Monday, June 07, 2010

Tekufat HaChama, pt i

Recently, I returned to the topic of birkat HaChama, and explained my disagreement with Machon Shiloh over their reinterpretation of the gemara. This was based on a very brief summary of the arguments presented in a proclamation, but they helpfully sent me the full articles by Rabbi Yehoshua Buch. I still disagree with their conclusions, but will note that the articles are very well researched.

In the first article, Rabbi Buch does not much challenge the idea that Abaye's statement is made by Abaye, but reinterprets it as an attack on the position put forth in the brayta.

That is, the brayta as encoded in Bavli (and similarly in Yerushalmi) reads that
תנו רבנן הרואה חמה בתקופתה לבנה בגבורתה וכוכבים במסילותם ומזלות כסדרן אומר ברוך עושה בראשית

Abaye explains as follows:
 ואימת הוי אמר אביי כל כ"ח שנין והדר מחזור ונפלה תקופת ניסן בשבתאי באורתא דתלת נגהי ארבע:

The objection, in the article, to this is that Abaye's interpretation of beTekufasah is based on Biblical Hebrew rather than that of Mishnaic Hebrew.

בלשון מקרא: תקופה = הקפה, מחזור, תנועה עיגולית; של השמש: "מִקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם מוֹצָאוֹ וּתְקוּפָתוֹ עַל קְצוֹתָם" (תהילים יט,ז); ושל יחידות הזמן: בסוף השנה - "וַיְהִי לִתְקֻפוֹת הַיָּמִים" (שמואל א א,כ), "וְחַג הָאָסִיף תְּקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָה" (שמות לד,כב), כעבור שנה - "וַיְהִי לִתְקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָה" (דה"ב כד,כג).

(מילון העברית המקראית, מ"צ קדרי)

בלשון חכמים: תקופה = חלק משנת השמש, עונה; בשנה ארבע תקופות: תקופת ניסן (אביב), תקופת תמוז (קיץ), תקופת תשרי (סתיו), תקופת טבת (חורף) (בבלי עירובין דף נו עמוד א).

Since leshon Chachamim leAtzman and leshon Torah leAtzmah
"לשון תורה לעצמה, לשון חכמים לעצמן" (בבלי עבודה זרה דף נח עמוד ב; חולין דף קלז עמוד ב).ש
this constitutes a major flaw in Abaye's explanation of the brayta. Unless of course we reinterpret Abaye's statement such that it is is NOT an explanation of tekufah in the brayta, as indeed the article does.

I would not agree that this is a major flaw in the standard understanding of Abaye's statement. After all, as Rabbi Buch discusses elsewhere in the same article, each of the modifiers in the brayta -- tekufah, mesilotam, etc., is drawn from a pasuk. And we contrast that with the Tosefta which does not have these modifiers. Abaye (or "Abaye") could have spotted these modifiers, noted that they were drawn from pesukim, and concluded that what the author of the brayta intended Biblical usage of these terms, rather than leshon Chachamim. And then, leshon mikra is entirely appropriate!

Furthermore, I don't really agree that Abaye is even using leshon Torah as opposed to leshon Chachamim. Consider Sanhedrin 13a:
אי קסברי יום תקופה גומר בלאו הכי נמי לא למ"ד כוליה חג איכא ולא למאן דאמר מקצת חג איכא אלא קסברי יום תקופה מתחיל
As Rashi explains it:

אי קסברי יום תקופה גומר - יום שהתקופה נופלת בו הוא גמר תקופה שעברה ואינה מתקופה חדשה...ש

That is, the gemara will discuss the yom tekufah, the day that the "tekufah" falls out on. Sure, usually it designates an entire 1/4 of a year, but that is because of a certain astronomical event that occurs on the first day of that "tekufah". That is, there are two equinoxes and two solstices in the year, and these are turning points in the sun's movement in the sky. A solstice when it reaches its northmost or southmost extreme, and an equinox when the sun is at its zenith over the equator. This is a fixed, finite, astronomical event. And one can refer to the day in which the "tekufah" falls, which is the beginning (or alternatively, end) of a tekufah.

Abaye is talking about such a celestial event. He understands it as the vernal equinox, which is then the beginning of a specific movement. But then restricts it to a specific vernal equinox. This is not necessarily adopting leshon Torah instead of leshon Chachamim.

(Furthermore, there might well be a difference between tekufot haShanah and tekufat haChamah, such that the word tekufah can have something other than its usual meaning. The Sun has a specific tekufah, which may be a circle, while the year has various tekufot, based on that.)

Further, the author of the article offers his own interpretation of the brayta as the authentic interpretation, while that of Abaye is (presumably) a misinterpretation. Unless of course Abaye wasn't interpreting but arguing. But interpretations of braytot can be quite subjective.

I disagree with the interpretation of the brayta. Rav Buch cites the Tosefta in Brachot:
הרואה את החמה ואת הלבנה ואת הכוכבים ואת המזלות - אומר: 'ברוך עושה בראשית'.

And makes the claim that the brayta in our Bavli and Yerushalmi is of the same opinion. Therefore, that the brayta in Bavli means that one should bless the sun every time he sees it. Yet, the Tosefta in full (and he cites this part towards the end of this article is):
הרואה את החמה ואת הלבנה ואת הכוכבים ואת המזלות - אומר: 'ברוך עושה בראשית'. - רבי יודה אומר: המברך על החמה - הרי זו דרך אחרת. וכן היה רבי יודה אומר: הרואה את הים תדיר ונשתנה בו דבר - צריך לברך.
Rabbi Yuda is of the position that one should NOT always be blessing the sun. Maybe one should never bless the sun, or maybe one should not be doing it every time.

Who is the Tanna of our brayta? Rabbi Buch claims it is the same as the Tanna Kamma of the Tosefta. And so, it means that one should always bless the sun, moon, sky, etc. And Abaye is arguing on the entire halacha, and setting a new fixed time for all the berachot on all the sights in the brayta.

But another interpretation, which strikes me as more logical, is that the Tanna of the brayta is Rabbi Yehuda (who says, in context, that one blesses on the sea lifrakim, at intervals). The problem is the "tadir" aspect of it. But on occasion, one can and should bless.

If so, it is not just creative, nonsensical and null additions to the brayta with all these modifiers, but rather we are told just what perakim one should bless on. The sun in its tekufah, the moon in its tekufah, or perhaps in its largeness, when it is biggest; or according to Yerushalmi, when it is newest. The kochavim in their paths and the mazalot in their time.

Rabbi Buch argues that these modifiers are nonsensical, and are therefore null. Or to be more precise, these are just flowery additions to match the source pasuk in Tanach. Thus:
המילה "במסילותם" בהקשר לכוכבים לא באה ללמד על זמנה של הברכה על ראיית הכוכבים (כשהם במסילותם), שהרי תמיד הכוכבים במסילותם. כמו כן, המילה "בעיתם" בהקשר למזלות לא באה ללמד על זמנה של הברכה על ראיית המזלות, שהרי תמיד המזלות בעיתם. מעתה יש לומר, שגם המילה "בתקופתה" בהקשר לחמה וגם המילה "בגבורתה" בהקשר ללבנה לא באו ללמד על זמנה של הברכה על ראיית החמה (כשהיא בתקופתה) והלבנה, שהרי כל הדברים המנויים בברייתא נאמרו כאחד ואין לחלק ביניהם. כל כוונתו של התנא של הברייתא לא היתה אלא להשתמש בביטויים שיש להם זיקה לפסוקים מן המקרא. 

But just because we cannot understand a fixed time does not mean that it does not exist. For example, he dismisses the mazalot beItam because the mazalot are always in their time. But this is simply incorrect! Read about the Zodiac.
In astrology, the zodiac denotes those signs that divide the ecliptic into twelve equal zones of celestial longitude. As such, the zodiac is a celestial coordinate system, to be more precise, an ecliptic coordinate system, taking the ecliptic as the origin of latitude, and the position of the sun at vernal equinox as the origin of longitude...
The Babylonian calendar as it stood in the 7th century BC assigns each month a constellation, beginning with the position of the Sun at vernal equinox, which, at the time, was the Aries constellation ("Age of Aries"), for which reason the first astrological sign is still called "Aries" even after the vernal equinox has moved away from the Aries constellation due to the slow precession of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. A scientific analysis of the constellations suggests Aries' was located at the vernal equinox at the time of the Bronze Age (~2700 BC),[4][5]thereby suggesting an earlier establishment of the constellations. 

Read it in detail, and you will see that the mazalot, the signs of the zodiac, had everything to do with the position of the Sun in its path across the sky over the course of the year. Thus:
In astronomy, the zodiac (Greek: ζῳδιακός, zōdiakos) is the ring of constellations that lines the ecliptic, which is the apparent path of the Sun across the sky over the course of the year.
There absolutely are times to the mazalot. And just because a very late Acharon cannot determine the meaning of "its time" does not mean that "its time" doesn't exist. If so, we have a meaning for the tefukah of the sun, for the largeness of the moon, and for the time of each mazal. What the stars in their paths means is yet to be determined (e.g. comets, shooting stars? perhaps when the constellation you are looking at reaches a certain ascendant position, or specific "meaningful" checkpoints in its yearly circular path?), but I would rather assume that it does in fact have a meaning, since all the other phrases in the brayta have meaning.

Even if we dismiss Abaye, for other reasons, we should still assume that the brayta as it appears in the Bavli and Yerushalmi meant to refer to a specific time, and this would likely be the vernal equinox. Abaye bases himself on the calendar of Shmuel, which is inaccurate, and by our time is well off of the vernal equinox. But that does not mean that we should reject the brayta cited lehalacha in both the Bavli and Yerushalmi and not make this blessing during the actual vernal equinox.

That the setama which introduces Abaye's statement does not specify which portion of the brayta his comment is on -- that does not convince me at all. Firstly, it is the first portion of the brayta, so it may readily be inferred that that is what he is commenting on. Furthermore, Abaye's statement uses the term tekufah, so it would be even more apparent.

(Also, to claim out of the blue that Abaye's statement, or the setama's statement, is intended to argue with the brayta is a bit surprising. In general, late Amoraim do not argue with braytot, particularly braytot they know about, such as here, where Abaye is purportedly commenting and arguing on this brayta. This is mitigated by the claim that אפשר שאביי סבור כרבי יהודה שחלק על התנא של הברייתא שבתוספתא, but it would have to be for me a lot more than "efshar". We would need to definitively make this assertion, rather than leaving it as a possibility. It is also interesting that the give and take of the gemara does not recognize that Abaye's statement is a rejection of the brayta, and ask what his Tannaitic basis is. Still, it is a possibility. However, I do believe that as I set it up, with the Tanna of the present brayta being roughly equivalent to Rabbi Yehuda in the Tosefta, everything works out much more neatly and less farfetchedly.)

I apologize for the scattered nature of this post, but it is a reaction. It probably makes more sense if you read the article first.

At any rate, this is my reaction to the first of the two articles. While there was some good research that went into this, I disagree almost entirely with the sevara that went into it. The second article presents a somewhat stronger argument, which I will try to make even stronger, before explaining where and how I differ. But that is for a subsequent post.


Eliyahu S. said...

I'm sorry, but I must disagree with this whole argument because of the very flawed explanation of the constellations.

The fact is that each month is assigned one constellation - the one that appears most prominently throughout the nights of that month, but that is not the only constellation seen during those nights!

The twelve constellations form a relatively fixed band around our solar system. Throughout the course of each night we will see between four and six or seven of them, depending upon the length of the night. We see them in order for the season, and we see the constellation of the month "rising" near the beginning of the evening and "setting" towards morning (more or less.) But we also see the constellations preceding it in different parts of the sky, and the ones following it appearing through the course of the night!

So any particular constellation will be visible for a greater or lesser amount of time on any given night over the course of four or six months of the year! During the "month of Aries" we will also see Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer for greater or lesser parts of the night. And Aries will also be visible during those months (except during Cancer, when the night is too short in most places.)

The constellations wax and wane on an annual cycle, as the moon does on a monthly cycle, etc. They're not just here for a month and then gone; at first we'll see them setting in the evening, then slowly they'll take up most of the night, and finally wane again to be seen rising in the morning as night fades, until they come back again a half year later or so.

With this understanding, the whole concept of beitam seems to me much more as Rav Buch explained - a generic statement about their annual cycle waxing and waning, to correspond with the moon's monthly cycle.

joshwaxman said...

"I'm sorry, but I must disagree with this whole argument because of the very flawed explanation of the constellations."
my argument is not only about the constellations, but OK, let us focus on that.

the explanation is drawn from Wikipedia, rather than being my own, but let us examine your argument and see if it is borne out.

"The fact is that each month is assigned one constellation - the one that appears most prominently throughout the nights of that month, but that is not the only constellation seen during those nights!"
so? did i suggest otherwise? i certainly never believed otherwise!

my point was that there is certainly a concept of a "time" for the constellation. this is when, as you write, it appears most prominently. that you can see other constellations during that point matters not. of course you can! otherwise, why would the brayta need to specify "be'itam"?! but just as the sun is blessed only bitkufatah, and the moon is blessed only bigvuratah, though both are of course visible at other times, so too the mazalot are only blessed during their "time", be'itam or kesidran.

rav buch mistakenly wrote that there is no sensible explanation of be'itam, because they are always visible. that is nonsense! there is an existant meaningful explanation of be'itam when it comes to mazalot. only once it is nonsense does no other explanation exist, and only then can he extrapolate to the sun. (at the very least, he is in a position of putting forth his explanation against an existing, rational and straightforward explanation of the phrase.)

what you write does not change that a whit.

also, don't reduce what i wrote to this one point. there is also the very sensible explanation of why Abaye would understand it as lashon mikra; and a proof that tekufa in the sense Abaye takes it is not only lashon mikra; and more.

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

just to make this clearer. this is not a choice among different interpretations, where you get to choose the one you personally feel is more convincing.

rather, there is the simple, straightforward, traditional interpretation of the brayta, in which the brayta gives times for a blessing for a bunch of events. Rav Buch wishes to overturn this interpretation, and declare that all the explicit modifiers are meaningless. his basis and proof for this is that "the mazalot in their time" makes no sense. since there is no sensible explanation for this phrase, it must mean always, and so too the sun and the moon means always, despite having explicit modifiers which do make sense.

i am pointing out that Rav Buch is wrong and that a perfectly sensible , reasonable explanation exists, and one which would make immediate sense to the reader in those days as well. therefore, Rav Buch's assertion is simply incorrect, and his radical reinterpretation is unjustified.

kol tuv,

No name said...

"Traditional interpretation of the brayta" ?

If we can only go by "traditional interpretation of brayta" (or anything for that matter) as a rule, there is no room for hiddush and the entire Talmud is turned on its head. I'm not sure I understand this type of argument given the nature of Talmud and particularly gemara's role vis a vis the mishna.

joshwaxman said...

"If we can only go by "traditional interpretation of brayta" "

who ever said that we can only go by the tradition interpretation? certainly not I! take a look around parshablog. for example, read this series of posts; or read this series of posts. this is my own mechkar, where I suggest plenty of interpretations which are at odds with the traditional.

but as i learned in the few graduate school courses in academic Talmud study I took with Dr. Tzvi Hirsch Shteinfeld, truly an expert at this stuff, you first have to find legitimate cause for reinterpretation. Rav Buch did this. That is why he raised a series of problems before proposing his radical reinterpretation.

There is a reason that the traditional interpretation is the traditional one. A bunch of really smart people, smarter than me, and smarter than Rav Buch -- who are called Rishonim -- thought that this was the most logical interpretation of the given material. If you want to reinterpret, you must convince me that the traditional one is less logical and the reinterpretation is the more logical.

Yet the "problems" Rav Buch presented -- (1) that tekufah in this sense was leshon mikra; (2) that leshon mikra didn't make sense; (3) that mazalot be'itam does not make any sense -- these are simply false!

kol tuv,

Ari S. said...

I enjoyed this post and I could not help but to comment on it and some of the comments. Firstly, obviously Abaye cannot be stating something that he personally came up with. If one factors in the "inaccuracy" of Shmuel's tekufah, one will see that the actual vernal equinox in the time of Abaye did NOT align with the calculation suggested by Shmuel. The two accurately align in the third century B.C.E. making it quite clear that Abaye was repeating a tradition that started during the time of the Anshei Keneses HaGedola (those who established most of our brachos).

Secondly, the mazal of a month is not the constellation that is seen throughout the month; it is the constellation NOT seen during the month. The constellation that rises with the sun is the mazal of the month. This fact is cited by Rashi (R"H 11b) and found in Ptolemy's writings. The reason why the constellation is seen in modern times is due to axial precession (also called precession of the equinoxes). ALthough the sun no longer remains in this constellation during this month, the mazal of the month remains (see Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 3:7).

I am not sure what you are suggesting the mazalos "in their times" means, but I believe I agree with you in theory. It is not plausible that it would mean when the vernal equinox is in the sign Aries again. For a full precession of the equinox to occur one must wait over twenty-five thousand years. The rate of precession is 1 degree every 72 years (approximately). The Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 3:7)and Ibn Ezra (preface to HaTaamim) record it as 1/70. Ptolemy maintained it was 1/100 and there are Rishonim, such as Ibn Chiya, who follow in his footsteps. I would suggest, and perhaps this is what you meant, that it is the following. The months of the Hebrew calendar are lunar; the zodiac is based purely on the solar calendar, though. Perhaps, "in their times" would mean in the years that the lunar months aligned with the solar positions of the mazalos. For example, Aries would rise with the sun at the start of Nisan. Due to axial precession (precession of the equinoxes), one would need to adjust the position of Aries by the appropriate amount of degrees. The same could be true of "the stars in their paths". Comets due not have a set path, as their orbits are not based on specific times of the year. Shooting stars are similar, although meteor showers happen annually at the same times of the solar year. Other points of rising/setting of constellations do not seem to be mentioned by ancient astronomers and that seems to be a far fetched theory.

joshwaxman said...

Ari S.:

Your input is extremely helpful, because the astrological data is certainly outside my field of specialty.

A few points:
In terms of dating Abaye's statement, this is a good point. But to play devil's advocate on behalf of Machon Shiloh, this really only gives us info on the dating of Shmuel's calendar, back to Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. Even if in Abaye's time -- or, if the statement is stammaitic or even post-Geonic, it could be that it was propounded by someone who simply didn't care that it wasn't precisely the vernal equinox. How many days was it off in Abaye's time? And perhaps it could be a symptom of rabbinic intransigence and holding up of calculated tradition over direct observation...

"Secondly, the mazal of a month is not the constellation that is seen throughout the month; it is the constellation NOT seen during the month"
very interesting. so that would seem to rule out the mazal of that month. perhaps, then, if the mazal was not seen during that month, the next month, when it was first seen, after it not being visible, could be considered "its time".

a quick clarification question -- according to Wikipedia on Zodiac, the time Aries was located at the vernal equinox was at the time of the Bronze Age, approx. 2700 BCE (or I've seen 2900 BCE). So how quick is this axial precession? That is, by the year 100 CE, which is about the time of the brayta, would the constellation be seen in its month? If so, then be'itam / kisidran could still be salvaged as the time of the mazalot.

kol tuv,

Ari S. said...

My pleasure, although I wish to point out that astronomy is more of my field, I am not an astrologer. Due to it being a common theme in Talmudic and Rabbinic passages, though, I have spent some time trying to research what it is that they were discussing and I have tried to understand the system that they are describing.

I suppose it is possible that the author of the statement was continuing a calculated tradition over observation, but I would like to point out that in Abaye's time this was off by 5-6 days and in Shmuel's time it was off by 3-4 (every century it slips by one day with the exception of every fourth century when it does not slip. This reflects the differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars). Shmuel is famous for his knowledge of astronomy (see Berachos 58b) and it is extremely unlikely that he was unaware of the date of the actual equinox (a culturally significant and widely discussed point in time). Rather, it is clear that Shmuel was continuing the tradition that started sometime between 400-200 BCE. That being established, there is no reason to suspect that Abaye would try to establish this bracha based on observation.

I guess it is possible that the bracha would be on the mazal's reappearance after "its month", but do you really think that the Gemara is referring to a monthly bracha? Based on birchas hachama, wouldn't you think it is based on a less frequent phenomenon? That's why I would suggest that it is when the lunar month aligns with the solar month. As mentioned in my earlier comment, the mazalos rise and set based on the solar year. That means that the observational system of mazalos will not be accurate for the Hebrew calendar as the months do not begin on the same days as these stars are rising. Perhaps, on the infrequent years that it does this bracha might be recited(although I do not know the level of accuracy required, one degree, five degrees, etc.? If it has to be within one degree then this is too rare to be considered).

The vernal equinox slipped into Pisces during the first century BCE, (at the latest)so by 100 CE it was no longer in Aries. It was many centuries prior to this that it was at the first portion of Aries (1814 BCE).


joshwaxman said...

thanks again for your input.

in terms of:
"but do you really think that the Gemara is referring to a monthly bracha? Based on birchas hachama, wouldn't you think it is based on a less frequent phenomenon?"
i would note that לבנה בגבורתה or as some kitvei yad have הרואה לבנה בחידושה, there would be precedent for a monthly phenomenon. and similarly, laying aside Abaye's interpretation, הרואה חמה בתקופתה could be a four-times-a-year affair. so yes, I am thinking of a monthly bracha, though it would not always hold. namely, it was not the ritualized regular affair it was recently. rather, one who *happened* to be up at night during that time period, and the sky was clear such that he could see, and he *happened* to look at that portion of the night sky and recognize the mazal in its time, would make such a blessing.

"The vernal equinox slipped into Pisces during the first century BCE, (at the latest)so by 100 CE it was no longer in Aries."
interesting. to clarify, does that mean that during the month whose mazal was still Aries, Aries was indeed visible in the night sky?

"Shmuel is famous for his knowledge of astronomy (see Berachos 58b) and it is extremely unlikely that he was unaware of the date of the actual equinox (a culturally significant and widely discussed point in time)."
ah, but there is no evidence that Shmuel held that this was the interpretation of the brayta. he might have held that the bracha should be recited at the true vernal equinox... and then Abaye could have been working, not from observation, but from theory.


joshwaxman said...

i see, though, in a footnote in Soncino that levana bigvruratah may also refer to the vernal equinox, since the spring tides are greatest.

he interprets "the signs of the zodiac in their orderly progress" as witnessing the precession of the equinoxes. this might involve tracking and noting over the course of time this movement.

and the kochavim bemesilotam he interprets as the orbits of the planets, together with their epicycles.

one *could* also say regarding the latter two that there is no fixed time, if that is indeed their interpretation...

Ari S. said...

After the rquinox moved into Pisces, Aries was visible during Nisan.

Interesting theories. What would that Soncino mean? Since the rate of precession is 1 degree every 72 years and 1 degree is hardly noticeable, a person would never "see" precession. It would only be noticed by viewing old star maps and noticing that that does not match with the current sky. This is how Hipparchus, Ptolemy, Al Biruni, Newton and all others have studied it.

joshwaxman said...

something quite close to the way the folks at Mechon Shiloh are interpreting it, I think. Here is the full text of the footnotes, and note my bolding:

4. The orbits of the planets which are now known to be ellipses, were, on the Ptolemaic system, which prevailed at that time, assumed to be traced out by a most ingenious combination of eccentric circles and epicycles, (v. for instance, the epicyclic theory of the moon in Feldman W.M., Rabbinical Mathematics and Astronomy, London, 1931, pp. 132ff). Hence the contemplation of the planets in their orbits was an adequate reason for pronouncing the blessing.

5. The vernal or autumnal equinox is not a fixed point in relation to the signs of the zodiac, but keeps on changing its position to the extent of 50.1". (50.1 seconds of arc) per year. This movement which is called 'precession of the equinoxes' is due to the continual shifting of the point of intersection of the ecliptic with the equator, but was believed by the ancients to be due to the progressive movement of the signs of the zodiac. As the result of precession, the equinoctial point which 2,000 years ago was the beginning of the sign Ram (first point of Aries) has since shifted 30" to the sign Pisces, although it is still spoken of as the first point of Aries.

Ari S. said...

Are you suggesting that everytime someone would think about the cycles and recognize the calculations necessary for their cycles (based on Ptolemaic or cuttent system) he would make a bracha? That would have astronomers making this bracha several times a day! If one were to read Ptolemy, the Rambam, Ibn Ezra, or any other of the ancient astronomical writings he would need to make a bracha after each chapter?

The rate of precession you are quoting is the same as I mentioned 1 degree every 72 years. This is not a very noticeable phenomenon. It was only discovered by Hipparchus by comparing observation to old astronomical texts. The mechanism behind it was not fully understood until Newton, some even thought that it was due to something they termed "trepidation" in which the zodiac moves back and forth. The Rambam attributes it to the zodiacal wheel shifting over time like you mention above (Yesodai HaTaorah 3:7. There is freeware called Stellarium that allows you to "recreate" the night sky, if you want you can plug in the dates and click on the options to display the equator and ecliptic. The points where they cross are the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.

Also, just to clariffy, I was not suggesting that Shmuel originated the statement. Rather, Shmuel was clearly more interested in the calculated equinox and not the observed one. This is proven by the fact that his system only works with observation back in 400-200 BCE. I find it improbable that Abaye was unaware of the date of the erquinox since it was extremely culturally signifcant in that region. Rather, it seems he was following in Shmuel's footsteps when he suggested the bracha based on calculation and not observation.

joshwaxman said...

no, because the brayta says הרואה. i think what Soncino is suggesting is that someone who understands this movement, and goes out at night and sees the planets or constellations and contemplates the awesomeness and perfection of the celestial bodies and their movements, as they were set into motion by the Creator, should express his wonder, awe and appreciation by means of this blessing.



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