Prayer for Rain
RAIN, PRAYER FOR (Heb. תְּפִלַּת גֶּשֶׁם, Tefillat Geshem (Ashkenazi); תִּקּוּן הַגֶּשֶׁם, Tikkun ha-Geshem (Sephardi)), prayers offered on various occasions, in which God is acknowledged as the power causing rain and the change of seasons, and which contain petitions for the fertility of the fields and for preservation from famine.
The principal prayer for rain is recited during the Musaf service on the eighth day of Sukkot (*Shemini Aẓeret) as part of the second benediction in the reader's repetition of the *Amidah (Ashkenazi tradition). The Sephardim recite it before the Additional Service. The piyyutim of which this prayer is composed vary according to the different rites. Those in the Ashkenazi rite are by Eliezer *Kallir; the last of the six piyyutim invokes the remembrance of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and the Twelve Tribes, and culminates in the invocation: "In their merit favor us with abundant water (rain)… For a blessing and not for a curse, for life and not for death, for plenty and not for famine. Amen." From this service on Shemini Aẓeret until that of the first day of Passover when the prayer for *dew is said, the sentence mashiv ha-ru'ah u-morid ha-geshem ("cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall") is included in every Amidah prayer at the beginning of the second benediction (Sh. Ar., OḤ 114). This insertion is called by the Mishnah (Ta'an. 1:1) gevurot (meaning "the Powers of God"). In traditional synagogues following the customs of Eastern Europe the ḥazzan officiates in the *kitel at the Musaf service when the prayer for rain is read as on the Day of Atonement, and recites the Kaddish before the Musaf service to a solemn melody. In Israel, the Tefillat Geshem is recited after the Torah scrolls have been returned to the ark and before the Musaf service so as to avoid an "interruption" in the statutory Amidah; however, the ḥasidic rite in Israel recites it in the reader's repetition of the Amidah. The Tefillat Geshem (like the prayer for dew) is part of the service in all Jewish rituals including the *Conservative and *Reform where it appears in a shortened version.
Another prayer for rain is the petition (she'elah) "and give dew and rain for a blessing" (ve-ten tal u-matar li-verakhah; in the Sephardi rite this is a different and longer petition) inserted in the ninth benediction of the *Amidah for weekdays. This petition is recited only from a date two weeks or more after the Tefillat Geshem on Shemini Aẓeret because the pilgrims in Temple times had to return from Jerusalem to their homes and traveling during a rainy season would have caused them hardship. Thus, in Ereẓ Israel the insertion is made from the evening prayer of the seventh of Ḥeshvan (Ta'an. 1:3; Ta'an. 4b); elsewhere, from the 60th day after the autumnal equinox, that is, from the fifth or sixth of December. This petition for rain appears in the ninth benediction (the "Blessing of the Years"), rather than in the second benediction of the Amidah, because the first three benedictions of the Amidah should contain the praise of God only and no petitions.
Prayers for rain are among the earliest liturgical texts and withholding of rain is regarded in the Bible as a punishment from God (cf. Deut. 11:11–17; I Kings 17:1). In the time of the Second Temple, the high priest recited a special prayer for rain on the *Day of Atonement (Yoma 53b) based upon Solomon's prayer (I Kings 8:35–36; II Chron. 7–13). During periods of drought, special prayers and supplications combined with fasting (see Fast *Days) were ordained (Ta'an. 1:4–3:9). These prayers entered the liturgy as it evolved in the time of the Mishnah and thereafter.
The dates for the special fasts and prayers for rain were fixed by the rabbis with a view to the climate and agricultural needs of Palestine; later rabbinic authorities decreed that wherever rain is beneficial during the summer, appropriate prayers for rain may be inserted, even during this season, in the 16th benediction of the Amidah, Shome'a Tefillah (Ta'an. 14b; Maim. Yad, Tefillah, 2:17; Sh. Ar., OḤ 117:2).
Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 44–45, 214–5; Davidson, Oẓar, 1 (1924), 322 (no. 7091), 324 (no. 7128), 337 (no. 7419); 2 (1929), 209 (no. 91), 418 (no. 3466); 3 (1930), 528 (no. 267); Union Prayer Book, 1 (19272), 268–9 (Reform); Silverman, Prayer, 210–1 (Conservative); E. Levy, Yesodot ha-Tefillah (19522), 161–2; ET, 5 (1953), 65–79.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.