Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More on Birkat Hachama

A couple of additional points about Birkat HaChama.

Firstly, for those in Modi'in, there will be a public recitation of Birkat HaChama on Wednesday at the Heichal Tarbut ("Cultural Center") on Emek Dotan (near Homes Place). Official announcement is as follows:
עיריית מודיעין- מחלקת הרבנות ומחלקת תרבות ואירועים- תרבות תורנית, מזמינים את הציבור בכל קהילות העיר, לקיים את מצוות ברכת חמה, מצווה נדירה המקיימים פעם ב- 28 שנה.
ביום רביעי, יד' ניסן תשס"ט 8.4.09 ,בשעה 5:45 בבוקר ברחבת היכל התרבות העירוני מודיעין.
במעמד הרבנים הראשיים למודיעין-מכבים-רעות
* תפילת שחרית-ותיקין ,
* סיום מסכת לערב פסח ,
* ריקוד מצוה.
תפילת שחרית מרכזית לכל בתי הכנסת בעיר: 5:45 בבוקר

The City of Modi'in - Department of the Rabbanut and Department of Culture and Events - Torani Department
Invite the public from all communities in the city, to fulfil the mitzvah of Birkat HaChama, a rare mitzvah that occurs once in 28 years.
On Wednesday, 14 Nissan 5769, 8.4.09 at 5:45 in the morning in the courtyard of the City Cultural Center (Heichal Hatarbut) in Modi’in.
With the participation of the Chief Rabbis of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut.
The Program will include:
* Tfillat Shacharit “vatikin”
* Siyum Missechet for Erev Pessach
* Dancing
A Central Shacharit service for all the synagogues ion the city will begin at 5:45

Another thought about the calculation of Birkat HaChama and how it corresponds to the Julian and Gregorian Calendars.

One of the important factors in calculating Birkat HaChama is the length of a solar year (the time that it takes the Earth to rotate around the Sun). Chazal have two different calculations used to measure the length of a solar year.

  • Shmuel uses a simple calculation of exactly 365.25 days in a Solar Year. This is the calculation we use for Birkat HaChama (see Eruvin 56a).
  • Rav Adda bar Ahava makes a more accurate calculation and determines that a Solar year is 365 days, 5 hours, 55 minutes, and 25.44 seconds (or 365.2468 days). This is the calculation that we use for our more familiar 19 year cycle.

What I found interesting was that the Julian Calendar which was used by the Christian world from 45 BCE through until at least 1582 (or much later in some countries) is based on a solar year of 365.25 days.
This is identical to the calculation of Shmuel, hence according to Julian Calendar, Birkat HaChama always falls out on March 26.

When the Catholic Church moved to the Gregorian Calendar starting in 1582, the new calendar had a more accurate calculation for the Solar Year (which is accounted for by skipping leap years 3 times every 400 years). According to the Gregorian Calendar, a solar year is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds (365.2425 days), about 6 minutes shorter than the calculation used by Rav Adda.

The Gregorian Year is pretty close to an accurate solar year (which is calculated at about 365.24219 days), however to me it is amazing that Rav Adda managed to get a prettty good estimate more than a thousand years before Pope Gregory XIII instituted his calendar.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Birkat HaChama

I know that I haven't blogged for a while, been busy (well there's a creative excuse ;>)

The entire Jewish World is abuzz with talk about ברכת החמה which we will אי"ה recite next Wednesday morning.

If you want to read details of this rare occurrence, Rabbi Gil Student has put together an ebook of various blogs on the topic which gives very good background to this special mitzva. I would highly recommend printing it out for Shabbat reading.

If you want a copy of the text for Birkat Hachama in a printable format, www.kehillaton.com put together a clearly laid out 6 page PDF with the order of the service in Hebrew and English

As always, Wikipedia has a good explanation of this Mitzva, don't forget to look at the External Links at the bottom of the page.

Finally, in case you missed it, DovBear has a fascinating article about Birkat HaChama from the New York Times in 1897, well worth a read.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A sad reflection of Purim

Ha'aretz printed a very sad reflection on Purim By Gideon Levy.
For those not familiar with Gideon Levy he is one of the most extreme left wing (and anti-religious) columnists in Ha'artezt (and that is quite an achievement), yet on Purim he acknowledges that somehow his secular Tel Aviv lifestyle is missing something. The only happiness he encountered on Purim was a group of Hasidim dancing in the street. His own son is looking for happiness but looking in the wrong places - at a trance party in the North where he spends the night high on drugs.
A former school friend of Levy now lives with a non-Jewish wife in Italy who has no concept of Purim or the Hebrew language.

Wouldn't it be nice if Gideon Levy followed up this article with an exploration as to why Religious Jews are so happy, yet his fellow secular Tel Avivians (including himself) failed to pass on even the most basic values to the next generation.

Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1070046.html

Purim games / Only the Haredim are really joyful

By Gideon Levy

A group of ultra-Orthodox men, black silk coats shining, fur shtreimels on their heads, stood yesterday on the corner of one of Tel Aviv's bastions of secular life - Ahad Ha'am and Sheinkin streets - formed a circle and broke out in Hassidic dance. They pulled a secular man into the circle with them, singing at the top of their lungs, perhaps a bit tipsy. I had not seen such true joy in a long time.

My eldest son was just then on his way back to Tel Aviv from a trance party at Hamat Gader in the north, which had begun at dawn and ended with last light. Six thousand young people, 28 arrests for possession of narcotics, and on the phone my son said it had been great. And yet the ultra-Orthodox dancing was more memorable for me. The day before I was thrown out with threats from Jerusalem's Mea She'arim quarter. Visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial yesterday, someone called out to me acerbically: "Are you interested in our sorrow, too?"

Apparently, yesterday, true joy could only be found among the ultra-Orthodox on Sheinkin.

Purim is not what it used to be. My little nephew dressed up as a digital space-man, while my childhood album shows my first costume: Age three, wrapped in Dad's checked woolen robe, a pipe clenched in my painted mustachioed lip. Purim 1956, my late mother carefully noted. Another page in the album: "City kindergarten, 1959." Yossi Shamir and I dressed as Indians, feathered headdresses, bow and arrow at the ready, faces painted. Shamir has been living in Italy for years. Sometimes we meet. I once showed the picture to his wife and daughters, who speak no Hebrew and to whom Purim is a murky concept. Then there was a picture of my mother's last Purim, at the sanitorium, wearing a strange feathered hat and looking terribly lost.

Only on Purim and Independence Day could we come home as late as we wanted. Now my son comes home after 24 hours of dancing himself into oblivion.

In the morning the Adloyadah Purim parade was held, the civilian version of the military parade on Independence Day. In both, we would take our place on the roof of the Ben-Yehuda Street apartment of grandfather's friend and we would watch, once a year in Purim costume and once a year in army fatigues. Both a little ludicrous, and of both, nothing is left.

And yesterday in Tel Aviv, with no parking spot in sight, with overcrowded malls and cafes bursting at the seams, only the ultra-Orthodox were really joyful.