lunar eclipse
lunar eclipseMorguefile

Israelis will be treated on Shabbat to a rare astronomical event: A full eclipse of the moon, set to take place as the moon rises, as dusk falls upon Israel Saturday evening. The eclipse will be visible from all of Asia and Australia, seen as the moon is rising over Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and setting over northwest North America.

The Israeli Astronomical Society says that the eclipse will occur in the skies over Israel just as the sun is setting, guaranteeing a full view of the phenomenon, assuming clear skies. The full eclipse will be visible for 26 minutes, from 4:31 PM through 4:57 PM. The eclipse will end altogether at 7:30 PM. Sunset is at 4:34 PM.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes behind the earth so that the earth blocks the sun's rays from striking the moon, which can occur only when the sun, earth, and moon are aligned exactly, or very closely so, with the earth in the middle. Hence, a lunar eclipse can only occur the night of a full moon. Unlike with a solar eclipse, no special equipment is required to view a lunar eclipse safely, and it may be viewed with the naked eye.

Jewish tradition has mixed views on the mystical and eschatological meaning of lunar eclipses. On the one hand, the Talmud (Tractate Sukkah 29a) says that lunar eclipses are a sign of Divine wrath against the Jewish people for moral failings, while solar eclipses are a bad sign for non-Jewish nations; the Jews date their calendar based on the phases of the moon, while the non-Jews base theirs on the solar year. On the other hand, Jewish tradition repeatedly says that astrological and astronomical signs do not affect the Jewish people, and that the Jews' direct relationship with G-d overcomes any “natural” effects of the movement of heavenly bodies that could affect other nations.