What the Talmud Says about Solar Eclipses, and How Rationalist Rabbis Explained It

Surprisingly, given its near-boundless breadth and the ancient rabbis’ interest in astral phenomena, the Talmud contains only a single discussion of solar eclipses, found in Tractate Sukkah. Gil Student summarizes the passage and explains how medieval and modern rabbis addressed the problems it raises:

The first [opinion cited in the Talmud] is that solar eclipses are a bad omen for the whole world. Another opinion is that they are a bad omen for Gentiles while lunar eclipses are a bad omen for Jews—[apparently] because the Jewish calendar is lunar while the Gentile calendar is solar. Additionally, the Talmud states says that four things cause solar eclipses: 1) a deceased chief judge who is eulogized insufficiently, 2) a betrothed woman who is assaulted and not rescued, 3) homosexual relations, and 4) twin brothers killed at the same time.

Rabbi Moses Isserles (1520-1572) asks how the sages can attribute reasons to a solar eclipse, which is a natural occurrence. Whether or not people sin, the solar eclipse will happen. . . . He quotes [earlier sources that] interpret this passage allegorically. Rabbi Isaac ben Moses Arama (1420-1494) explains that the Talmud really refers to the death of the righteous, [when those who are a source of light suddenly go dark]. . . .

[Taking a different approach], Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague (d. 1609) explains that the Talmud is offering reasons why God established nature in such a way that there would be solar eclipses. If people did not sin, we would merit eternal light. However, because God knew people would sin, He created the world so that solar eclipses would happen. Thus the Talmud is not offering the reason for a solar eclipse (which is a natural phenomenon), but the reason behind the reason (why nature is the way it is). . . .

Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschütz (1690-1764), [who was quite aware of and impressed by the scientific discoveries of his day], suggests that the Talmud is referring not to eclipses but to sunspots. While solar eclipses can be predicted, sunspots cannot—because they are caused by sin.

Read more at Torah Musings

More about: Astrology, Maharal, Religion & Holidays, Science and Religion, Talmud

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy