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This year, on August 21, 2017, many Americans will have a chance to experience a total solar eclipse. Total solar eclipses were rarely documented before the 10th century of the Common Era.

But, I wonder, are there any rabbinic sefarim that describe a first-hand account of a solar eclipse? Who and when were these accounts?

Also, was there any halachic analysis added to the description of the experience, e.g. a discussion of the Halacha of witnessing the molad?

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    Do you want to know about any who have written about their experience seeing it? If they knew about the fact that it represented the Molad? If they thought that had Halakhic implications? Please edit to clarify. – Double AA May 3 '17 at 19:34
  • @DoubleAA: Sorry, a sentence was inadvertently deleted before posting the original question. I hope this is more clear. Eclipses are extremely rare, and it is possible that no rabbi in contemporary history ever experienced one. I have reservations for Nashville to see the eclipse there. – Bruce James May 3 '17 at 19:47
  • @BruceJames The Talmud mentions them (see the linked post above), so everyone was aware of them. I'm not sure the "experience" part is on topic. Re halakha see Bet Yosef OC 426. Right now though it seems you want experience-descriptions with or without halakhic appendices, but not halakhic discussion without experience-descriptions. – Double AA May 3 '17 at 19:48
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    @IsaacMoses Do you think this is all on topic?? cf ^^^ – Double AA May 3 '17 at 20:10
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As the OP asked for “Rabbinic Sefarim” without designating a time period, I’d like to use this space to take note of the Chofetz Chaim’s response to a solar eclipse in Radin (I believe it was the March 1922 eclipse, when Radin was in the penumbra). This was documented by his talmid Rabbi Shmuel Pliskin in the 1962 edition of Beis Yaakov newspaper (no relation to the girls’ high school movement).

In it, Rabbi Pliskin describes how the Chafetz Chaim, at Maariv the previous night, declared that it’s a mitzvah to watch the eclipse to see how the sun is a creation and not a creator, how HaShem smites the Avodos Zarah. It makes note of how much he appreciated the eclipse, relishing at the sight the way he would gaze at his Chanukah candles. His talmidim had brought out a lawn chair for him (he was in his 80’s at the time) and he wore his eclipse glasses as he watched the sun wane, after davening an early Shacharis in which he was heard emphasizing phrases such as “yotzer ohr u’vorei choshech,” “ha’me’ir la’aretz v’ladarim aleha,” and “baruch yotzer hame’oros.”

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The Mishnah (Tannaim Era) and Gemara indicate that solar and lunar eclipses were bad omens for the world. The following citation from the Talmud also provides the halachic analysis.

b. Sukkah, Folio 29A and Folio 29B

Our Rabbis taught [on Tannaite authority], When the sun is in eclipse, it is a bad omen for the whole world.

This may be illustrated by a parable.

To what can this be compared?

To a human being who made a banquet for his servants and put up for them a lamp.

When he became wroth with them he said to his servant, 'Take away the lamp from them, and let them sit in the dark'.

It was taught: R`Meir said, Whenever the luminaries are in eclipse, it is a bad omen for Israel since they are inured to blows.

This may be compared to a school teacher who comes to school with a strap in his hand.

Who becomes apprehensive?

He who is accustomed to be daily punished.

Our Rabbis taught, When the sun is in eclipse it is a bad omen for idolaters; when the moon is in eclipse, it is a bad omen for Israel, since Israel reckons by the moon and idolaters by the sun.

If it is in eclipse in the east, it is a bad omen for those who dwell in the east; if in the west, it is a bad omen for those who dwell in the west; if in the midst of heaven it is bad omen for the whole world.

If its face is red as blood, [that is, a sign that] the sword is coming to the world; if it is like sack-cloth, the arrows of famine are coming to the world; if it resembles both, the sword and the arrows of famine are coming to the world.

If the eclipse is at sunset calamity will tarry in its coming; if at dawn, it hastens on its way: but some say the order is to be reversed.

And there is no nation which is smitten that its gods are not smitten together with it, as it is said, And against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments.

But when Israel fulfil the will of the Omnipresent, they need have no fear of all these [omens] as it is said, Thus saith the Lord,' Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the nations are dismayed at them, the idolaters will be dismayed, but Israel will not be dismayed.

Our Rabbis taught, On account of four things is the sun in eclipse: On account of an Ab Beth din who died and was not mourned fittingly; on account of a betrothed maiden who cried out aloud in the city and there was none to save her; on account of sodomy, and on account of two brothers whose blood was shed at the same time.

And on account of four things are the luminaries in eclipse: On account of those who perpetrate forgeries, on account of those who give false witness; on account of those who rear small cattle in the land of Israel; and on account of those who cut down good trees.

And on account of four things is the property of householders given into the hands of the government: On account of those who retain in their possession bills which have been paid; on account of those who lend money on usury; on account of those who had the power to protest [against wrongdoing] and did not protest; and on account of those who publicly declare their intention to give specified sums for charity and do not give.

Rab said, On account of four things is the property of householders confiscated by the state treasury:

(1) On account of those who defer payment of the labourer's hire; on account of those who withhold the hired labourer's wages; on account of those who remove the yoke from off their necks and place it on [the necks] of their fellows

(2) and on account of arrogance.

And the sin of arrogance is equivalent to all [the others] whereas of the humble it is written, But the humble shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

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    This doesn't answer the question. – robev Aug 22 '17 at 2:16
  • @robev - there is no hard definition of 'Rabbi Sefer,' so I took that to mean any rabbinic sage of any era. – Joseph Aug 22 '17 at 2:35
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    The gemarra you quoted doesn't contain any description of first hand experience. Also what halachic analysis is in this gemarra? – robev Aug 22 '17 at 2:36
  • @robev - Do you suspect the Talmud is only providing second- or third-hand account narratives of an eclipse and their significance? – Joseph Aug 22 '17 at 2:41
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    It may be first hand knowledge but how can you say it's a description of a first hand experience? There's no description of any experience. It says "if this, then this", not "I saw this and this is how I reacted". – robev Aug 22 '17 at 2:42

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