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September Message from Rabbi Louis Zivic, D.D.

Did you know that the Rabbis were able to calculate the appearances of solar eclipses by the 5th century CE? It’s true. Due to the calculations needed to accurately celebrate the new moon, the Rabbis had an intense interest and knowledge of the solar system. Did you also know that Judaism; famed for having a blessing for everything, has no blessing for a solar eclipse? A reason for that, as explained by Rabbi Menachem Posner of Chabad is that while Jews don’t generally have superstitions about the planetary bodies or try to determine the course of our lives by them, we do feel that solar eclipses are not a good thing. The midrash uses a parable, it is like a king (God) who prepares a festive banquet (the earth and its beauty) for his people and then as the feast is about to begin kicks over the lantern lighting the room leaving his guests in darkness (eclipse). The commentator goes on to state that the eclipse is a punishment for sin. As mentioned above, we don’t believe that kind of thing, so the parable has been interpreted to mean that the eclipse is a sign, not a determiner, of “trying times.” I am writing this after the events in Charlottesville, Barcelona, Cabrils, and Finland. These are certainly trying times for all of us, whatever our race or political beliefs. I am also sure that some us wish those trying times on people whose political or racial opinions we do not share. Recently, I met someone who is a former president of a Conservative synagogue, and we got into a discussion about all off this. For my part: I was holding to the position that history was history, the past is the past, so what does a statue matter? His riposte was brilliant, and stabbed me to the heart. He said:“what if someone put up a statue of Hitler in a public place in the U.S.?” Wow! Truthfully, it was a possibility that had never occurred to me and knocked my “moderate” position to pieces. I certainly would be opposed to placing such a statue anywhere (ask me some time about how I feel about Holocaust museums etc.) and I would fight tooth and nail to have it taken, if not torn, down. We are now in the Hebrew month of Elul, a time when we traditionally prepare for the High Holidays. 5778 will begin at sundown, the evening of September 20. I hope that the solar eclipse, Judaism’s thoughts about it and my recent experience will help all of us to consider long held ideas. The New Year is about the future and change, not about yesterday and the fossilization of the past. Karen, Jonathan and I wish everyone, no exceptions, a New Year of health and peace.

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