessed is the One who (continually) creates.

Since Talmudical times this simple blessing has grown into a more complex liturgical order. The earliest printed order of blessing for Birkat ha-hammah of which I am aware comes to us from the Sephardic world. It was published in Leghorn (Livorno), Italy, in a prayerbook entitled, Tefilah zakah, compiled by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Castello (Castilho), in 1789. That order was reprinted in 1841 as a separate booklet entitled, Boker Yizrakh by R. David Meldola of the Sephardic community in London.

All of this is of special interest to the Library of the Hebrew Union College because among the manuscripts held in our rare book collections, we are privileged to possess an attractive hand colored illustrated pamphlet that offers an order of blessing for Birkat ha-hammah as it was, according to the manuscript, observed in the time of R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806) in the city of Leghorn, Italy (manuscript 795). As Azulai's name is followed by the acronym (May the memory of the righteous and the holy be for a blessing), we may infer that the unnamed scribe wrote his manuscript only after Azulai's death in 1806.

drawing of the blessing of the new moon

The text of the manuscript is written in two different Hebrew hands. The first part which begins with the information just noted not surprisingly offers essentially the same ritual as that published in the Castello prayer book of 1789. The second adds the text of the Birkat ha-levanah (Blessing of the (new) moon). The manuscript also includes material related to the Akedah (attempted sacrifice of Isaac), and to Hanukkah.

The staff of the Hebrew Union College Library is proud to present photos of this manuscript. Daniel J. Rettberg, Ph.D.,Rare Book and Manuscript Bibliographer, Klau Library, Cincinnati

To see a larger image, click on the images.

If you have any further questions about finding information on this, or any other topic, ask your local HUC-JIR librarian or email us using the form on the campus library homepage.