WSJ: Rabbi Bleich and Professor Sarna Dispute the Essence of the Blessing of the Sun

We've been thinking... Did the Beatles have this blessing in mind when they wrote their song?

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it's all right
Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right

Anyway, we love Talmudic disputes - especially when they take place in the Wall Street Journal.

While this one is not fully articulated (they rarely are to start with), you can appreciate the differing views of the rabbi and the professor regarding a simple old blessing. It's nicely presented in the article, "Love the Earth? Bless the Sun," By JULIE WIENER, concluding,
"There is no question that our relationship to the physical world and the sun is different than it was 28 years ago, let alone 2,000 years ago," says Nigel Savage, whose Jewish environmental group, Hazon, is organizing a sunrise ceremony on the roof of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. The Hazon event will also officially launch the Jewish Coalition for a Sustainable Upper West Side, a campaign pushing for more pedestrian- and bike-friendly policies in the neighborhood.

For Mr. Savage and other Jewish environmental activists, it makes sense to connect "blessing the sun with the power of the sun and with some understanding of how the sun's rays are affecting the planet in the 21st century."

The Teva Learning Center, a group that teaches about Judaism and the environment at Jewish day schools, summer camps and Hebrew schools, has dispatched a special "Birchat HaChama" bus. Running solely on reused vegetable oil, the bus has been visiting synagogues and Jewish community centers along the East Coast and in Ohio, sharing information not just about the sun blessing but also about a variety of environmentally friendly technologies, such as solar-powered ovens....

All of this is "a little bemusing" to Rabbi J. David Bleich, a Yeshiva University Talmud professor whose scholarly tome "Bircas HaChammah" was published in 1981 and re-released this year by the Orthodox Jewish publishing company ArtScroll Mesorah. According to Rabbi Bleich, environmental concerns are "issues in and of themselves and are totally unrelated to the blessing of the sun." He sees the blessing as an occasion to acknowledge the wonder of God's creations, not a political statement. "I suppose you can connect anything," he says. "You can draw dots and lines; you don't have to be logical."

But Brandeis's Mr. Sarna points out that the environmentalist remaking of the sun blessing mirrors the transformation over the past few decades of Tu b'Shvat, the Jewish "birthday of the trees," from a Zionist holiday to a sort of Jewish Earth Day. "Some will be unhappy with that, and others will understand that's a process as old as ritual itself," Mr. Sarna says. "When one looks at Jewish history, one finds there are rituals and practices that one generation discarded suddenly take on wonderful significance for a new generation."...more...

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