When do we add the prayer for dew and rain?
Rabbanit Surale Rosen
She'elaWhen do we add the prayer for dew and rain (ve-ten tal u-matar – ותן טל ומטר) in places where the rainy season is in a different time from Israel's?
The Mishnah and Gemara (Taanit 10a) address the various times to begin adding the prayer for rain in and outside of Israel:
Mishna: On the third of Marheshvan they begin to request rain. Rabban Gamliel says: on the seventh of this month, fifteen days after the festival [of Sukkot], so that the last pilgrim of the People of Israel will have reached the Euphrates River.
Contrary to Tanna Kamma (the unattributed position at the beginning of the Mishna), Rabban Gamliel posited that the prayer for rain should be delayed until the Jews visiting Israel for the festival of Sukkot have returned to their homes, and therefore postpones the starting date for this prayer to the seventh of Heshvan, fifteen days after the end of the festival. Rabban Gamliel does not contest the need for rain immediately after the grains are collected but believes the prayer should be delayed nonetheless.
The Gemara (ibid. 4a) raises the possibility of two different dates on which to begin praying for rain: as long as there was a Temple, the Gemara accepts Rabban Gamliel’s position that the prayer should be delayed until the seventh of Heshvan, to allow the pilgrims enough time to return home. However, after the Temple was destroyed, the prayer should be recited starting immediately after the holiday of Sukkot is over, in Musaf of Shemini Atzeret
The Ritva (10a) and Ran (2a) agree that today, since there is no pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, there is no reason to delay praying for rain, and the prayer for rain should be recited from motzei Sukkot, especially since the need for rain in Israel is significant. Conversely, according to the Rif and Rambam the prayer should be recited only from the seventh of Heshvan.
The Gemara also addresses the recitation of the prayer outside of Israel (10a):
Rabbi Elazar said: The halakhah is according to Rabban Gamliel. A baraita teaches: Ḥananya says: And in the Diaspora, sixty days into the season. Rav Huna bar Hiyya said in the names of Shmuel: The halakha is according to Ḥananya.
According to Hananya, whose position is accepted by the Rabbis, due to the difference in climate outside of Israel, the prayer for rain is recited starting sixty days after the autumnal equinox (referred to as tekufat tishrei – תקופת תשרי). The Ritva explains that this date was set for Babylonian Jews, since an earlier rain in their area would only cause damage; however, in other dryer climates the prayer for rain should be recited earlier.
The Ritva explains that there is no real reason to delay the prayer for rain in Israel, where rain is needed right after Sukkot; the only reason for the delay was Rabban Gamliel’s consideration of the pilgrims. There is no reason to delay beginning to pray for rain outside of Israel, where there is no other consideration other than when rain is needed. Therefore, according to the Ritva, communities in different countries should begin praying for rain based on the needs in their climate, and not wait until sixty days after the autumnal equinox, which is the right time for rain in Babylonia, but not a relevant consideration for other climates.
The Gemara (14b) addressed this deliberation by the Ritva, in the case of the people of Nineveh, who sent Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi (‘Rabbi’) a question about praying for rain in the month of Tammuz:
The people of Nineveh sent to Rabbi: We, who require rain even during the season of Tammuz, what should we do? Are we likened to individuals, or to a community? Are we likened to individuals, and therefore should pray for rain in the blessing: ‘Shomea Tefilla,’ or are we likened to a community, and should therefore pray for rain in ‘the Blessing of the Years’? He sent to them: You are likened to individuals, and should therefore pray for rain in the blessing ‘Shomea Tefilla.’
The people of Nineveh ask Rabbi: According to halakhah, we stop praying for rain on Pesach; but what about communities who live in a climate that is different from Israel? Should they continue to pray for rain in the Blessing of the Years (the ninth blessing in the Amidah) for as long as the rainy season lasts in their own climate, or should they add a separate prayer in the text that allows for a personal prayer – the blessing of ‘Shomea Tefilla’?
Rabbi responds that the people of Nineveh should stop praying for rain in the Blessing of the Years on Pesach along with the entire Jewish community, but may continue to pray for rain in ‘Shomea Tefilla.’
Should Rabbi’s response be understood as a ruling for a specific community in a specific country? Or as an allowance to begin praying for rain at a time that is appropriate in a given climate, even at times that are not mentioned in the Gemara?
The Rambam in his Mishna commentary on Taanit 1:3 explains that the law outside of Israel differs from both Israel and Babylonia, which are addressed explicitly in the Gemara; in other climates, the prayer for rain should be recited based on need, and not sixty days after the autumnal equinox:
However, in other countries asking for rain should be done in the appropriate time for rain in that place, as by the example of the seventh of Heshvan, but if the rains were delayed based on the proportion of the times stated here, they should fast based on this ratio … and in some countries Marheshvan is summer, and the rains at that time are not a blessing but rather a destructive force – so why would the people in that place ask for rain in Marheshvan?
However, in The Laws of Prayer (2:17), the Rambam rules that communities that reside in places that require rain in different times than those mentioned in the Gemara should not add the prayer for rain in the Blessing of the Years – but rather, in ‘Shomea Tefilla’:
In places that require rain in the summer months, such as the distant islands, they petition for rains when they need them, in ‘Shomea Tefilla.’
Similarly the Shulchan Aruch rules: (Orah Haim 117:2):
Individuals who need rain in summertime should not request rain in the Blessing of the Years, but rather in ‘Shomea Tefilla.’ And even a large city such as Nineveh, or one great land such as Spain in its entirety, or Ashkenaz in its entirety – these are like individuals, and should ask in ‘Shomea Tefilla.’
According to the Rosh (Resp. 4:10), the main reason for setting a time to begin praying for rain was the needs of the place; therefore, the various times that appear in the Gemara in reference to Israel or Babylonia are appropriate for those climates, and have no bearing on prayer customs in other climates. Rabbi’s response should be read as relevant to the people of Nineveh at that time, when the Jews were primarily distributed in Israel and Babylonia; but in his own time, the Rosh argued that the prayer for rain should be recited in the Blessing of the Years in relation to the need for rain in each location. When the Rosh arrived in Provence, he discovered the community there was praying for rain in the Blessing of the Years from the seventh of Heshvan, instead of waiting sixty days after the autumnal equinox. The Rosh reports this custom favorably, and agrees with the decision.
Similarly, the Rosh posited that in Ashkenaz, where rain is needed after Pesach for local agriculture, the community should continue praying for rain even after Pesach. In Israel, the grain ripens around Pesach, and dries by Shavuot; but in Ashkenaz, there is a crucial need for rain specifically at this time – otherwise the grain may be eaten by mice, or dry out prematurely. The Rosh attests to explaining his reasoning to his rabbis in Ashkenaz with no opposition; however, in practice he avoided a ruling in favor of this change of custom out of concern for continued uniformity in prayer among the community, in case only some should decide to adopt his ruling.
The Tur (Orah Haim, Hilkhot Tefilla 117) cites this position by the Rosh, without mentioning his avoidance from ruling a practical change in custom; he assumed that in a place where there is no concern regarding lack of uniformity, the Rosh would have ruled that the community should pray for rain based on need; therefore the Tur cited the position of the Rosh without reservation.
- Chaim Shabtai of Saloniki (Torat Chaim III:3) was asked whether the Jewish communities in Brazil, where rain is needed between Nisan and Tishrei, should pray for rain at the relevant time for their climate, in opposition to the Gemara, adding ve-ten tal u-matar from Pesach until Shmini Atzeret.
The Torat Chaim responded that they should not pray for rain when rain is damaging to their own location; indeed, it is inappropriate to pray for something that may lead to personal damage. In practice, based on the Rambam’s ruling that people in the ‘distant islands’ should add the prayer for rain in ‘Shomea Tefilla’ and not in the Blessing of the Years, he ruled that Brazilian Jews should never mention rain in the Blessing of the Years, but should add the prayer in the relevant season – in ‘Shomea Tefilla.’
- Zvi Pesach Frank (Resp. Har Zvi, Orah Haim I:57) rules on a similar question from Jews in New Zealand. He writes that since the position of the Rosh was not generally accepted in practice, they should not change the accepted custom, and should avoid adding ve-ten tal u-matar from Nisan to Tishrei, but should ask for rain in ‘Shomea Tefilla.’
- In Israel, communities should begin praying for rain on the 7th of Marheshvan
- Outside Israel, December 4th is when communities add Veten Tal Umatar
- Communities outside Israel that require rain in the summer, should add the prayer for rain during Shome’a Tefila.