On Friday, a group of 30 prominent rabbis are gathering for a special prayer session at a specific hour that a 700-year-old book of Kabbalah describes as auspicious for having prayers answered.
This Friday, December 9, is the ninth day of Kislev, the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar. At precisely nine hours after sunrise, the rabbis will gather in a special prayer event for nine minutes, from 1:44 PM until 1:53 PM Jerusalem time (6:44 AM – 6:53 EST), to raise money for charity.
Halachic (Torah law) hours are calculated by figuring the amount of time between sunrise and sunset and dividing by 12. At this time of year in America, a Halachic hour ranges from 40 minutes in northern states to 55 minutes in southern states. To pray in the ninth hour after sunrise tomorrow, multiply the halachic hour by nine and add the to the local time of sunrise.
The rabbis have understood this to be an auspicious time for prayer according to a 14th century kabbalistic book. In Sefer Brit Menucha, Rabbi Abraham ben Isaac of Granada wrote that the number nine was an important element for prayers to be answered. In Judaism, this is referred to as Eyt Ratzon (a time of will), when God is especially open to supplicants. The rabbi specified the ninth year of the Jubilee cycle, the ninth month, the ninth day, and the ninth hour after sunrise.
According to the rabbi, it was in the ninth hour that the Children of Israel were answered on the shores of the Red Sea.
And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were sore afraid; and the children of Israel cried out unto Hashem. Exodus 14:10
Rabbi Abraham also noted that it was in the ninth hour that Elijah’s prayers were answered on the Carmel and God sent fire down from heaven.
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening offering, that Eliyahu the Navi came near, and said: ‘O Hashem, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Yisrael, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Yisrael, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. I Kings 18:36
Though Rabbi Abraham specified each manifestation of nine as auspicious in its own right, the 30 rabbis have taken this one step further and announced that a combination of nines is even more auspicious for prayer. This Friday is the ninth day of the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar. Though it is not the ninth year of the Jubilee cycle, it is the ninth year of the Birkhat HaChama cycle.
Birkhat HaChama (blessing of the sun) is said once every 28 years, thanking God for creating the sun. According to Jewish tradition, the sun has a 28-year solar cycle. At the end of this cycle it returns to the position it was in when the world was created. The last time that it was recited was nine years ago, on April 8, 2009 (14 Nisan 5769).
The announcement of the prayer event has caused some consternation. The advertisement for the charity declares with some urgency that the “ancient and auspicious” window of opportunity comes around once every 28 years. Rationalist Judaism, a blog commenting on the religious Jewish world, noted that a similar announcement three years ago declared the opportunity was even more rare, occurring once every fifty years. Prayer campaigns were also run in 2011 and 2009, when this special Eyt Ratzon was reported to occur once every seven years.
Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, one of the most prominent Ultra-Orthodox rabbis today, admitted he was unfamiliar with this particular Eyt Ratzon, but approved of the event. “Charity alone is also a segula (benevolent ritual),” he said.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, another prominent rabbi, did not support the event, saying, “I have not heard of this. One who wishes for salvation via praying, it is possible to always pray, whenever one wishes.”
Other rabbis object to the entire concept of Eyt Ratzon. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Kohanim Yeshiva in Jerusalem, delivered a lecture in his yeshiva (seminary) in which he condemned the “Four Nines” as an attempt to use magic and shortcuts in place of genuine spiritual growth.