The Talmud on Eclipses

The Talmud on Eclipses

Here is the only section I have found in the Babylonian Talmud which discuses eclipses (note that the phrase that is translated “lights are in eclipse” is literally comparable to “lights are stricken”):

III.2  Our rabbis have taught on Tannaite authority: When the lights are in eclipse, it is a bad omen for the whole world. It is to be compared to a mortal king who built a palace and finished it and arranged a banquet, and then brought in the guests. He got mad at them and said to the servant, “Take away the light from them,” so all of them turned out to be sitting in the dark.

It has been taught on Tannaite authority: R[abbi] Meir did say, “When the lights of heaven are in eclipse, it is a bad omen for Israel, for they are used to blows. It is to be compared to a teacher who came into the school house and said, ‘Bring me the strap.’ Now who gets worried? The one who is used to being strapped” [T. Suk. 2:6H-D].

III.3  Our rabbis have taught on Tannaite authority:When the sun is in eclipse, it is a bad omen for the nations of the world. [When] the moon is in eclipse, it is a bad omen for Israel, since the gentiles reckon their calendar by the sun, and Israel by the moon. When it is in eclipse in the east, it is a bad omen for those who live in the east. When it is in eclipse in the west, it is a bad omen for those who live in the west. When it is in eclipse in-between, it is a bad omen for the whole world.

When it turns red, it is a sign that punishment by the sword is coming into the world. When it is like sack-cloth, it is a sign that punishment by pestilence and famine are coming into the world. If they are smitten at its entry [into sunset], the punishment will tarry. [When they are smitten] when they rise, the punishment is coming fast. And some say matters are reversed.

You have no nation in the whole world which is smitten, the god of which is not smitten right along with it, as it is said, And against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments (Exo. 12:12). When Israel do the will of the Omnipresent, they do not have to worry about all these omens, as it is said, Thus says the Lord, Do not learn the way of the gentiles, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens, for the nations are dismayed at them (Jer. 10:2) [T. Suk. 2:6E-R]. So idolators will be dismayed, but Israelites should not be dismayed.

III.4  Our rabbis have taught on Tannaite authority:

For four reasons is the sun eclipsed:

[1] Because a head of a court has died and has not been properly mourned,
[2] because a betrothed girl has cried out in a town and none goes to her assistance,
[3] because of pederasty,
[4] and because of two brothers whose blood is spilled simultaneously.

[In Tosefta’s version] And because of four reasons are the lights of heaven eclipsed:

[1] because of counterfeiters,
[2]perjurers,
[3] people who raise small cattle in the land of Israel
[4] and people who cut down good trees.

And because of four sorts of bad deeds in the property of Israelite householders handed over to the government:

[1] because of holding on to writs of indebtedness which have already been paid,
[2] because of lending on interest,
[3] because of pledging funds to charity but not paying up,
and [4] because of having the power to protest and not protesting [wrong-doing] [T. Suk. 2:5].

Said Rab, “For four reasons is the property of householders confiscated for taxes:

[1] “because of those who hold back the wages of a hired hand,
[2] “because of those who oppress a hired hand,
[3] “because of those who remove the yoke from their shoulders and put it on their fellow,
[4] “and because of arrogance.

“But arrogance outweighs all the others. And with reference to humble people, it is written, ‘But the humble shall inherit the earth and delight themselves in the abundance of peace’ (Psa. 37:11).”

(b.Sukkah 29a-29b, Neusner, Jacob, eds. The Babylonian Talmud: a Translation and Commentary. Accordance Electronic ed. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.)

 

 

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I’m a husband, father, and one of those friends who has a terrible habit of not returning phone calls.  I’m really just trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus, and I enjoy meeting great people along the way and maybe having a chance to spend time talking about things deep and trivial.

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