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For the first time since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of Jews in its successor states will be able to openly make the "blessing on the sun," which celebrates the creation of the world 5769 years ago according to Jewish tradition.
"Unlike during the Soviet era, the Russian authorities are giving their full cooperation," Rabbi Moti Weissberg, director of the Jewish Community of Moscow, told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview this week.
"They will provide security for the thousands we expect to come to participate in this historic event. And since it happens this year on the eve of Pessah it gives us the opportunity to explain the meaning of the holiday."
Chabad is organizing "blessing on the sun" celebrations in 500 communities in 15 countries, a Chabad spokesman in Israel said.
According to Jewish tradition the sun was created on a Wednesday, the fourth day of creation in the Jewish month of Nisan. Tradition also has it that God placed the sun in the heavens - relative to the earth - on the vernal equinox.
Jewish tradition assumes that a solar year is exactly 365.25 days. Therefore, according to this calculation every 28 years the spring equinox falls on a Wednesday.
The last time this happened was in 1981, when the Soviet regime was still in power. The year 1897 was probably the last time that Russian Jews were not prevented by the Soviets from openly making the blessing of the sun.
This year the blessing of the sun, which is made in the first hour after the sun rises on Wednesday, coincides with Pessah eve.
Weissberg, who is a Chabad Hassid, discounted messianic predictions that this rare occurrence of the blessing of the sun on Pessah eve had radical metaphysical ramifications.
"I've heard the rumors but there is nothing in them," he said.
"Obviously, every mitzva that a Jew does, including the blessing of the sun, brings the redemption closer. But the fact that the blessing of the sun falls on Pessah eve is not significant in itself. It has happened 13 times since the creation of the Earth."
The rumors that Weissberg mentioned were based on the teachings of Rabbi Meir Yechiel Halevi of Ostrovtza (1852-1928). Halevi noted that two miraculous redemptions occurred when the blessing of the sun fell on Pessah eve.
The Exodus from Egypt took place when the solar cycle renewed.
Similarly, in the Purim story God granted the Jews of Persia redemption from their enemies after they prayed and fasted on the 13th, 14th and 15th of Nisan in a year when the blessing of the sun was recited.
Meanwhile, Tel Aviv University astronomer Dr. Noah Brosch, who is also director of the Wise Observatory, west of Mitzpe Ramon, said that Jewish calculations were incorrect.
"I fully respect religious Jews' faith and I have no intention of criticizing belief, but nothing special is happening this Wednesday," Brosch said.
"In fact, the spring equinox already occurred on March 22."
In contrast to normative Jewish tradition, the length of the solar year, while changing from year to year, is really a little less than 365 and a quarter days. Actually, a minority opinion held by the Tanaic scholar Ada Bar Ahava recognized this fact. Over the years and centuries the rabbis' calculation of the vernal equinox has gradually become later and later than the real equinox.
Weissberg said he was aware of the discrepancy between the Jewish calculation and the scientific one. Nevertheless, he said that the making of the blessing was determined by the rabbis, not scientists.
The blessing recited is the same as the one recited upon experiencing various natural phenomena, including lightning, comets and meteor showers; as well as upon witnessing wondrous natural topography, such as great mountains, rivers and vast wilderness.
"Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who makes the works of creation."