Bad Omens, Threats, and Punishments: Solar Eclipses in Tanach, Talmud, and Philosophy
1 א

(יג) כִּ֡י הִנֵּה֩ יוֹצֵ֨ר הָרִ֜ים וּבֹרֵ֣א ר֗וּחַ וּמַגִּ֤יד לְאָדָם֙ מַה־שֵּׂח֔וֹ עֹשֵׂ֥ה שַׁ֙חַר֙ עֵיפָ֔ה וְדֹרֵ֖ךְ עַל־בָּ֣מֳתֵי אָ֑רֶץ ה' אֱלֹקי־צְבָא֖וֹת שְׁמֽוֹ׃ (ס)

(13) Behold, He who formed the mountains, And created the wind, And has told man what His wish is, Who turns daybreak into blackness, And treads upon the high places of the earth— His name is the LORD, the God of Hosts.

2 ב
(ט) וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא נְאֻם֙ אדושם ה' וְהֵבֵאתִ֥י הַשֶּׁ֖מֶשׁ בַּֽצָּהֳרָ֑יִם וְהַחֲשַׁכְתִּ֥י לָאָ֖רֶץ בְּי֥וֹם אֽוֹר׃
(9) And in that day —declares my Lord GOD— I will make the sun set at noon, I will darken the earth on a sunny day.
3 ג
(יח) ה֥וֹי הַמִּתְאַוִּ֖ים אֶת־י֣וֹם ה' לָמָּה־זֶּ֥ה לָכֶ֛ם י֥וֹם ה' הוּא־חֹ֥שֶׁךְ וְלֹא־אֽוֹר׃ (יט) כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יָנ֥וּס אִישׁ֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י הָאֲרִ֔י וּפְגָע֖וֹ הַדֹּ֑ב וּבָ֣א הַבַּ֔יִת וְסָמַ֤ךְ יָדוֹ֙ עַל־הַקִּ֔יר וּנְשָׁכ֖וֹ הַנָּחָֽשׁ׃ (כ) הֲלֹא־חֹ֛שֶׁךְ י֥וֹם ה' וְלֹא־א֑וֹר וְאָפֵ֖ל וְלֹא־נֹ֥גַֽהּ לֽוֹ׃
(18) Ah, you who wish For the day of the LORD! Why should you want The day of the LORD? It shall be darkness, not light!— (19) As if a man should run from a lion And be attacked by a bear; Or if he got indoors, Should lean his hand on the wall And be bitten by a snake! (20) Surely the day of the LORD shall be Not light, but darkness, Blackest night without a glimmer.
4 ד
(ט) הִנֵּ֤ה יוֹם־ה' בָּ֔א אַכְזָרִ֥י וְעֶבְרָ֖ה וַחֲר֣וֹן אָ֑ף לָשׂ֤וּם הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ לְשַׁמָּ֔ה וְחַטָּאֶ֖יהָ יַשְׁמִ֥יד מִמֶּֽנָּה׃ (י) כִּֽי־כוֹכְבֵ֤י הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ וּכְסִ֣ילֵיהֶ֔ם לֹ֥א יָהֵ֖לּוּ אוֹרָ֑ם חָשַׁ֤ךְ הַשֶּׁ֙מֶשׁ֙ בְּצֵאת֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖חַ לֹֽא־יַגִּ֥יהַ אוֹרֽוֹ׃
(9) Lo! The day of the LORD is coming With pitiless fury and wrath, To make the earth a desolation, To wipe out the sinners upon it. (10) The stars and constellations of heaven Shall not give off their light; The sun shall be dark when it rises, And the moon shall diffuse no glow.
5 ה
(ח) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר חִזְקִיָּ֙הוּ֙ אֶֽל־יְשַׁעְיָ֔הוּ מָ֣ה א֔וֹת כִּֽי־יִרְפָּ֥א ה' לִ֑י וְעָלִ֛יתִי בַּיּ֥וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֖י בֵּ֥ית ה'
(8) Hezekiah asked Isaiah, “What is the sign that the LORD will heal me and that I shall go up to the House of the LORD on the third day?”
6 ו
(ט) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְשַׁעְיָ֗הוּ זֶה־לְּךָ֤ הָאוֹת֙ מֵאֵ֣ת ה' כִּ֚י יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה ה' אֶת־הַדָּבָ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֣ר דִּבֵּ֑ר הָלַ֤ךְ הַצֵּל֙ עֶ֣שֶׂר מַֽעֲל֔וֹת אִם־יָשׁ֖וּב עֶ֥שֶׂר מַעֲלֽוֹת׃
(9) Isaiah replied, “This is the sign for you from the LORD that the LORD will do the thing that He has promised: Shall the shadow advance ten steps or recede ten steps?”
7 ז
(י) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ יְחִזְקִיָּ֔הוּ נָקֵ֣ל לַצֵּ֔ל לִנְט֖וֹת עֶ֣שֶׂר מַעֲל֑וֹת לֹ֣א כִ֔י יָשׁ֥וּב הַצֵּ֛ל אֲחֹרַנִּ֖ית עֶ֥שֶׂר מַעֲלֽוֹת׃
(10) Hezekiah said, “It is easy for the shadow to lengthen ten steps, but not for the shadow to recede ten steps.”
8 ח
(יא) וַיִּקְרָ֛א יְשַׁעְיָ֥הוּ הַנָּבִ֖יא אֶל־ה' וַיָּ֣שֶׁב אֶת־הַצֵּ֗ל בַּֽ֠מַּעֲלוֹת אֲשֶׁ֨ר יָרְדָ֜ה בְּמַעֲל֥וֹת אָחָ֛ז אֲחֹֽרַנִּ֖ית עֶ֥שֶׂר מַעֲלֽוֹת׃ (פ)
(11) So the prophet Isaiah called to the LORD, and He made the shadow which had descended on the dial of Ahaz recede ten steps.
9 ט

The Biblical account relates that Isaiah the prophet was sent to Hezekiah to inform him that he would die from his illness. Hezekiah prayed for healing, and Isaiah had not left the palace when he was sent back to the king with a different message: The Lord would heal him and give him another 15 years of life. A sign was to confirm the healing. The shadow could move forward or backward on an outdoor stairway. Hezekiah chose for the shadow to move backward (2 Kings 20:10).

On March 5 in 702 B.C.E., the 16th year before Hezekiah’s death, a prominent solar eclipse appeared over the Middle East (according to NASA). Its path crossed the Arabian Peninsula, and the obscuration of the sun over Israel was more than 60 percent.

If a stairway had been engulfed in darkness and then restored to daylight, the shadow would have appeared to retreat. A shadow wave, produced by an eclipse, may also have given the appearance of a shadow retreating.

- BiblicalArchaelogy.org

10 י
(ז) וְכִסֵּיתִ֤י בְכַבּֽוֹתְךָ֙ שָׁמַ֔יִם וְהִקְדַּרְתִּ֖י אֶת־כֹּֽכְבֵיהֶ֑ם שֶׁ֚מֶשׁ בֶּעָנָ֣ן אֲכַסֶּ֔נּוּ וְיָרֵ֖חַ לֹא־יָאִ֥יר אוֹרֽוֹ׃

(7) When you are snuffed out, I will cover the sky And darken its stars; I will cover the sun with clouds And the moon shall not give its light.

11 יא
(ח) כָּל־מְא֤וֹרֵי אוֹר֙ בַּשָּׁמַ֔יִם אַקְדִּירֵ֖ם עָלֶ֑יךָ וְנָתַ֤תִּי חֹ֙שֶׁךְ֙ עַֽל־אַרְצְךָ֔ נְאֻ֖ם אדושם ה'
(8) All the lights that shine in the sky I will darken above you; And I will bring darkness upon your land —declares the Lord GOD.
12 יב
(ג) וְנָֽתַתִּי֙ מֽוֹפְתִ֔ים בַּשָּׁמַ֖יִם וּבָאָ֑רֶץ דָּ֣ם וָאֵ֔שׁ וְתִֽימֲר֖וֹת עָשָֽׁן׃
(3) Before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes, I will set portents in the sky and on earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke;
13 יג
(ד) הַשֶּׁ֙מֶשׁ֙ יֵהָפֵ֣ךְ לְחֹ֔שֶׁךְ וְהַיָּרֵ֖חַ לְדָ֑ם לִפְנֵ֗י בּ֚וֹא י֣וֹם ה' הַגָּד֖וֹל וְהַנּוֹרָֽא׃
(4) The sun shall turn into darkness And the moon into blood.
14 יד
ת"ר בזמן שהחמה לוקה סימן רע לכל העולם כולו משל למה הדבר דומה למלך בשר ודם שעשה סעודה לעבדיו והניח פנס לפניהם כעס עליהם ואמר לעבדו טול פנס מפניהם והושיבם בחושך
Apropos the fact that rain on Sukkot is an indication of divine rebuke, the Gemara cites several related topics. The Sages taught: When the sun is eclipsed it is a bad omen for the entire world. The Gemara tells a parable. To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to a king of flesh and blood who prepared a feast for his servants and placed a lantern [panas] before them to illuminate the hall. He became angry at them and said to his servant: Take the lantern from before them and seat them in darkness.
15 טו
תניא רבי מאיר אומר כל זמן שמאורות לוקין סימן רע לשונאיהם של ישראל מפני שמלומדין במכותיהן משל לסופר שבא לבית הספר ורצועה בידו מי דואג מי שרגיל ללקות בכל יום ויום הוא דואג
It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Meir says: When the heavenly lights, i.e., the sun and the moon, are eclipsed, it is a bad omen for the enemies of the Jewish people, which is a euphemism for the Jewish people, because they are experienced in their beatings. Based on past experience, they assume that any calamity that afflicts the world is directed at them. The Gemara suggests a parable: This is similar to a teacher who comes to the school with a strap in his hand. Who worries? The child who is accustomed to be beaten each and every day is the one who worries.
16 טז
פניו דומין לדם חרב בא לעולם לשק חיצי רעב באין לעולם לזו ולזו חרב וחיצי רעב באין לעולם לקה בכניסתו פורענות שוהה לבא ביציאתו ממהרת לבא וי"א חילוף הדברים
If, during an eclipse, the visage of the sun is red like blood, it is an omen that sword, i.e., war, is coming to the world. If the sun is black like sackcloth made of dark goat hair, it is an omen that arrows of hunger are coming to the world, because hunger darkens people’s faces. When it is similar both to this, to blood, and to that, to sackcloth, it is a sign that both sword and arrows of hunger are coming to the world. If it was eclipsed upon its entry, soon after rising, it is an omen that calamity is tarrying to come. If the sun is eclipsed upon its departure at the end of the day, it is an omen that calamity is hastening to come. And some say the matters are reversed: An eclipse in the early morning is an omen that calamity is hastening, while an eclipse in the late afternoon is an omen that calamity is tarrying.
17 יז
ת"ר בשביל ארבעה דברים חמה לוקה על אב בית דין שמת ואינו נספד כהלכה ועל נערה המאורסה שצעקה בעיר ואין מושיע לה ועל משכב זכור ועל שני אחין שנשפך דמן כאחד
The Sages taught that on account of four matters the sun is eclipsed: On account of a president of the court who dies and is not eulogized appropriately, and the eclipse is a type of eulogy by Heaven; on account of a betrothed young woman who screamed in the city that she was being raped and there was no one to rescue her; on account of homosexuality; and on account of two brothers whose blood was spilled as one.
18 יח

The Akeidas Yitzchak explains that solar eclipse really refers to the death of the righteous, the lights of our community who are extinguished. Yesod Olam goes in the other direction. He understands the four reasons for a solar eclipse as allegories for the movement of the moon. For example, the two brothers who die refer to the sun and the moon who both lose their light, so to speak, during a solar eclipse. Rema offers a different allegorical interpretation, connecting the four reasons to the movements of the astrological signs relating to a solar eclipse. - TorahMusings.com

19 יט
ובשביל ארבעה דברים מאורות לוקין על כותבי (פלסתר) ועל מעידי עדות שקר ועל מגדלי בהמה דקה בא"י ועל קוצצי אילנות טובות
And on account of four matters the heavenly lights are eclipsed: On account of forgers of a fraudulent document [pelaster] that is intended to discredit others; on account of testifiers of false testimony; on account of raisers of small domesticated animals in Eretz Yisrael in a settled area; and on account of choppers of good, fruit-producing trees.
20 כ

The Mishnah Berurah rules that it is forbidden to tell another person that a rainbow is visible, because this violates the prohibition of slander

Since it appears as a sign of human sin, it might be suggested that דבה it would also be forbidden to announce the time of a future solar eclipse. However, unlike a rainbow, a solar eclipse may be entirely predicted, and on the basis of this, R. Avigdor Nebenzahl (b. 1935) ruled that it is permitted to publicize the dates and times of a future eclipse.

- Hakirah.org

21כא

ידוע הכלל אשר אין לחדש ברכה שלא הוזכרה בש"ס )ב"י או"ח סמ"ו(. וי"ל הטעם דאין מברכין ע"ז מפני שהוא סימן לפורעניות הבאה )סוכה כט, א(. ואדרבה צריכה תפלה לבטלה וצעקה ולא ברכה.

There is a well-established principle that it is forbidden to institute a blessing that is not mentioned in the Talmud. And some say that the reason that no blessing was instituted is because the eclipse is a bad omen. To the contrary, it is important to pray for the omen to be annulled, and to cry out without a bracha.

- R' Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1957

22 כב

Our Rabbis instituted blessings over acts of creation and powerful natural events, like lightning and thunder and so on. However, they did not do so for a lunar or solar eclipse. And if only today we could institute a blessing when we are aware that an eclipse is indeed an incredible natural event. But we cannot, for a person is forbidden to make up a blessing. If a person still wants to make some form of a blessing, he should recite the verses “And David blessed...blessed are you, G-d, the L-rd of our father Israel, who performs acts of creation.”

- R. Chaim Dovid HaLevi, Av Beis Din of Tel Aviv and Yaffo

23 כג

A person who has undergone ritual immersion (tevilah) in the day because of contact with a ritually impure source is required to wait until sunset before he is considered to have left his state of tumah, ritual impurity. R. Avigdor Nebenzahl wrote that a total solar eclipse does not bring to an end the period of tumah, even though the sky is dark enough to see the stars. Instead, sunset is required.20 He derived this ruling from the verse (Lev. 22:7): ובא השמש וטהר — “the sun will come and he will become pure.” According to R. Nebenzahl, the sun is required to set in its normal fashion in order for the impurity to be lifted, a condition that does not occur in a solar eclipse. - Hakirah.org

24 כד

Maharal (Be’er Ha-Golah, ch. 6, p. 106) explains that the Gemara 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 in such a way that solar eclipses would happen. - TorahMusings.com

25 כה

Some authorities believe that the Gemara is not talking about solar eclipses. Rav Yonasan Eybeschutz (Ye’aros Devash 2:10) suggests that the Gemara is referring to sunspots. While solar eclipses can be predicted, sunspots cannot and are caused by sin. Rav Yehosef Schwartz (Divrei Yosef 1:9) suggests that the Gemara is discussing unexpected atmospheric phenomena. He says that on 28 Iyar 1838 in Jerusalem at 4pm, the sun turned dark red for about an hour. Everyone was amazed by the sight. Over the next three months, Jerusalem experienced a terrible plague with many deaths. Rav Schwartz says that this was an example of the Talmudic phenomenon. - TorahMusings.com

26 כו

“And they have been created, as Moses tells us, not only that they might send light upon the earth, but also that they might display signs of future events. For either by their risings, or their settings, or their eclipses, or again by their appearances and occultations, or by the other variations observable in their motions, men oftentimes conjecture what is about to happen, the productiveness or unproductiveness of the crops, the birth or loss of their cattle, fine weather or cloudy weather, calm and violent storms of wind, floods in the rivers or droughts, a tranquil state of the sea and heavy waves, unusual changes in the seasons of the year when either the summer is cold like winter, or the winter warm, or when the spring assumes the temperature of autumn or the autumn that of spring. And before now some men have conjecturally predicted disturbances and commotions of the earth from the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, and innumerable other events which have turned out most exactly true: so that it is a most veracious saying that “the stars were created to act as signs, and moreover to mark the seasons.” And by the word seasons the divisions of the year are here intended. And why may not this be reasonably affirmed? For what other idea of opportunity can there be except that it is the time for success? And the seasons bring everything to perfection and set everything right; giving perfection to the sowing and planting of fruits, and to the birth and growth of animals.”

(Creation 1.58–59 PHILO-E)