Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
People wearing glasses to observe a solar eclipse.

I think there is no bracha recited on an eclipse. I am aware that Rabbi Eliezer Melamenin Peneni Halacha Laws of Brachot 15:6 and note 5 does permit a bracha on an eclipse and Rabbi Dov Linzer does as well. I think these views are mistaken.

First, as many have noted, the giants of halacha are quite divided over the question of whether the listing in the Shulchan Aruch of blessings over any natural wonder is paradigmatic or particular. Some make no blessings other that for matters listed in the codes and other treat them as examples. That dispute alone inspires me to be cautious, although I could be persuaded that the paradigmatic approach is correct and one could then make a bracha on a waterfall. I have yet to see a clear proof that such a view is correct, but it does seem more intuitive; Indeed, while I am inclined to the more expansive view because the formulation in the Beit Yosef in Tur OC 228, I know that safek brachot lehakel is present.


Second, and more importantly, if you look closely in the classical achronim, you see not a single achron who actually endorses saying a bracha on an eclipse. Not a single one. It is true that there is a dispute about whether the list in the Mishna is all inclusive or not (as many note, see Shar HaAyin 7:6, the classical work on this topic), but even those who are of the view that the Mishnah’s list is merely examples, not a single achron actually endorses making a bracha on an eclipse as opposed to a volcano or some other natural wonder, which some clearly do permit a bracha on. The group that favors expansive brachot on natural wonders endorse stalagmite caves, waterfalls, water geysers, volcanoes and many more: but not eclipses.

If you look, for example in Shar HaAyin 7:6 one sees this most clearly: even those who endorse making brachot on waterfalls, or other amazing facets of creation are uncertain if one make a bracha on an eclipse, and we all know that when a posek is uncertain, that posek does not make a bracha.

This is an important point. Rabbi Wozner has the right as a morah horah to assert that he rules that the mishna’s list is not inclusive and that volcanoes get a bracha (which is exactly what he says, as does Rabbi Nissan Karletz in the same work on page 466). When one asks him “how can he rule that a bracha needs to be recited, others disagree, and then the matter is in doubt”, Rabbi Wozner responds by stating that he sees no doubt and thus he feels a bracha should be recited. When Rabbi Wozner states that he has doubt about making a bracha on an eclipse, he is being clear that this is exactly a case of doubt and no blessing should be recited.

This contrast is made clear in the context of Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner — who is the most clear and direct articulator of the view that list of wondrous sightings in the Shulchan Aruch are just examples, and one makes the bracha of oseh maaseh bereshit even on other wonders. In Shar HaAyin page 431 he states directly that one makes a blessing on many wondrous things unlisted in the codes and he explains that “Volcanos are not present in our lands and thus are unmentioned in the Shulchan Aruch” and that it is “obvious” that one makes a blessing on them. However, on eclipses he states “solar eclipses are mentioned a few times in the Gemera, and thus on the question of whether one needs to make a bracha when one sees them, needs more thought.” He does NOT endorse making a bracha on an eclipse.

In fact, I am unaware of anyone other than Rabbis Melamed and Linzer who actually endorse the view in favor of making a bracha on an eclipse, rather than merely ponders the possibility of such a bracha.

Rabbi Wozner’s point is important: this is not a modern issue – eclipses were well known for a few millennium, and silence in the Jewish Law codes is telling. To the best of my knowledge the dispute about the eclipses is between two views: (1) Absolutely Not and (2) Maybe. There is no (3) Yes view in the classical rabbinic literature for eclipses. (That is why the listing of reasons why an eclipse might be different from other wonders.) Let me add that eclipses are discussed in the rishonim and codifiers as well, with no mention of a bracha. See Darchai Moshe on Tur OC 426.

Why is an eclipse different from a stalagmite cave or a volcano? I could think of a few reasons from a halachic perspective, even to those who believe that the Mishna’s list is not inclusive.
First, many perceive them to be a siman raah – a bad sign, either because of superstitious reasons or because darkness in the middle of the day is practically bad – and there is no blessing on bad omens (as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein is quoted in Mesorat Moshe 2:51).

Second, because one sees nothing in an eclipse (as it is an absence of light, rather than a presence) and we do not make brachot on absences.

Third, because the bracha of oseh maaseh breseshit does not apply to things whose existence can be mathematically predicted, but are merely rare: eclipses are not anomalies, but a product of the universes’ cycle of life, and more under the berkat hachama rule.

Fourth, because full eclipses are exceedingly rare and partial eclipses are almost impossible to “see” without modern eclipse glasses (a 75% eclipse hardly is noticed on a functional level) and are naturally invisible.

Fifth, for other reasons that are less obvious related to the fact that these have to be wonders from “creation” and these are not from creation.

Sixth, because some thought that eclipses were punishments and thus no blessing was ordained.

Based on all this, one can say that eclipses could be different from all other created natural anomalies as a matter of Jewish law and are not covered by the general idea of a wonder such that a blessing should be made.

Additionally, let me add a thought of my own about modern times and bracha’s over wonders. The Shulchan Aruch OC 228:3 limits even the mountains that one can make a bracha on to such mountains in which the hand of our Creator is clear and apparent. I think in our modern times, with modern science explaining all of these events, no mountains or valleys ever meet the criterial of make it clear (to normal people) that God is in charge of the universe. Based on this, I would not run to craft extensions of this halacha beyond its minimums recorded in the Shuchan Aruch because I think that the test for determining whether we can add to this list is and make a bracha is when normal people see the hand of our Lord. Given the secular environment we live in, I think no natural astrological events meets that bill in modern times so I only make such brachot on the things that the halachic tradition directly directs me to do, like lighting or thunder and certain rivers. I would not make such a bracha on an erupting volcano or a solar eclipse, as seeing such does not cause normal people in my society to experience God.

There are two formulations of my claim, each slightly different. The first is experiential, in that I think that most people in my society do not sense any awe of God at an eclipse. Second, even if any particular person does (and I do not doubt that some do), they cannot make the bracha since most people in America do not so sense God through these events and that is the halachic test found in the Shulchan Aruch. The sense of wonder has to be obvious to normal people and that is lacking in the world we live in.

Having said that, I am happy to endorse other forms of religions veneration for one who feels such wonder. For example, one can certainly say a blessing without invoking the name of God. I am also somewhat comfortable with someone making this blessing in Aramaic (see Shulchan Aruch OC 167:10, 187:1 and 219:4) although I am aware of the view of Iggrot Moshe OC 4:40:27, but find the view of the Aruch Hashulchan OC 202:3 more analytically compelling.) Both the suggestions of Rabbi Chaim David Ha-Levi (Responsa Aseh Lecha Rav, 150) that one recited va-yevarech david (Chronicles. 1:29:10) and adding “who performs acts of creation” at the end and of Rabbi David Lau, current Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, to recite Tehillim 19 and 104 are completely reasonable as well.
On the other hand, those who attended an eclipse – I myself traveled to Rabun Georgia, an epicenter for the total eclipse and sat in total darkness at for three minutes in the middle of the day in 2017 — and did not feel any closer to the Almighty as Creator of the World during the eclipse than I did after or before can feel free to engage in no innovative religious observance at all without feelings that they are deficient in any way.


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Rabbi Michael J Broyde, author of a dozen books and countless articles, is a law professor at Emory University and the Berman Projects Director in its Center to the Study of Law and Religion. He has served in a variety of rabbinic roles in the United States, from director of the Beth Din of America to Rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta and much more.